Making a turkey motorcycle
“The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey hash! Turkey à la king! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!” – Ralphie Parker in the movie A Christmas Story
When the Bumpuses’ dogs sneaked in and dragged the turkey off the kitchen table, Ralphie knew they’d stolen much more than the centerpiece of a holiday meal. A panoply of potential turkey leftovers had also vanished down those dogs’ gullets.
Food-centric periodicals don’t typically devote much space to leftovers – but turkey is an exception, no doubt because, well, there’s often a lot left over. Fortunately, cooked turkey, much like cooked chicken, lends itself well to many dishes. One of my favorites is a recipe I developed years ago: curried turkey salad with dried cranberries. Though not made from leftovers, it was also the main ingredient in my most bizarre catering episode.
It started with a phone call after Thanksgiving. “Uh, sure, I’m pretty sure I can do that,” I said to the woman who had called. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure at all, but I’d only recently begun catering and didn’t want to turn down a new client. It would certainly be a creative challenge, although not much of a moneymaker. I hung up and looked over at my husband, Peter. “You won’t believe this one,” I said. “This woman wants a single appetizer for about 30 people. She doesn’t care what it is. She doesn’t care how much it costs. The only requirement is that it has to look like a BMW motorcycle.”
The only motorcycles I’d ever really noticed were ridden by the Hell’s Angels who used to roar into Springfield for the races on the last day of the Illinois State Fair – and my attention was given to avoiding them as much as possible. As far as I knew, one motorcycle was pretty much like any other.
Fortunately, Peter set me straight. BWM motorcycles have a unique design. Unfortunately, he wasn’t much more of a motorcycle enthusiast than I and couldn’t give me specifics. These days I’d just Google “BMW motorcycles” and find a picture, but this was in the Dark Ages before the Internet. It was sheer luck that I happened to tell my neighbor about my predicament – her husband had a BMW motorcycle in their garage. I’d been in their garage many times but hadn’t seen it: It was covered up and stashed in a corner because she’d made her husband promise to stop riding it when their first child was born.
It was also sheer luck that Peter has an art background, but when we threw off the cover and Peter began sketching, I realized that my luck had run out. What had I gotten myself into? The details would be hard enough, but what really concerned me were the large expanses of black and silver. I’d already decided on the base. The day after the appetizer gig, I’d be preparing box lunches that included my curried turkey salad sandwiches for a busload of Illini football fans. I could make more of it, mincing the ingredients instead of chopping them, so that it would be suitable for spreading on crackers. I’d form it into the basic shape, then spread it thinly with cream cheese, making a canvas on which I could create the motorcycle.
The colors were the real problem. Black was relatively easy. I could use black sesame seeds, black olives, or even poppy seeds, but silver isn’t a color usually found in foodstuffs – at least not things most people want to eat. Moreover, the flavor had to coordinate with that of the turkey salad.
There were two weeks until I had to come up with a finished product, and I spent much of that time trying to figure out how to come up with silver food. I thought about it in the middle of the night. I thought about it when I should have been paying attention to my children. I thought about it in the shower, the car, in choir rehearsals. I mixed silver food coloring with cream cheese – disgusting. Salmon skin is a delicacy in Japan but would probably be a turnoff to most people here; it wouldn’t go with the curried turkey, either. Ditto anchovies and sardines.
One day I was chopping a red onion, and it hit me. Of course! Red onions, cooked long enough, turn silvery grey. Using the biggest red onions I could find, I separated them into large single-layer pieces, and poached them. The color was perfect. I cut them into appropriate shapes and made a mockup. At last I had it!
The day of the event, I shaped the turkey salad into a motorcycle outline 2 inches thick. Peter drew in the details with a toothpick, and I started assembling the mosaic of red onion, sesame seeds, and a few other things. Hours later, I stood back with a glow of satisfaction. It really did look like a BMW motorcycle, and it would taste good, too.
But my trial by motorcycle appetizer wasn’t over. Absorbed in creating my masterpiece, I hadn’t paid any attention to the weather, but now I realized it’d been sleeting for several hours. Even then I wasn’t too worried, though I gratefully accepted Peter’s offer to come with me for the delivery.
We pulled up to the client’s house and stared, horrified. It was at the top of a steep incline, the driveway totally coated with glare ice. We parked and I started up the driveway holding the big tray carefully, Peter supporting me as best he could. It was impossible. There was more traction on the crunchy ice-covered lawn, but we were still slipping and sliding. We ended up using a bucket-brigade approach: One of us would take two steps and stop, then the other would make his way up a couple of steps higher, take the tray, then the other would move up a few steps more, and so on. It took us almost a half hour to reach the house. At least the client was pleased and reported that their guests had enjoyed it.
Even if you’re not trying to make an edible motorcycle, this recipe is a delicious way to use turkey leftovers.
Curried turkey and dried cranberry salad
- 2 c. chopped cooked turkey, smoked or roasted
- 1/3 c. dried cranberries
- 1 T. vodka or orange liquor such as Grand Marnier in which to marinate the cranberries, optional
- 1/2 c. good quality mayonnaise, such as Hellman’s
- 1/2 tsp. curry powder or more to taste
- 2 T. minced scallions
- 1 T. finely minced pickled jalapeños, hot or mild as you prefer
- 1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted in a 350 F. oven until lightly browned (about 5 minutes)
If you will be using the salad as a spread, mince the turkey. If you are using it as a sandwich filling, chop it more coarsely.
To enhance their flavor, toss the cranberries with 1 tablespoon of the vodka or orange-flavored liqueur in microwavable bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 1 minute. Cool to room temperature before using.
Put the cranberries, mayonnaise, curry powder, scallions and jalapeños in a large bowl and stir to combine. (Curry powders vary widely in their intensity, in both heat and flavor, so judge accordingly.) Add the chopped turkey and mix well. If possible, the almonds should be added just before serving. Makes 2-3 cups.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.