Holidays are always entwined with family, but figuring out what to do with all that turkey stock took Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement to some unexpected places.
Last Thanksgiving, we got a heritage-breed turkey raised by Rathbun & Moore in Outlook, Washington, east of the Cascade Mountains from Seattle. Rathbun & Moore is a family-owned outfit that’s been growing Concord grapes for three generations. (My family’s from out that way, too, going back three generations on both sides.) Their birds spend the fall eating bunches of leftover grapes — which is probably as deliriously great as life can get for a turkey — then make their way to some lucky Seattle holiday tables via farmers markets. They taste extra-specially good, and they should: These turkeys cost $10 a pound.
If you don’t make use of that carcass, the food-waste police will come for you, if the guilt doesn’t get you first. So the day after Thanksgiving, I made turkey stock — it really is easy, just simmering down what’s left of the bird with a cut-up onion, a few aging carrots, whatever other vegetables you have lying around. But, then, what to do with it?
My dad was a pretty great, homestyle cook — he always said every good recipe starts with an onion — but his after-Thanksgiving homemade turkey soup consistently turned out mediocre, so I grew up thinking I didn’t like it. Maybe no soup for this turkey stock. Instead, I thought, how about using it to braise some lamb shanks; weren’t there some languishing in the freezer? That almost all-purpose-adaptable Julia Child recipe for braised leg or shoulder of lamb with beans would work, right? It called for beef broth, but that sounded arguably aggressive with lamb, anyway — turkey stock would work. Onward!
The onion was chopped, mise all en place, and a dinner guest on the way when unwrapping the white-butcher-papered package of lamb shanks revealed … a ham hock. Oh no! I thought, and: My god!
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My dad had brought this ham hock to me from Owens Meats in Cle Elum, a fifth-generation butcher shop (since 1887!) and a favorite spot. (My dad grew up on a small Angus cattle ranch out past Yakima, eventually moving to Seattle to become a social worker; he passed Cle Elum hundreds of times in his life, stopping to go to Owens a fair number of them. It may be weird, but we are the kind of family that brings each other meat.) Not having an immediate idea of what to do with it, I had stuck the ham hock in the freezer. My dad had been gone for quite some time — this was a meat gift from beyond the grave. Ha! I thought. He would think this was funny, me standing here, holding a surprise ham hock. I would call him and ask him how I ought to cook it — and whether I ought to cook it. It’d been lodged in the back of the freezer for, what … three years?! Thawed out, it looked fine. I sniffed it: fine, too. Then I cried a little bit.
Not much to do but forge forth. I Googled “how long freeze meat,” finding many websites saying up to a year was the limit, then a page from the U.S.D.A. stating that food stored at zero degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature of most domestic freezers — “will always be safe,” though the quality may suffer (thanks, Uncle Sam).
I went ahead with the Julia Child recipe, sort of: turkey instead of beef stock; lamb replaced with ham hock; no extra salt because: ham hock; thyme for spice, plus a little red chili pepper (why not?). The step involving removing the meat, then straining the melty-soft carrot and onions out of the boiling-hot liquid to make it more of a sauce, seemed unnecessary. (“Why the hell would you do that?” Dad said in my head.) How about some more carrot in with the beans toward the end, to give it a little life? Yes.
It turned out really good: warming and stewy and filling, hammy-savory and maybe a tiny bit tomato-paste sweet, simple and perfect for a dark winter’s night. Also, lots of leftovers. Dad would’ve loved it.
Ham Hock with White Beans in Turkey Stock for Dad
1 ham hock
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Thyme or sage, dried or fresh
1 large onion, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
2 cups dry white wine (or 1½ cups dry white vermouth)
4 cups turkey stock (or chicken stock)
3 or 4 cloves garlic, nubs cut off, smashed with the side of a knife, and peeled
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
1¼ cups soaked/cooked white beans — cannellini, Great Northern, or what have you — or 2 15.5-ounce cans, drained and rinsed
Fresh Italian (or curly) parsley
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Brown the ham hock in the oil over medium heat, turning it as the sides take on color and sprinkling each side with fresh-ground pepper and a little thyme or sage (this will take about 10 to 15 minutes total). Remove to a platter. Add the onion and about half the carrots to the pot, sprinkle with a little pepper and thyme or sage, and brown for about 3 minutes, stirring two or three times. Remove the onion and carrots to the platter.
3. If the pot has more than a tablespoon or so of browning fat, pour the excess out. Add the wine or dry vermouth and bring it to a boil, then reduce to about half the volume, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Turn off heat and add ham hock, with its fattiest side up, to the pot, then surround it with the carrots and onion. Pour in enough stock to cover the ham hock about two-thirds up. Add the garlic, then stir in the tomato paste and chili pepper; sprinkle with pepper and thyme or sage. Turn heat back to high and bring to a simmer, then cover and put in the oven.
4. Set a timer and turn the ham hock over every half-hour. At an hour and a half, you should be able to pull the hock apart to submerge the meat and bones into the broth — this may take more or less time, depending on the size of the hock. At this point, stir in the beans and the remaining carrots; if there’s not enough liquid to cover them, add more stock or water. Braise a half-hour more.
5. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley (and make sure each plate or bowl gets nice chunks of ham!).
Rathbun & Moore
Turkeys for Thanksgiving 2018 may still be available to order for Seattle-area farmers market pickup; message Rathbun & Moore on Facebook. Limited numbers of extra turkeys will be available at the Magnolia Fall Harvest Farmers Market on Saturday, Nov. 17, and at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market on Sunday, Nov. 18. Find Rathbun & Moore’s eggs, chickens, geese and more at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market year-round and other farmers markets in season.
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502 E. First St., Cle Elum, Washington; 509-674-2530, owensmeats.com