At number eight in our countdown, and in time to give you a suggestion for something to do with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, I present:
Last year around this time I made Turkey Soufflé Salad, and shopping for the turkey on the day after Thanksgiving meant my choices were limited. I wasn’t particularly happy with the deli slices I ended up using, so I made sure that Jellied Turkey Salad would come up on the editorial calendar before Thanksgiving, and I decided that I would just have to roast a turkey breast to get a satisfactory meat component.
A week or two before it was time to get to work on the Jell-O recipe, it occurred to me that if I was roasting a turkey breast anyway, maybe I ought to just go whole hog and make an early Thanksgiving dinner. After all, I hadn’t gotten to do a Thanksgiving my way in almost 30 years. Instead of my in-laws’ library-paste stuffing, I would make the stuffing I remembered from my youth, a simple dish of celery, onions and peppers sautéed in a lot of butter, mixed with croutons, and moistened with broth. Instead of heavy mashed potatoes beaten with cream cheese (cream cheese? why?) I would make basic potatoes mashed with butter, milk, salt and pepper (and not beaten, so they’d have that “real mashed potatoes” texture). I would have jellied cranberry sauce (with the can shape), a side veg, and brown’n’serve rolls, if I could find them.
So that’s what I did (minus the brown’n’serve rolls, which were not yet available). It was actually kind of fun. Cooking a multipart meal like that has a certain rhythm to it, coordinating the timing of the various elements. It went amazing well considering how long it had been since I’d cooked a big meal like that, although it was not without a few small hiccups. For starters, the turkey took longer to roast than I had been led to believe. I wasn’t totally happy with the gravy, which was probably doomed from the start due to the natural limitation of pan drippings from a lean breast. I’d kind of like a do-over on the stuffing because I couldn’t find herbed croutons and the unseasoned ones, well, they needed seasoning. Also, I found that I am totally lacking turkey carving skillz. Still, it was a nice dinner, and Bryan made a chocolate pecan pie for dessert, and I had leftover turkey for my Jell-O.
Then my procrastination tendencies kicked in and I kind of bollixed up the timing on this, which is why there’s no video for it. (Not that I expect anyone really misses it, but I’ll do an extra “penance” anyway and make a donation to the Boston Food Bank so that somebody else can have a nice Thanksgiving dinner.) We had the dinner last Saturday, and the leftover turkey wound up sitting in the fridge until I got to work on Jellied Turkey Salad on Wednesday evening. I looked up how long leftover turkey is safe to eat, and while most sources said three to four days, I found a discussion thread on Chowhound where people were maintaining that leftover turkey is fine for upwards of a week. Okay, I thought, this will just make it exciting…
… which is good, because making Jellied Turkey Salad is a bit of a dawdle. It’s your basic prepping of the solid ingredients (I did a little extra of everything, as usual), thickening the Jell-O over an ice water bath, mixing in the solid ingredients, and chilling it in a mold. That old story, one we know so well by now. Since I was making this before we ate dinner, I nibbled at the turkey while I was cutting it up, and found that it was better as leftovers than it had been right out of the oven, and I decided that the bother of roasting it had been worth it.
The mold sat in the fridge for an extra day (what can I say, it was a rough week), so on Friday it was with some trepidation that I unmolded it, took some photos, and sat down to try a piece. Bryan got home from work while I was setting up for the photos, and he assured me that he’d eaten some of the leftover turkey for lunch and hadn’t gotten sick, so that was encouraging.
After tasting it, I’m just as glad I didn’t go to the trouble of making a video, because there were no grimaces. Jellied Turkey Salad wasn’t particularly awful. The Jell-O was too sweet, but there were enough other ingredients in there that the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming. The turkey was fine, and I liked the flavor of the chopped tarragon. As with so many of the savory Jell-O recipes, the flavors just didn’t blend together well, so each bite was a little, I guess you could say, confusing to the palate. When Bryan tried a bite, he was startled; he said it wasn’t what he was expecting.
Jellied Turkey Salad appears in the chapter titled “Salads for the Slim Life”. I imagine that, as with so many “diet” foods of the mid-20th century, the primary function of this dish is to kill the appetite. I was pretty hungry when I tried this, so I ate several bites, but I had no desire to finish my portion, let alone eat the rest of the mold. The garbage disposal got the bulk of it, and Action Against Hunger will get its usual donation.
Just in time for the holiday season, here’s something, um, different to do with that leftover turkey.
Turkey Soufflé Salad bears an uncanny resemblance to Garden Soufflé Salad, with a slightly different assortment of veggies and the addition of turkey. The base is a lemon Jell-O bavarian with mayonnaise as the fatty ingredient, a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to (one hopes) cut the sweetness of the Jell-O, and some grated onion and ground pepper for (one hopes) savory flavoring.
As with Garden Soufflé Salad, the recipe says to put the liquid Jell-O mixture in a square baking pan and put that in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until it’s firm to about an inch in from the edges and still soft in the middle. Also as with Garden Soufflé Salad, it didn’t work that way; after about 25 minutes a thin coat of Jell-O was firm and starting to freeze on the surfaces of the pan, while the rest of it remained liquid. I hereby declare this technique “totally bogus”. If there is a next time, I will thicken the Jell-O over a trusty ice-water bath before proceeding to the next step, which is to whip it in a mixer until “fluffy”. Using the technique described in the book yields a still fairly liquid gelatin that would be better described as “foamy”.
As usual, I chopped up a little extra of all of the veggies, including, for the first time, pimientos. I had never encountered them outside of green olives and “loaf” before, and I was surprised to find that I liked the aroma, which made me feel a little better about this recipe.
Really the most interesting thing about making this one was the turkey. We don’t normally eat turkey here at Freak Mountain, and we certainly don’t host big Thanksgiving turkey dinners (the lack of a dining room lets us off the hook), so I had to buy turkey specifically for this recipe. Bryan and I went to the Super Stop’n’Shop the day after Thanksgiving, and I expected that I’d be able to buy a turkey breast (pre-cooked if I was really lucky) to use in Turkey Soufflé Salad. Unfortunately, I found I had two turkey options – a whole frozen turkey, or packages of cooked, deli-sliced turkey. I bought two packages of the latter, which at least had the advantage of being in nice, firm slabs that were easy to cut into cubes. One package yielded a cup and a half of cubed turkey, exactly the amount specified in the recipe.
We ate the second package for lunch in sandwiches with Swiss cheese on rye, with about the same level of enthusiasm meat-eaters have for Thanksgiving leftovers.
Veggies and turkey bits got folded into the foamy, mayonnaise-y gelatin base, poured into 1.25-cup molds, and chilled overnight. They unmolded beautifully into festive-looking servings. The photo doesn’t look so bad, but that’s because it’s not enhanced by Smell-O-Vision. To put it politely, the meat/Jell-O/mayonnaise combination does not smell appetizing.
I think it didn’t taste as bad as it smelled, but it wasn’t good. To be honest, the sandwich-meat turkey was pretty bland (which is a complaint I’ve heard about turkey generally) so mostly it added a weird texture to the salad. Meat and Jell-O together seems to be a bad idea, and I’m left scratching my head over the concept of aspic. I mean, I get the idea of using jelly to preserve meat, but why not just scrape it all off before you serve it? That’s what we always did with canned hams when I was a kid.
As it happened, on the day I was tasting this, we were planning to make a call on our friend JB–, who was sitting shiva for his mother. It’s traditional to bring food to shiva, but I wasn’t sure it would be appropriate to bring Turkey Soufflé Salad. Meanwhile, Bryan messaged JB– to see if he needed anything, and JB– responded that they were good for food, but seeing as it was us, he’d expect some Jell-O. Little did he know… I kind of hope JB– didn’t actually eat the Turkey Soufflé Salad, but I do hope he found it amusing. This is not a dish for enjoying, but rather a dish for ridiculing.
Whatever he did with it, I hope he did it quickly, because when I opened the fridge to get milk for my coffee this morning, the leftover Turkey Soufflé Salad was really stankin’ it up. This stuff ripens.
Needless to say, we didn’t eat the rest of it. Donations have been made to Action Against Hunger, Planned Parenthood, and the International Rescue Committee.
(In case anyone’s wondering, I’ve also reinstated my membership in the ACLU in support of my LGBTQ friends and others whose rights might be endangered by the coming administration.)