Smoked Turkey Pho

pho garnishes

This is made entirely from leftover items from Thanksgiving and some standard pantry items (at least mine). While I used mushrooms and celery leaves because that’s what I had, you should use whatever you have or just go traditional and pick up mung bean sprouts, jalapeno, and thai basil. And your turkey may not have been smoked like mine was, but that roast or fried turkey carcass will do just fine, though will lack the smokiness, obviously. Just be sure to pick parts of the carcass that have some meat still on it, like the wings, neck, and backside. You’ll be eating that in the soup when it’s assembled.

I borrowed the spicing heavily from here. I mostly followed it for a beef version a few months ago, and that came out great, too.

Oh, and I used a pressure cooker which is superior for stock making. If you don’t have one, I’m sure you could just simmer the broth for a few hours to mostly the same effect. But you should own a pressure cooker. Besides this, I’ll share the best reason to own one with a future post.

Now, let’s get down to business.

smoked turkey pho

Smoked Turkey Pho

Broth:

makes 12 cups of broth, about 4 servings, depending on the size of your pot

  • 2 onions
  • 4 inch piece of ginger
  • 1/2 smoked turkey carcass
  • 5 whole star anise
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 3 inches
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp raw sugar

Garnish:

  • turkey meat
  • rice noodles
  • sauteed mushrooms, finished with soy sauce and vinegar
  • celery leaves (or whatever you got)
  • hoison
  • sriracha
  1. Slice the onions in half and the ginger, too, lengthwise. Place under broiler till they’re nearly black.
  2. Put the ginger, onions, and rest of the broth ingredients into a pressure cooker. Fill pot with water to its fill line.
  3. Put on lid, bring to full pressure, and lower heat but still maintain pressure for an hour.
  4. After an hour, take off heat and let the pressure cooker lose pressure naturally.
  5. Soak the rice noodles for 10-20 minutes in hot water till soft. Drain.
  6. Once pressure is released on the pot, strain broth.
  7. Pick any meat you can from the spent bones. You should have at least enough for 4 bowls.
  8. Put broth back on the stove and bring to a boil.
  9. Assemble bowls with noodles, picked turkey, and the rest of your garnishes.
  10. Top with the heated broth.

Turkey & Shrimp Gumbo

Sick of turkey yet? Chances are good you’ve gotten through all of your thanksgiving leftovers by now, but if you were smart, you saved that carcass. And there’s still plenty of goodness to mine from that pile of bones.

I made gumbo sometime over the summer, so already had a bunch of foundational items leftover in the freezer. But I’d say some of these are optional, but also mostly easily procured at your grocery. When summer was still on and okra prices were as a low as a dollar a pound, I blanched and froze a couple of quarts of them to eventually end up in a gumbo sometime over the winter. After stockpiling shrimp shells for the better part of a year last year, I also had an ample supply of shrimp stock made from boiling the shells from about 2 pounds of shrimp for more than half and hour. And I still had one lonely andouille link leftover from the first go-round. I even had some leftover pickled shrimp from thanksgiving that ended up in the pot.

But back to that turkey carcass. And a bag full of vegetable scraps – mostly celery, onion, parsnips, and parsley, again leftover from the many thanksgiving sides we prepared. Besides being the base for a ton of stock, you’ll also be surprised how much meat you’ll end up with when your stock is done. Brown the bones, skin, and other turkey scraps in your largest stock pot. Throw in your vegetable scraps and cover with water. I used close to 15 quarts of water that reduced by a couple of quarts by the end. Simmer – somewhere between 180 and 200 degrees – for a long time. I went about 5 hours because I still had dinner to make, but you could go for much longer. Strain it with a fine mesh strainer and strip the bones of all its meat. I ended up with nearly 2 pounds.

But, now onto the gumbo. First off, get a roux going. Equal parts fat and flour that cooks for a while and takes on glorious colors and flavors. I used about 4 tablespoons each of bacon grease and flour and cooked this very slowly for about half an hour, stirring very often. But you could and should go much longer and darker than I did. Then add your stocks and any additional spices (i.e. Old Bay, file gumbo, pimenton, cayenne) and boil for a while till it thickens, at least another 30 minutes. Make sure to whisk in all of that roux. Once it’s thickened up, start adding all of your remaining ingredients – shredded turkey, shrimp, andouille, okra, and anything else you got laying around that might be good in that pot. 5-10 minutes later when your shrimp is cooked and everything is heated through, the gumbo is ready.

Turkey & Shrimp Gumbo

  • 4 tablespoons fat (turkey, butter, bacon grease, whatever you’ve got)
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 3 qt of stock (turkey, shrimp, chicken, veg, water, whatever you’ve got)
  • 1/2# andouille
  • 2# leftover turkey
  • 1# shrimp, cut into bitesize pieces if they’re big ones
  • 1# okra, cut into bitesize pieces
  1. Make a roux. Over low to medium low heat whisk the flour into your hot fat. Stirring often, cook for at least 30 minutes until the roux darkens. The darker the better, but don’t burn it.
  2. Turn the heat up to medium high and whisk in all of the stock and boil it till it thickens. At least 30 minutes.
  3. Once your stock is to the desired thickness, turn down the heat to a simmer and throw in the remaining ingredients to cook or heat through, another 5-10 minutes.

Parsnip soup (or any cold weather vegetable, for that matter)

One of my favorite things to cook and eat is soup. In cold months, it’s hot soups made of root vegetables, in the warmer months it’s cold soups with ingredients like tomatoes or peas. A lunch of soup and crusty bread is just about one of the most satisfying meals ever. And I’ve found that the soup actually improves after a day or two in the refrigerator.

Parsnip soup garnished with crispy red onions

Parsnip soup garnished with crispy red onions

Most Saturdays particularly in the fall or winter, after a morning visit to the local farmer’s market, I put a pot on for the day’s lunch. Whether it’s winter squash, sweet potato, or carrot, this basic recipe suits them all and is rife with possibilities for variation and experimentation. Vary the main ingredient with any root vegetable or squash. Vary the herb selection. Thyme is always a good choice, but so aren’t sage and rosemary (but use either sparingly) or bay or chives or parsley. Add heartier herbs at the beginning; softer herbs at the end. The recipe below doesn’t have much in the way of spices, but you can use all sorts of spices from cayenne or paprika to ginger or cinnamon depending on what you want in the end. How about Spicy Sweet Potato with cayenne and cinnamon and coriander?

Use stock. Use water. Or, as I did here, use a combination. Lastly, consider an interesting garnish. Some crunchy contrast to the smooth, blended soup is always nice. Crackers, croutons, or crispy, sauteed vegetables like your main ingredient, or mushrooms, or shallots all provide some contrast in texture.

This time out there were some good looking parsnips at the market, so it seemed like an obvious choice, as it is one of my favorites. My not-so-secret (and completely optional) ingredient here is some serrano ham (courtesy of Cheesetique, by way of a 99¢ “serrano butt”.) You can use bacon or some other smoked pork product in its place, or just leave it out entirely.

Note there’s no cream or dairy in this recipe. That doesn’t mean it isn’t creamy. The potatoes are the key. Their starch helps thicken and smooth out the soup. But, by all means, leave them out and add some cream or milk or yogurt at the end instead.

As with all of my recipes, seasoning throughout the process with salt and pepper is implied.

'Snips and onions sautéing away

'Snips and onions sautéing away

Parsnip soup

  • 1 1/2 # parsnip, diced
  • 2 c. onion, diced
  • 1/2 # potatoes, diced
  • 4-5 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tbsp. chives, chopped
  • 3 sprigs of tarragon
  • 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 2-3 c. chicken stock
  • 2-3 c. water
  • 2-3 tbsp. serrano ham, sliced thinly (optional)
  1. Heat a large pot over medium-low heat and add the ham, butter, and onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the diced parsnips, and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft.
  2. Add the water, stock, thyme, and potatoes, and turn the heat to high to bring just to a boil. The liquid should cover all of the vegetables by about 1/4″ – 1/2″ depending on the size of your pot.
  3. Once the soup has reached a boil, turn the heat down to low or medium-low until it is barely simmering.
  4. Simmer the soup for at least an hour, maybe even two. I use a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of the pot to cover, but you can achieve the same effect by partially covering the pot to allow some evaporation, slowly.
  5. After your soup has simmmered for a while, add the chives and tarragon, and blend with a hand-blender.
The parchment lid

The parchment lid

the Kaiseki tasting at Sushi Taro

I’ve got a real soft spot in my heart for two things that, at times, seem diametrically opposed. A many-course tasting menu and a deal. It was with luck and the assistance of one of the recent entrants to the group-buying site Village Vines that I ended up the opportunity for both. Kind of. Somehow, I’ve ended up with a bunch of free credit on Village Vines which can be used towards 30% discounts at a number of top-notch restaurants around DC. The 30% more or less covers your tax and tip. You just have to make a reservation through their site, and keep in mind some of the places have time and day restrictions (as did Sushi Taro) and some other stipulations, but nothing too overwhelming.

With some credit about to expire, I opted to make a reservation at Sushi Taro, where I could use my discount toward one of their tasting menus. First a word about Sushi Taro. A couple of years ago, this was the no-brainer go-to sushi and yakitori place in DC where the a la carte menu was ample. The prices were reasonable and the sushi and grilled offerings were best-in-the-city excellent. Since then they’ve remodeled which resulted in less seating and higher prices and a smaller a la carte menu and the addition of several higher priced tasting menus. Well, to be honest, this was infuriating and disappointing. Our favorite sushi place, just got more expensive and more exclusive. This is no longer the weeknight sushi place it once was. Since the remodel, we’d only been back twice before — for restaurant week lunch and dinner that were quite great and actually, a relative bargain. But with 30% discount in hand, it was time to take on the big guys, the Kaiseki tasting menu. To be fair, while our trips back to Sushi Taro are less frequent as a result of all of these changes, it is still the best sushi and Japanese restaurant in town. But, just not an everyday kind of place. (For that distinction, check out Kushi.) And, so without, further ado, I give you the play-by-play of the 10 courses that made up this tasting menu (the sushi tasting was 11 courses and featured several more courses of sushi and sashimi.)

signature dish

sesame seed tofu with sea urchin in dashi broth

sesame seed tofu with sea urchin in dashi broth

Right out of the gate, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The tofu was soft and delicately flavored and perfumed with the dashi. The sea urchin, tofu, and dashi all together were just so perfect. And ever since another many-course dinner (that time 21 courses!) at Volt, I’ve been won over by sea urchin.

zensai

bamboo shoot, lotus root mochi, and crispy asparagus

bamboo shoot, lotus root mochi, and crispy asparagus

Very interesting flavors. The bamboo shoot tasting of wood and earth, the lotus root mochi with a surprise taste-explosion on in the inside. Again, served with a very flavorful dashi.

winter dish

small delights of winter - smoked salmon and dried roe

small delights of winter - smoked salmon and dried roe

The delicately smoked and cured salmon and the pickled daikon was great. The dried fish roe on top was salty and chewy, but not a flavor I enjoyed all that much, admittedly.

sashimi

fatty tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, prawn, and sardine sashimi

fatty tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, prawn, and sardine sashimi

This was a knock-out course of sashimi. All of it very tasty. I ate it in a clockwise fashion, starting with the fatty tuna at 12 o’clock. Even the raw shrimp was great, which made me a little squeamish, but upon eating it, I was converted.

soup

Ozoh-ni New Year traditional mochi & duck soup with prawn ball

Ozoh-ni New Year traditional mochi & duck soup with prawn ball

Another one of my favorite courses. The broth was just plain delicious. The 2 slices of duck and prawn ball were a bonus, and the mochi, perhaps, unnecessary. But, man, that broth was good.

hassun

Osechi assortment of traditional new year ingredients

Osechi assortment of traditional new year ingredients

This is the point where I realized I was only about halfway through, and if I had any chance of enjoying the last few courses, I had to start choosing wisely. To be honest, while this course was quaint in its presentation and intent, there wasn’t a lot on the plate that I actually liked that much, except the cooked spanish mackerel which was real good. I ended up eating only about half of everything except the mackerel. From the left you’ve got burdock root with sesame paste, salmon roe, lotus root with mustard, two things I’m forgetting now, steamed prawn, and cooked spanish mackerel.

fukiyose

simmered winter vegetables

simmered winter vegetables

A cute little plate with not a lot happening on it. Nice nonetheless. A little more bamboo shoot, prawn, some pea pods, a sphere of squash, and some tourneed potato.

sushi

For some reason I failed to snap a photo of this course. The waitress provided a list of about 12 options from which I was to pick three. All of them were quite interesting, and I had a little bit of a hard time narrowing it down, but I ultimately opted for house-grilled freshwater eel, uni (sea urchin), and zuke soy marinated tuna. Each of these were splendid, the tuna and eel especially.

sukiyaki

sukiyaki simmering away over a charcoal fire

sukiyaki simmering away over a charcoal fire

This is the reason I ordered the Kaiseki menu and not the sushi menu. I love sukiyaki. When I see it on a menu, I order it. Period. By this time, I was already quite full. But, I mustered up a second wind for this. And it didn’t disappoint (except I prefer the thin, clear cellophane noodles over the udon noodles used here.) The beef was wagyu and simmering away in the clay pot. Separate bowls were brought out containing the udon and a poached egg, both of which I slipped into the beefy bath in front of me. Rich and sweet, this sukiyaki did not disappoint. (and still a day later, it hit the spot, since I couldn’t possibly finish it that night, and took the rest home.)

udon and poached egg for sukiyaki

udon and poached egg for sukiyaki

dessert

kokuto coffee ice cream

kokuto coffee ice cream

Once again proving the axiom that “there’s always room for ice cream,” I opted for the coffee ice cream choice for desert. Very delicious, and I probably ate a little too much of it. But I’m glad I did. A nice way to end an all around great meal.

Sushi Taro
1503 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

http://www.sushitaro.com/

… with life-changing ramen from Minca Ramen Factory

Ok. Forget everything I said last week about noodle soup. Ok, not everything. The sentiment still holds, I suppose. The places and soups I mentioned still have their merits based mostly in their convenience and comfort. But everything has kind of changed thanks to a revelatory bowl of ramen (and thanks to Mr. & Mrs. Kitchen Monkey for finding this joint) I had the other day in Alphabet City, New York, New York.

First, disregard the image that first popped in your mind when you read the word “ramen.” While I’ve had my share of revelations while enjoying a bowl of 10/$1 Top Ramen, this bears no resemblance to the college dorm-room staple. No, this is what I have to imagine is a fairly traditional Japanese ramen.

the tiny kitchen with pots of broth simmering in the background at Minca Ramen Factory

the tiny kitchen with pots of broth simmering in the background at Minca Ramen Factory

Let me try to set the scene. I’ve been in the car for 4 hours, on a drive up to New York from DC. I’m still reeling from the head cold that’s plagued me for several days now. It’s closing in on 2:30, and the only thing I’ve eaten since an early breakfast of cold spaghetti is a sack of peanut m&m’s. My fellow weary travelers and I park the car near the corner of 5th St and Avenue B and make our way to Minca Ramen Factory — a tiny hole-in-the-wall specializing in ramen. They’ve got 4 tables, a bar around the exposed kitchen, and 3-4 chefs/servers. After a first round of pork gyoza, I’m ready to approach the fairly simple menu. Pick a broth and a noodle and you’re done. I settle in on pork broth, shoyu flavor with thin noodles. Minutes later I am presented with anodyne in a bowl.

Pork gyoza

Pork gyoza

For me, the resulting bowl was on the surface pretty simple — some broth, some braised pork, some noodles, an egg, and some mushrooms. But from the moment I put spoon and chopsticks to mouth, any sense that this was a simple dish vanished. Each component of this is prepared with such care and thought, resulting in unbelievable complexity and deliciousness. When I think about each, I inevitably think, “yeah, this was the best part of it.” Then pause and think, “oh, but what about…”

Happiness is pork broth

Happiness is pork broth

The broth. Pork broth with soy sauce. The best way I can think to describe this broth is chewy. This was a substantial broth, thick and comforting and meaty tasting, but certainly still a soupy consistency. It tasted pretty clearly of pork and soy sauce. If I had only gotten a cup of this and nothing else, I probably would’ve been satisfied. At one point, I was getting towards the bottom of the bowl, and just about went face-first trying to get at the last drops of it. I have to assume this was the result of the long braising process for…

The pork. Oh lord. I guess in a pinch, I’d say this was my favorite part; but, again still debatable. On the menu it’s described as “Pork Charsu.” Some research reveals this is either belly, shoulder, or cheek (I’m guessing belly, or maybe loin, in this case) that’s slow braised in a variety of Asian flavorings. I also saw the chefs take a blow-torch to the pieces to get some char on them. To call the resulting slices (and a tip to the wise, one serving comes with just 2 slices, I’d suggest ordering extra) fall apart tender is an understatement. Upon contact with a chop stick, the slices splintered into smaller pieces that became distributed throughout the bowl, providing endless enjoyment. Again, the flavor was predominantly meaty and porky. Kind of a solid form of the broth.

Porky egg

Porky egg

And then the egg. Each bowl comes with half of a hard-boiled egg. From what I can tell, they boil and half the eggs, and then leave them to soak in soy sauce and probably some other stuff. Then submerged in the broth for as long as it was, the egg, too, was, well, porky. A couple of folks at the table ordered vegetarian, but also got the egg, so I asked if it was as porky as mine, and, alas, it was not.

Also topping the bowl were three or four varieties of fungi (“wild vegetables” reads the menu.) I would be hard-pressed to actually identify any of these, but their different flavors and textures were ideal accompaniments to the whole situation. Chewy and full of umami.

Lastly, the noodles. The menu provides a variety of choices, though with each broth selection, they recommend one or two particular choices. The options are thin, thick (not that much thicker than the thin,) wavy wheat, whole wheat, and bean. (By the way, the menu also allows you to substitute chicken for pork.) I opted for thin (one of the recommendations with the pork shoyu broth.) The noodles are just perfect. Just chewy enough. Soaking up the broth and other flavors in the bowl, but also having a distinct wheat flavor of their own. I didn’t actually see them making an noodles in the kitchen, but with the name of the place, I have to assume they are made in house.

As is often the case with me, it’s more than the food itself that factors into my enjoyment of any meal. It’s about context and circumstance, too. In this case, though, I’m pretty sure no matter what the circumstances, this bowl of ramen was one of those all-time great food experiences that I hope to recreate over and over.