Turkey Neck Stew
Dassum good eatin’, dat rat dere.
Cookin’ me up a big pot of turkey neck stew. I’ve never done it before, but I heard somebody talking about it the other day and it sounded delicious, so why not?
I’ve been cooking all my life. Which isn’t to say I’m a great cook, but I’m willing to eat my mistakes. There was a period of about eight years or so when I supported myself by cooking in restaurants–first salad prep, then seafood and grill work, then breakfast (there’s some high pressure for you–eggs cook and overcook in an instant), then more seafood, then vegetarian. Along the way, I learned to be a pastry chef and copped all manner of fancy-schmancy decorating tips from Gourmet Magazine. I’m one of the few people in south Austin with dog-eared copies of Jacque Pepin’s La Technique and La Methode. At one point, I even used them.
Having kids reels you in from all that. No sense in spending hours on a salmon souffle that gets spurned because “ew, it looks weird.” As a stay-at-home dad, I cultivated the skill necessary to turn out macaroni & cheese and hot dogs. Good enough for them, good enough for me, I’ll eat something decent later.
But I still love to cook up stews and other things Southern. So when I heard about turkey neck stew, I had to give it a go. It’s hard to screw up stew. Not like the pork roast I cooked to shoe leather last week. (Now I have a meat thermometer, so the next one will be trichinosis-level succulent. I’d rather have worms than dry pork again.)
Anyway, back to the turkey necks. They just came to a rolling boil, so I need to keep them there for the next two hours. Already got my bay leaves and a half-dozen smashed garlic cloves in the pot keeping them company. That buys me some time to think about the next step.
The Internet is a great resource; I don’t know why anybody would ever buy a cookbook again. But I just read recipes to argue with them anyway. I end up cooking the same way I play jazz–making it up as I go along. Come to think of it, a lot of jazz musicians are great cooks. It’s that willingness to experiment that makes it fun and interesting. And if it’s sometimes a mess–hey, that’s how you learn.
There’s a great scene in Bertrand Tavernier’s Round Midnight where vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, in his bathrobe, holds forth on the best way to cook red beans and rice. I don’t doubt for a minute that they were cooking it up for real on the set and ate it with gusto, chasing it with some ice-cold brew of their choice. Wish I had been there! Love you Bobby!
Back to Earth. The problem with not using recipes is that, when people like your cooking and ask you for it, they think you’re just being cagey or selfish when you say you don’t use them. Some folks (certain musicians included) just have to follow that page. No disrespect intended, but recipes are for people with no imagination or sense of adventure. And following one is no guarantee that you won’t screw up anyway, so may as well do it on your own terms.
All that being said, you have to start somewhere and I’ve never made this before, so I’m checking out Food.com. They suggest:
Hmmm…OK, I’m there with you on potatoes, carrots, onion, and celery. Forget the turnip and parsnip; turnip sounds plain weird, and I don’t have a parsnip in the house. Spices seem a little Plain Jane to me, so that will need some jazzing up. Flour? Probably not, I swore off wheat about ten months ago. Rice? We’ll see how thick it looks after the potatoes are in.
(Note to Dan Quayle: plural, it uses the ‘e’. Singular, it does not. Knowing that could have saved you some heartache.)
Cajun seasoning and Louisana Hot Sauce are definitely playing a role in this. Their time will come.
The main thing that attracted me to TNS is that it says to boil these suckers until the meat is falling off the bone. I love boiling bones. There’s something about it that speaks to my Jewish, Southern, and African-American heritage all at once (hey, two outta three ain’t bad). Plus, when I was a little kid, my favorite story was Jack & the Beanstalk, and there was a bit in there about the Giant grinding bones to make his bread. Even though he was referring to human bones, something about that just appealed to me when I was four.
I know, I was one twisted kid. You don’t have to rub it in.
Semi-related note: this morning, WonderWife asked me, “Why did you ask me to read your blog?”
“No particular reason, just thought you would like to.”
“Well, I do read it sometimes. But it seems sort of…” She trails off.
Ha! “Do you know what a blog is? It is the epitome of self-indulgence. If I weren’t self-indulgent, I wouldn’t have followed my chosen career path. I wouldn’t have been waking up next to you for almost twenty years.”
(One month from now. You still have plenty of time to shop.)
“Besides,” I continued, “It’s not like I’m writing about my dreams or something. Now that would be self-indulgent.”
Which reminds me: last night I had a MAD (Musician Anxiety Dream). Haven’t had one of those since leaving UNT, 20 years ago.
Anyway, in this dream, I had been hired by an unscrupulous promoter to sub for Chick Corea on a Return to Forever gig. Seems like Chick had fallen out due to a scheduling conflict, and rather than taking the loss, the promoter decided I could do just as well and the audience wouldn’t notice.
There are several parts wrong with this reasoning, of course, starting with the fact that I don’t know how to play the piano. But the promoter seemed to think I looked like Chick Corea and that was good enough for him. (For the record: I don’t.)
So I found myself approaching a capacity stadium where people were already waiting impatiently for RTF. I am about to dismembered alive, I remember thinking.
I found my way backstage and holed up in a bathroom while I tried desperately to figure out what I could do to satisfy the crowd. I remember thinking, “I can do that drumming-on-a-single-key thing that Chick does. I can play a whole-tone scale. I can use lots of space. I can…I can…I can write out my Last Will and Testament with soap on this mirror…”
Suddenly, I heard Al DiMeola talking over the PA in the hall and the band starting. They had gotten tired of waiting for me, and were launching into the first tune on their own. I thought, “Oh, that’s the icing on the cake. Now I get to make a conspicuous, late entrance–like I think I deserve to be on this stage. Maybe I can escape by flushing myself down the commode…”
There was an impatient knock on the bathroom door. I was sure it was the promoter, ready to push me onstage and Seal My Fate. But when I opened the door, there was a friendly-looking, familiar face. Where had I seen him before?
I apologized. “Look man, I’m sorry for being in here so long and tying up the bathroom. It’s just that they told me I had to be Chick Corea–“
He stopped me. “I’m Chick Corea.”
“You? You’re Chick Corea?! Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s just incredible.” My heart was spinning cartwheels. “Can you play this show? Man, I would be so so so eternally grateful if you would just take the stage.”
“Sure!” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Tremendous!” I’m melting with gratitude now. “And Chick—“
“How did you get so fat?”