Easy Leftover Turkey Curry

“Someone defined eternity as a ham and two people.” So wrote Irma Rombauer in Joy of Cooking. If you have cooked a whole ham and struggled to find ways to use the pounds of good meat and succulent bones, you will probably agree that she knew what she was talking about.

Jerri and I no longer buy whole hams. Our last one was a twenty pound country ham we brought back from Virginia, and I promised never to do that again. However, she still lets me buy the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys, and occasionally I pick out a sixteen or seventeen pounder.

Which leads inevitably to another fundamental truth. It is very easy to get tired of leftover turkey before it is all eaten. Yesterday we finished the last package of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, ten weeks and four days after the bird went in the oven. Now we can start on the remains of our Christmas turkey.

With luck we will have finished them before the Fourth of July. Otherwise we may have leftover turkey salad sandwiches instead of brats and potato salad for our picnic.

Fortunately we have a lot of good recipes for leftover turkey. Here is the one we made with the last of the turkey from Thanksgiving. It tasted so good that I may use the same recipe to start on the Christmas turkey. It makes five or six servings.

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup butter
2 to 3 tsp. curry powder
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
Dash of black pepper
1 can chicken broth (a scant 2 cups)
2 cups leftover turkey, white or dark meat
1 tsp. minced lemon peel
2 T chopped pimiento or red bell pepper
3/4 cup long grain white or brown rice

For garnishes:
1/4 cup cashew pieces
2 eggs
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 flaked or shredded coconut

PROCEDURE:

Clean and chop the onion medium fine and cut the turkey into bite-sized pieces. Wash the lemon and use a sharp knife to shave and mince a generous teaspoon of the zest. Drain the pimiento or chop the red bell pepper into a quarter inch dice.

Start cooking the rice according to directions on the package and put two eggs on to boil. Cook the eggs for five minutes, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to finish cooking for eight or nine minutes.

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the curry powder and cook it over moderate heat for two or three minutes. Stir in the chopped onion and cook until it is translucent but not brown. Use a wooden spoon to blend in the flour, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil.

Cook for three or four minutes and stir until you have a smooth sauce. Add the turkey and shredded lemon peel and bring the mixture back to boiling. Remove it from the heat and stir in the pimiento or red bell pepper.

Peel and chop the eggs and put small dishes with the eggs, cashews, raisins and flaked or shredded coconut on the table so guests can choose the garnishes they want.

Serve over rice with a salad and bread.

NOTES: Naan bread goes really well with curries.

Substitute brown rice for the long grain white if you want a more nutritious meal. The curry goes well with either kind. Brown rice takes longer to cook, however, so start it before you begin making the curry.

Country Captain

Every spring the mailman delivered at least a hundred baby chickens to the Rang household. Mom had cardboard boxes ready for the chicks lined with newspaper, furnished with water and food trays and equipped with shielded lightbulbs to keep the little peepers comfortable.

When they were big enough they were moved to a cage in the chicken coop and soon they were sharing the coop and yard with the hens and rooster that had overwintered with us. We always kept one rooster “to keep the hens happy,” as Dad used to say. Though Mom usually ordered pullets, she would include a carton of “as hatched chicks.”  All but one of the cockerels would simply end up a bit sooner in the frying pan or soup pot.

One fateful year a carton of mixed chicks included a Barred Plymouth Rock cockerel destined to become the “The Terror of the Yard.”  I was nine years old and had been recently introduced to the art of tying my own trout flies by Gus, our farmer neighbor who had taught me how to fish for trout. Several of the patterns used barred rock hackles, so when it became apparent that we had a barred rock rooster on our hands I begged to be allowed to keep him for the feathers.

Because older roosters have better feathers for making good dry flies I had a persuasive argument for letting “my rooster” rule the henhouse for more than the usual one year term. The incumbent rooster went in the soup pot, and the three year reign of “The Terror” began.

The first year was fine. My rooster guarded the hens and woke us up dutifully every morning with lusty crowing. Disturbing portents marked the second year as my rooster became more protective of his flock. He would make bluff charges and try to keep us out of the chicken coop when we went to gather the eggs.

At two years of age he was a handsome rooster: seven or eight pounds of muscle covered with beautiful grizzly feathers. Ominously, his spurs had grown to inch long weapons, but I pointed out that he was now better equipped to protect the hens.

The “Reign of Terror” began the following summer when he began chasing everyone who approached the chicken coop. He spent time every day sharpening his spurs which were now well over an inch long, and he knew how to use them, using his wings to lift himself off the ground and provide leverage for scratching anything running away in front of him.

We devised a strategy for gathering the eggs. We kids would saunter towards the chicken coop until my rooster came running to defend his territory. He would usually take up a defensive position in front of the coop until we got pretty close, at which time he would scream, start flapping his wings and chase us into the front yard. If we tried to return to the back yard, he would patrol the approaches to his domain.

Our plan worked well for most of the summer. When we had lured my rooster into the front yard, Mom would hurry out the back door, gather the eggs and be back in the house before he had resumed his guard duty. Even now I do not know what went wrong. Maybe Mom went out the door too soon or my rooster may have glanced into the back yard as he pursued us. Whatever the explanation, the result was catastrophic.

When Mom finished collecting the eggs in her apron, she turned to find nine pounds of angry rooster standing in the chicken coop doorway. As an experienced farm girl she knew what to do. She shouted “Shoo!” and rushed the bird who had enough sense to dodge 150 pounds of determined housewife.

However, once she was out of the coop, she was running away. The rooster gave chase, wings flapping and spurs flashing. Eggs were flying and Mom was shouting. She made it into the house without any eggs but only a few scratches.

When Dad came home from work that day, Mom met him at the door with “You have to do something about that rooster.”  Dad got his axe and headed out to finish off the bird. I remember pleading, as if it were yesterday, “Don’t ruin the feathers.”

But my rooster was not to be found. Obviously he had observed the trip to the tool shed. Checks of the coop, the yards and even the road to the garden were fruitless. He had obviously decided to stay out of sight until tempers had cooled.

Dad leaned his .22 single shot rifle against the wall next to the back door, propped the screen door open and we all sat down to supper. Near the end of the meal he put down his fork, aimed the rifle and dropped my rooster with a bullet through his head. Dad said, “Well Chuck, I didn’t ruin many feathers.”

I sorted the feathers and stored them in envelopes and tied a lot of flies with them. I still have a half dozen or so in an envelope and tied an Adams with one a few years ago. I even caught a brook trout on it, but the barbs are brittle and the fly did not hold up very well.

My rooster ended up in the soup pot. He was too old for making Country Captain, but he made a good soup. The next time you go to the supermarket you might want to pick up a nice young chicken that you can turn into a delicious dinner.

I found this recipe in a fascinating biography of James Beard, Epicurean delight: The Life and Times of James Beard by Evan Jones. It was given to me by Beth shortly before she became our daughter-in-law.

Beard named this recipe “Cecily Brownstone’s Country Captain.”  It is a chicken casserole that is thought to have been developed in the southern United States flavored with spices brought from India by ships’ captains. Some versions are baked in the oven, but this one you cook in just about 30 minutes in a covered skillet on top of the range and serve over rice.

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 to 3 lb. chicken
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 T butter
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 to 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 large clove garlic
1 1/2 to 2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. crushed thyme
1 can stewed tomatoes (about 2 cups)
3 T dried currants
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. butter
Blanched toasted almonds to pass at table

PROCEDURE:

Wash and cut the chicken into eight pieces or buy a fryer already cut up. Peel the outer skin from the onion and garlic and wash and remove the seeds and white membrane from the green pepper. Chop the onion and pepper and mince the garlic.

Mix the flour with the salt and pepper and coat the chicken pieces. Heat the butter to foaming in the skillet and brown the chicken. Remove the chicken from the pan and let excess fat drain into paper towels on a plate. Turn the heat down to moderate and add the vegetables and spices to the skillet. Cook for one minute, then add the stewed tomatoes with the liquid.

Return the chicken to the skillet, cover and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Add a little liquid (wine or water) if there is not enough sauce. Stir in the currants and simmer another minute.

While the chicken is cooking, put two cups of water in a saucepan. Rinse the rice to remove some of the starch and put the rice in the pan along with the salt and butter. Bring the pan to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cook until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Serve the chicken with the rice and pass the almonds.

NOTES: You will find blanched slivered almonds in the supermarket. Toast them in a small frying pan without any oil on low heat for a few minutes until they just start to turn golden brown.

There are different kinds of curry powder, some spicy hot, others mild and sweet. Use whichever you prefer.