This week I’d like to talk turkey and making champagne tastes on a beer budget.
Just look at that crisp, golden pastry and glossy, rich sauce covering the tender pieces of turkey!
Turkey is a staple on the festive dinner table, but the preference for the pale breast meat has seen the rise of the turkey crown. Since science has yet, one fervently hopes, to develop a limbless turkey, those extra bits don’t just disappear, but are still around to purchase and enjoy.
Actually, I have no idea what happens to the trimmed turkey wings – one of life’s great mysteries – but turkey legs are available in both drum and thigh formats, and should be snapped up whenever you see them because they are fantastic value for money, robustly flavoured and, treated properly, can make for delicious and relatively fuss-free meals.
A quick gallop around the aisles this week tells me that turkey thigh and turkey drumsticks are available in Sainsbury’s, Asda (drumstick only) and Tesco (thigh only). The Tesco thigh is the best value, at only £2.80/kg, but the Sainsbury’s drumstick (£3.30/kg) and thigh (£4.67/kg) and Asda’s drumstick (£3.71/kg) are also very budget friendly, especially when compared to other proteins.
I also took a look at what people out there on the t’Internet are doing with turkey drumsticks and thighs and long story short, not a lot. Both are almost exclusively roasted, and whilst knawing on a joint the size of your arm is certainly a look, here we’re going to be more concerned about taste, tenderness and the use of cutlery.
Rather than the harsh heat of the oven or the barbecue, the method I’m proposing is to use our old friend the slow cooker. A long, low, braise will render even the sturdiest of turkey legs tender and melt-in-the-mouth. And it is so EASY! Literally plonk in the turkey, slosh over some braising liquid, switch it on and you’re set for several hours. You can choose whatever stock you like for the braising, but the simplest and best, in my opinion, is beef stock. Using the jelly-like beef stock pots made up to double strength (so using only half the water), gives the turkey both flavouring and seasoning in one. Being strongly flavoured, the leg meat also flavours the stock in return, to give a fantastic base for gravy or, as we have here, a sauce.
This recipe is an adaptation of the numerous game bird salmis so favoured by the Victorians. You can serve the meat in the sauce over rice, noodles or potato snow¹, but my recommendation is for a puff pastry vol-au-vent case, to add a fantastic contrast in colour and texture.
In another tip gleaned from the history books, for the vol au vents you can use just a single roll to make six, large vol-au-vent cases. I used to buy two rolls of puff pastry, and cut the bases from one and the borders from another, but this way you can get both from a single roll. Simply cut out the centre of each base and re-roll it until it is as big as the border, then slide it under the pastry border and trim neatly.
You can start this the day before and cook the turkey overnight, else cook on High for about 5 hours to eat the same day. You can also cook the pastry cases the day before and just warm them in the oven before serving.
For the Turkey
Bone-in turkey thigh and/or drumstick – however many will fit in your slow cooker
Rich beef stock pots x 6
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg for glazing
For the Sauce
1 small onion finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 blade of mace
100g streaky bacon – chopped
200ml red wine (or red grape juice/pomegranate juice/more stock)
300ml beef turkey stock
1 heaped tbs cornflour mixed with a little cold water
- Put your turkey meat into your slow cooker.
- Make up the beef stock with just 1.5 litres hot water. Make sure they have melted fully before adding to your slow cooker. If you need more liquid, just add water.
- Turn the heat to LOW and cook for 8 hours-10 hours. Overnight is perfect. You can also cook on HIGH for about 5 hours if that suits your timings better.
- When the meat is tender, lift the joints from the slow cooker (a large strainer spoon is helpful here, if you have it), and remove and discard the bones, skin, tendons and cartilage. Try and keep the meat in large pieces. Strain the stock through a sieve and set aside 300ml. Save/freeze the rest for other uses.
- For the sauce:
- Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion, bacon and flavourings.
- Fry for 10 minutes over medium heat until the onions have begun to caramelise.
- Add the red wine, if using, and simmer for five minutes.
- Add the stock and let all simmer together for a further 10 minutes, allowing all the flavours to mingle.
- Optional: Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and return the liquid to the pan. The sauce in the photograph has been strained, and as such gives a really shiny and glossy finish. (I had the bacon and onion in some of the sauce later, on a baked potato. It was delicious.) But there’s nothing wrong with leaving the bacon and onion in the sauce (waste not, want not and all that) – the choice is yours.
- Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as required.
- Add any flavouring sauces to your own taste. These include, but are not limited to, oyster sauce, Worcester sauce, Henderson’s Relish, Soy Sauce, Mirin, Shaoxing wine, anchovy essence, Hoisin sauce, Teryaki sauce, etc.
- When seasoned to your satisfaction, whisk in the cornflour mixture and slowly bring to the boil, stirring, until the sauce clears, thickens and becomes glossy.
- Reduce the heat to low and add the cooked turkey pieces.
- Serve over rice/noodles/riced potatoes, or keep warm while you bake the pastry cases.
- For the pastry:
- Heat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
- Unroll the pastry and cut into 6 squares (lengthwise in half, then vertically in thirds to give 2 rows of 3)
- Cut out the centre of each square, leaving a 2cm-ish border.
- Roll out the middle pieces until they match the size of the borders.
- Dampen the edges of the now very thin, centre pieces and slide the borders on top. Trim the edges neatly. Prick over the bases with a fork to help keep them from rising during baking.
- Whisk the egg and paint it over the borders using a pastry brush. Try and keep the egg from dripping down the sides, as this will glue the layers together as it bakes and keep the pastry from rising to its fullest extent.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisped, risen and golden, turning the baking sheet around halfway through.
- Cool on a wire rack. Once cold, store in an airtight container (if making ahead).
- Spoon the warmed turkey and sauce into the baked pastry shell and serve.
¹ Baked or boiled potatoes put through a ricer into a bowl. The riced potato should be allowed to fall into the serving dish in a mound and then served immediately untouched by anything else, spoon or seasoning, to maintain the lightness. Great for dishes with a rich sauce or gravy such as this.