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Turkey pieces and parts inspire pozole

Protein purchased at a price too good to pass up usually emerges for a rainy day.

For want of immediate inspiration, I often consign standard cuts of meat to my freezer. It’s the less-common parts and pieces that can move me to devise the week’s menu then and there in the grocery store aisles.

Turkey backs recently motivated that meal-planning process. Most of us are familiar with chicken backs, likely as the oddball piece on a platter of fried chicken. Similarly, the back from a larger poultry species is, shall we say, less than desirable. Although I’m a pretty avid consumer of turkey products — preferring the richer flavor and heartier texture over chicken — the bird’s back was unknown territory, beyond where it reposes on a roasting rack.

It only stands to reason, though, that some meat processors would deal in turkey backs, just as they do in drumsticks and wings, which I occasionally see packaged in large lots at Medford’s Food 4 Less. Isolate the most desirable portion of a turkey — its breast — for sale, and you’re left with a lot of not-so-desirable meat. I had no idea just how much meat this constitutes when it comes to turkeys.

Processors and grocers presumably stash turkey backs away for their own rainy day — that is until they’ve got a critical mass to move at an attractive price. The clincher for me was paying about $3 for a tray of four turkey backs that probably weighed in at more than 5 pounds. Even with bone weight, that’s a lot of meat at pretty close to dirt-cheap.

By simmering the turkey backs into stock and stripping all the meat from the bones, I could be assured of extracting maximum flavor and value. And because the backs looked to have bided their time already in a freezer, I didn’t see the point of returning them to mine. Better to deal with them straight away, beginning with oven-roasting, progressing to stock and culminating in pozole.

The traditional Mexican stew sprang to mind from memories of the last time I purposefully made a meal from turkey stock. It was the post-Thanksgiving weekend at my parents’ house, where my husband, Will, labored over two turkeys on our outdoor pellet smoker. The moist, deeply flavored meat drew rave reviews, and the meal we devised from those leftovers made an even more favorable impression.

Will had advocated for turkey chili, but I knew my dad loves hominy, a key ingredient of pozole. Little did I know that the dish would conjure, for him and my grandmother, holidays past in eastern Colorado, surrounded by families of Mexican heritage who had lived in the region for generations.

Like so many slow-cooked specialties, the hardest part about pozole is obtaining a really flavorful stock as backdrop for the corn kernels and chilies. Many more ingredients — diced white onion, sliced scallions, shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, cilantro leaves and chunks of ripe avocado — are known to go on top of pozole, rather than in it.

Authentic recipes usually call for dried ancho, pasilla or red New Mexico chilies, not to mention pork butt or shoulder. My garden grows more poblano peppers, however, than we can consume fresh. So I’ve always got freezer bags of the roasted peppers on hand and habitually substitute them for the dried version, known as ancho.

The following recipe, referenced in my 2014 blog posts and adapted from Bon Appétit magazine, explains how to make a chili paste in the food processor from dried and soaked chilies, garlic and tomato paste. My method simply entails adding thawed roasted chilies from my freezer that have been peeled (easy once thawed), stemmed, seeded and diced. I add them to the sautéed onion, along with the garlic and tomato paste to deepen their flavors before deglazing with the stock.

The stock can be prepared several days ahead from a roasted turkey carcass or other parts, combined with onion, carrot, celery and perhaps a leek and fennel stalks, in a pot. Cover the ingredients with water, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for several hours. When you’re ready to strain the stock, set aside the turkey parts and, when cool enough to handle, strip as much meat as possible from the bones, discarding excess fat, cartilage and skin. My batch of turkey backs yielded loads of meat, enough for pozole, tacos and salads later in the week.

Substituting cooked chicken and chicken stock yields a much milder-flavored pozole. If you don’t want to roast a bird as large as a turkey, or can’t find turkey parts, try this recipe with leftover roast duck, my favorite ingredient for really rich stock.

Tune into Sarah Lemon’s podcast at www.mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-whole-dish. Email her at thewholedish@gmail.com.

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Turkey Pozole

2 dried ancho or pasilla chilies (may substitute 1 roasted chili, either fresh or frozen; peeled, stemmed, seeded and diced)

1 garlic clove, peeled

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced

8 cups turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups shredded cooked turkey meat

2 (15-ounce) cans white hominy, drained and rinsed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Sliced avocado and cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Tortilla chips and lime wedges, for serving

Remove seeds from the dried chilies; toast chilies in a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat, turning until darkened and fragrant, for about 4 minutes. Place in a medium bowl and add 2 cups hot water; let sit until softened, for about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup soaking liquid. Pulse chilies in a food processor with reserved soaking liquid, the garlic and tomato paste until smooth. (If using fresh chilies, skip this step and proceed with recipe.)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until translucent, for 6 to 8 minutes. Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until thick and darkened, for about 4 minutes. If using fresh chilies, add those, along with the tomato paste and garlic clove that has been minced. Add the turkey stock, meat and hominy; season with the salt and pepper. Simmer until flavors meld, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve pozole topped with the avocado and cilantro, with the tortilla chips and lime wedges on the side.

Makes 8 servings.