After Halloween, it’s a near blind downhill roll through the rest of the holiday marathon, with the Christmas carol calliope picking up well before you’ve even picked up your turkey. And with it being a decent number of years since my three year-old self laid claim to a Conan sized turkey leg, there can almost be a Groundhog Day–esque feel to the whole affair. Watch football. Drink. Stand up. Drink. Sit down. Eat turkey. Drink. Throw football around. Dessert…drink. But why not add something new to break the sense of repetition, of being out of time?
It was with that in mind that I convinced my Mom to let me do a bit more than just help with the chestnut stuffing two years ago. Those four extra turkey legs that we added a few years prior? Henceforth, they were to be confit turkey legs, with the sea salt rub (cracked pepper, juniper berry, lemon zest, garlic, and thyme) and duck fat adding to all that 4 plus hours of roasting pulled from meat, skin, and fat. That year, not wanting to go too far, the only other additions were braised mushrooms and carrots. While I wanted to add some balance to a starch and gravy heavy table, I also wanted people to eat what I was adding to the table. So, after a quick sauté in two pans, I nearly drowned sponge-like maitake, shitake, and button mushrooms in one, and thinly shredded carrots in the other, in a mix of turkey gravy and pho broth (best thing to have frozen in your fridge) before placing in the oven at about 450 until most of the liquid was absorbed.
While last year’s turkey rillettes won’t be making a return—even the family cat wouldn’t go for it—I’ll once again be showcasing the magic that is duck fat. But this balancing act, of wanting to add something without getting in the way of tradition—after-all, this isn’t my showcase event—made me think how some of Philly’s talented chefs, sous chefs, home cooks, and assorted restaurant people approached the holiday. Do they cling tightly to tradition, or do they mess with things in the same high-level way some of our best do in their restaurants on a regular basis? After-all, for any of the purists resistant to the slightest change, there’s the proud immigrant tradition of adjusting the meal to the respective culture of one’s ancestors. So why not play with it?