Tom Colicchio’s ‘Wichcraft, Part I: Turkey Sandwich Logic (TSL)

The traditional Fristrom family holiday is split between eating and playing all manner of games:  video games, board games, puzzle games, and on occasion head games, particularly if they involve our adorable five-year old niece, Sofi.  My brother designs and programs video games so it should be of no surprise that Sofi is already a first rate slayer in Popcap games instant classic “Plants vs. Zombies”.  It should be of no surprise too, that my brother was less enthusiastic about my introducing Sofi to the live-action version of the game that involved throwing crocheted vegetables at her father.

It is a well known fact that Seattle is named after the Chief Seattle of the Suquamish tribes, but I still insist that “Seattle” is Suquamish for “Moist”.  Why anyone wanted to name the promised chief-child “Moist” is beyond me, but there you have it.  Seattle is moist, and everything in it is moist, including much to my surprise my brother’s turkey.  I still stick to my assertion that turkeys are inherently inferior birds compared to chickens, ducks, geese, ostrich, and possibly swan. But turkeys can, like all things, be made to taste good under duress, and isn’t this the test of a good cook or recipe? Jamie did well this year with a kosher turkey.  Kosher turkeys are, like kosher chickens, generally juicier and more succulent due to the Hebraic belief that anything is kosher so long as you put enough salt on it. Pre-brined birds, however, have two strikes against them in the gravy department. 1) The drippings will be too salty for a pan sauce, and 2) Giblets aren’t kosher, so you can’t fall back on them either.  I had gravy duty, so I made a passable chanterelle gravy from a ½ pound of those loopy yellow, Dr. Seuss inspired mushrooms.  Jamie convinced me to include at least a modicum of the blackish, brackish glaze in the bottom of the turkey pan, and we were all the better for it.  Had Native Americans brought this to the pilgrim table, I’m sure they would’ve avoided any poultry inspired genocide.  My efforts to jerry-rig a steamer to make Broccolini was less successful, but the less said about that the better.

The second Turkey challenge is figuring out what to do with the leftovers.  I am not the most tactful houseguest, so I insisted that since Jamie and Cathy took on the lion’s share of the Thanksgiving cooking, I should get to take over their kitchen the following day.  They had other things in mind, because it was Sofi’s birthday, and there would be only a brief calm before fifteen small people descended upon the house to celebrate the following day.  The house had been cleaned and was now festooned with crepe paper flowers and other five-year old friendly décor for the occasion.  But I already promised my faithful readers, all three of them, that I was going to make Tom Colicchio’s recipe for turkey sandwiches on my blog. So what’s a guy to do?  Beside, I had to repair my pride after the Broccolini incident.

I agreed to make lunch instead of dinner and to clean whatever mess I made.  Much to my dismay, the rest of our still food comatose party didn’t really seem to want a large, complicated, ciabatta sandwich for lunch, particularly the five-year old variety of people who have not yet developed a taste for the finer things in life, and by the finer things of course, I mean onion marmalade.

Turkey sandwiches aren’t that bad in their traditional form, though I suspect every ingredient has been featured on Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like.  There’s a logic to turkey sandwiches.  Turkey is lean, lean on fat, and so necessarily lean on flavor.  Turkey sandwiches try to make up with this fact by including plenty of mayo for moisture, leftover cranberry sauce for flavor and sweetness, and extra gravy if the bird is dry. Cranberry sauce might be a problem for some people though.  At least one Philly friend of mine insists that any form of meat + fruit is sacrilege, but it’s a good pairing with things that are smoky, gamy, or dry.  Cranberry sauce isn’t really a far cry from chutneys, nor for that matter, BBQ sauce.  So there’s a logic here, even if the best the logic can strive for is to taste like Thanksgiving warmed over. Even the traditional white bread makes a certain amount of sense, because it’s absorbent. Anything denser would cause the goop to come squirting out the sides, and even a robust wheat bread could overshadow what little flavor the turkey has brought to the table.

I’ll sing the full praises of Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft next week, but for now, lets just say that his turkey sandwich stays true to the original sandwich. It still includes mayo, but its importance is negligible compared to the bacon and avocado.  Bacon in this case helps to accentuate the smoky flavor of the turkey—or add it when there really isn’t any to begin with. Bacon and avocado go pretty well on any sandwich, an alchemical pairing of crisp and chewy, soft and smooth, that is as vital to sandwiches as ham and Comte or homemade peanut butter and jelly, even if a certain five-year old has yet to realize it.

Some people feel clumsy around avocado because it has the texture, consistency, and probably the fat content, of butter.  But you wouldn’t worry too much about cutting off perfectly sized pats of butter and lining them up on a sandwich, so why should you here?  You can just mash the avocado into the bread if you like. If you insist on forming perfect little slices, however, it isn’t that difficult.  The sticking point is usually the pit or stone.

  1. Cut around the avocado length-wise.
  2. Hold one side in each hand and twist them apart.  The pit will slide right out of the flesh on one side, and remain thoroughly lodged in the other.
  3. Holding the offending side in the palm of one hand, gently whack the stone with a good-sized knife. Think of an axe going into wood:  as long as your aim is true you won’t have to worry about lopping off a finger.  The stone is hard and the knife will just get lodged in it. Gently rotate the knife as if you were unscrewing the pit; it pops right out.
  4. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and slice.

The only real problem is getting the d*** stone off the knife when you’re done with it.

While Colicchio insists that the turkey sandwich is an “ensemble cast” with no real star, I disagree.  The flavors are balanced, but the onion marmalade stands out because most people have never had onion marmalade. Turns out there are a wide array of different recipes for this tasty goo on the web. You can even buy it in stores that have a well-stocked section of jams and jellies.  Williams-Sonoma carries the ‘wichcraft stuff, which is the least like marmalade that I can find, and that’s a good thing.  It’s just onions, balsamic vinegar and sugar. It doesn’t include pectin. It doesn’t include raisins or dried apricots or even wine just to justify the family name of “marmalade”. The absence of fruit means you don’t have to worry about picky dinner guests with fruit + meat phobias.  It has all the tart and sweet flavor of cranberry sauce with none of the health benefits that might otherwise taint a perfectly good sandwich. You can find Colicchio’s recipe for it at Leite’s Culinaria if you want to make it yourself.

The recipe calls for ciabatta or country bread.  Logic dictates that ciabatta would be the right choice, but only if you can find it in the right size. Ciabatta is the bread of choice for sloppy sandwiches–pulled pork, BBQ, turkey, etc.—because it’s soft and airy on the inside but has a sturdy crust that never gets soggy.  The interior is also soft enough that it doesn’t force any of the gooshy ingredients out the side.   The Leite’s Culinaria’s picture goes against recipe and includes the marmalade on top, but that makes sense with ciabatta.  If you go with country bread though, you’ll probably want to stick with the avocado on top, cutting down on sogginess.

I’ve made this recipe three or four times now, often substituting chicken for Turkey.  In future though, I will try the country bread, because it’s hard to find a ciabatta the right size. Single-serving loaves are often taller than full-sized loaves and with the extra crust it can be just too much bread. Ciabatta literally means “carpet slipper,” so it should rise no higher than what you would comfortably wear around the house. Trader Joe’s offers relatively large, flat loaves that are the right size, though not always the freshest.

Colicchio’s book doesn’t explain everything as I have tried to here.  On the surface, it’s just another restaurant inspired cookbook, all recipe, little theory or instruction.  But each recipe has useful tips, and there is a clear theory to how to build sandwiches that is easy enough to deduce from example.  I’ll try to outline this general theory of sandwiches in my next entry, because they are fast becoming a staple part of my diet.

Tip:  There’s more than one way to carve a turkey, and the traditional one isn’t always the best.  I like to just carve the whole breast off the bird the way most people recommend when deboning a chicken.  Then you can cut the breast like a loaf of bread, leaving a strip of skin on every piece.

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6 Responses to “Tom Colicchio’s ‘Wichcraft, Part I: Turkey Sandwich Logic (TSL)”

  1. Cathy P. Says:

    For the record, I loved the sandwich 🙂 I even ate all the bread!

    I used the last slice of ciabatta to make another one the next day – minus bacon or avocado that is. I added a smear of my cranberry sauce instead. And I used the onion marmalade again at breakfast. In my turkey-filled crepe.

    I’ll probably have the rest of the marmalade with our leftover turkey tonight. So don’t worry, the effort was not wasted on us.

    p.s. We finally got our knives sharpened! I found a place at the downtown mall that even takes Global knives.

    • tfristrom Says:

      I’m sure they’ll be happy knives. I’m glad you enjoyed the sandwiches, though it makes for a good story either way. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the pumpkin cheesecake story.

  2. Tenaya Darlington Says:

    Interestingggg. I would never think of adding avocado and onion marmy, but that is a good lookin’ sandwich. My brother does a layer of stuffing, potatoes, cranberry, gravy, turkey, and strong cheese — then grills the whole thing in butter. It makes you feel like a dead whooping crane, but it sho is GD delicious.

  3. Jason Says:

    I still stand by my opposition to meat-fruit pairings, but the chicken with plum sauce you made (and if only there were some sort of online forum in which somebody’s thoughts could be “logged” on the “web” where somebody could talk about this) clearly demonstrates the idiocy of my prejudice. Where did the chicken w/plum recipe come from, and when will you make it again?

    • tfristrom Says:

      I think you’re referring to the Susanna Foo take on sweet and sour pork. Spicy tenderloin with poblanos and plums, in “Susanna Foo Fresh Inspiration: new Approaches to Chinese cuisine”.

      I think I’ve come to the decision that I like many fruit and meat pairings, just so long as they aren’t Swedish.

  4. Collin Murphy Says:

    Wish I had read your blog before I finished off my (kosher) turkey leftovers! Thought I wouldn’t want any more turkey for a year, but your sandwich idea makes me want to do it again. Or maybe I’m just hungry after swimming about two miles this morning??? Onion Marmalade – WOW.. can’t wait to find some!


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