Why do turkeys come to mind at tax time?
Because they're cheap, of course. And they're all-American. Besides, when April 15 rolls around, your tastebuds have recovered from the turkey glut of the holidays.
For too long, turkey has been saved for the holiday buffet. It's time for the tom to come off the sideboard and make an appearance in normal meals. Indeed, a recent Department of Agriculture survey found turkey to be one of the best buys in the D.C. area, along with beef liver, chicken, whole ham, pork shoulder and ground beef.
But if the big bird intimidates you, try turkey parts. Available fresh and frozen they come in a variety of shapes -- breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings -- and price ranges. Like the sum, the parts make for some inexpensive eating.
Turkey breasts, the most expensive part, provide endless alternatives for elegant meals. Slice them thin like scallopini for breading and a quick saute'. Lemon juice, wine and capers finish the dish in a flash. Or wrap them around cheese and ham, bread them lightly and bake them quickly to heat them through and melt the cheese. Like chicken breasts, they are easy to overcook.
Turkey wings, drumsticks and thighs are less expensive and more confusing. A row of dainty little chicken thighs all in a little row inspires the cook to think up some cute little meals. Two big hunks of turkey thigh threaten to overwhelm any glimmerings of creativity, and the cook tends to pass them by -- one explanation for their price. The meat makes a tasty dinner nonetheless, and cooked meat cut from the bone makes a fine addition to a poultry-based casserole, curry, salad, stir-fry or pasta me'lange.
Turkey wings don't necessarily spring to mind when you're compiling your grocery list. Consider them an option, however, when you're motivated to chuck the old standbys for something new and different. Not to be confused with the more elegant chicken breast, turkey wings (like their cousins the chicken wings) add a lot of flavor to dishes, and a lot of low-cost meatiness. Perfect for crockery cooker aficionados, turkey wings are better if they're allowed to cook for a long time in liquid. Combine wings with broth, white beans, hot peppers, tomatoes and sausage for a Mediterranean-style meal that can cook all day while you're at work. Or add a large can of tomatoes, garlic and green chilies and serve them with salad and cornbread.
It is best to braise the bird, which toughens with the dry heat of roasting. As with chicken wings, trim the tips from turkey wings and use them for broth, if desired. Use that broth to cook rice or bulghur pilaf to complement your turkey wing meal.
To the side of the turkey, serve saute'ed mushroom caps (simply seasoned with salt and pepper) and steamed artichokes or frozen artichoke bottoms. To increase the amount of sauce (enough for the artichokes), double the amount of tarragon, mustard and wine.
That leaves enough room in your shopping basket for a pint of strawberries and a carton of sour cream (or yogurt). For a simple dessert, sweeten the sour cream with a little (brown) sugar and top hulled strawberries with two or three tablespoons of the mixture. Or you may want to skip dessert and serve rolls with your turkey.
Every kitchen should be stocked with flour, sugar, salt, pepper and oil or butter.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: turkey thigh, tarragon, dijon mustard, wine, mushrooms, artichokes (fresh or frozen), strawberries and sour cream.
TARRAGON TURKEY THIGHS (2 servings) % tablespoons butter or vegetable oil 1 turkey thigh 1/2 teaspoon tarragon 1 tablespoon dijon mustard 1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the butter or oil in a medium skillet over fairly high heat (if using butter, watch it carefully and don't allow it to burn). Brown the turkey thigh on both sides. Stir the tarragon and mustard into the pan and add wine. Cover the skillet tightly, lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Uncover, remove thigh to a warm plate and reduce sauce to thicken it. When the turkey has cooled slightly, cut in half (down the bone, not across). Drizzle with sauce and serve.