Turkey Gumbo

One Thanksgiving, which arrived a long month and a half after my reluctant Hurricane Katrina-related departure from New Orleans, I resolved to kick my homesickness by injecting a new tradition into my Wisconsin family’s holiday feasting: turkey-bone gumbo.

I imported Louisiana andouille and I used Louisiana bay leaves, which are fresher and mellower than the ones sold in small jars in most grocery store spice aisles. I also made a potato salad with green onion mayonnaise — with a recipe from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen — which my husband, Matt, and I like to eat in our gumbo.

Many Louisianians approve of this pairing, and so did many in our Wisconsin crowd. So much so that the following year we held our second-annual Roahen turkey-bone gumbo dinner. Thirty people attended. Only one complained openly about my liberal use of cayenne.

Cold weather can induce a hankering for turkey-bone gumbo at inconvenient, non-holiday times, which necessitates roasting a turkey primarily for its carcass. But usually turkey-bone gumbo is something of an afterthought: what one cooks in order to make good use of the entire Thanksgiving bird once it has become carnage.

The same method could be — and is, in Louisiana — applied to any fowl or game. One of the most exhilarating gumbos I’ve tasted came from the pot of my friend and food enthusiast Brooks Hamaker, a Louisiana native. If ever I doubted his claims of being a huntsman, he earned my respect with the feather that I pulled from my teeth while enjoying his deep, dark Mardi Gras duck gumbo one year.

It’s amazing how much meat falls off the most meticulously carved turkey carcass after two hours in a simmering stockpot. And the stock produced is so flavorful that turkey-bone gumbo requires little more than a robust roux, some seasoning vegetables, and ample salt and pepper. I like to brighten it up with filé powder and lemon juice just before serving, though both additions are optional.

Sara Roahen is a food writer and author of Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table.