Talking turkey

There's life in the old bird yet: spice up the leftover meat in a Sichuan-style salad and still have some for soup. Photographs by Jason Lowe
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Without question, mulligatawny is one of the finest soups I know. And let me tell you, readers, I know a good soup when I see one. The following were memorable: a divinely scented, chilled langoustine and tarragon soup at Alain Chapel, Mionnay, near Lyon; a lobster bisque at The Carved Angel in Dartmouth; a pigeon consomme at Berowra Waters Inn, Sydney; a bowl of sharp rasam in a southern Indian vegetarian restaurant in Tooting; a simple, limpid bowl of rust-red fish soup at Harveys, Wandsworth (I think it may have been made from red mullet). I could have drunk three bowlfuls of the latter, and so asked for another hit. But, sadly, none was forthcoming (the request might have "interfered" with kitchen fluidity). In Dartmouth, though, seconds - and thirds - were there for the taking, from a tureen, generously left on the table, with ladle. Ditto restaurant Tetou, by the beach, in sunny Golfe Juan-les-pins.

This savoury preamble with soups springs to mind because I have a sneaking feeling there may be one or two turkey carcasses lurking here and there: half-eaten, half-cooked, stripped to the bone, hacked to bits, missing, already buried by the dog at the bottom of the garden. A turkey carcass, you see, makes the best broth of all.

Stuffing, jellied bits from slow cooking, leftover gravy and sausage and bacon rolls, burnished bits of skin and extremity, all go towards making a truly fine brew. Put the carcass (stripped of all remaining meat) in a large saucepan with some cold water, a stock cube perhaps (for added oomph), onions, celery, leeks, herbs, a clove or two, the last of the Port bottle, and simmer for two hours. Skim off the blanket of scum that will, undoubtedly, form on the surface, and allow to blip away happily while you nip down the pub for a Boxing Day lunchtime drink. The odour wafting from the kitchen on your return will make your day.

Back to that mulligatawny now. You've got your broth, pieces of turkey meat to chop up and put into it if you want and a nice cold and wintry afternoon on which to go about making it. All you need now is a good recipe. I have taken the liberty of extracting the following one from a cookery book I co-wrote with Lindsey Bareham last year, called The Prawn Cocktail Years (Macmillan, pounds 20). Well, why not?

Mulligatawny, serves 6

The exact origin of this beguiling, gently curried soup is unclear. There are certainly enough versions of it around, and it has long been claimed by both British and Indian cooks as their own; even Eliza Acton recorded a recipe for this hybrid soup as long ago as 1840. It was possibly something the Indian cook-wallah assumed the uninitiated British palate could cope with - being both a bit spicy and also the ever-familiar "soup." Is it a bowl of something that is either thick or thin, or almost approaching a dish of sloppy dahl? Who knows?

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 small leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced and washed

50g butter

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cumin

1 dsp garam masala

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes

1.4 litres turkey broth (or chicken or lamb stock)

75g red lentils

2 bay leaves (or 5-6 curry leaves)

4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

zest of 1 lime

juice of 2 limes

1/2 tsp dried chill flakes

200g coconut milk (half a can)

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

4 cloves of garlic, peeled, sliced and cooked gently in 50g butter until golden

Gently fry the onions and leeks in the butter until pale golden. Add the spices and salt and cook slowly for 3-4 minutes. Tip in the tomatoes and cook together for 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and stir in the lentils, bay (or curry) leaves, cardamom and lime zest. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, skimming and stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender and have somewhat thickened the soup. Now stir in the lime juice, the chilli flakes and the coconut milk. Simmer for a further 5 minutes. Finally, add the chopped coriander, the browned garlic and its butter, stir in, and serve. Poppadums are really quite splendid eaten with this.

Sichuan turkey salad (aka bang-bang turkey), serves 4 for a light lunch

The first time that I tasted this Sichuan speciality (how authentically Sichuan it actually is, is anybody's guess, but it is delicious) was in illustrious company - at least, gastronomically so. It was about 20 years ago, at a new Chinese restaurant in Maida Vale, London. I cannot for the life of me remember the name, but it was very green and had a waterfall in the entrance vestibule. I was an Egon Ronay inspector at the time, but this was the very first occasion when I was to be a guest of the Guide's proprietor, along with the late Kenneth Lo and his wife. Ken Lo will be remembered, without doubt, as the most informed and educated ambassador of Chinese gastronomy the British have ever known. As well as being most charmingly educated in the finer points of noodle, soy and ginger, I also recall how effortlessly he managed to sponge cigarettes from me throughout the evening. All I can say now is that it was a pleasure to act as spongee on that memorable night.

Along with all sorts of new and wonderful tastes that I indulged in, it was the first courses, mostly cold, that intrigued and excited me more than anything else. I recall shredded jellyfish, which was cool, deliciously rubbery and crunchy at the same time. I think it had been spiked with chilli, too. Not a great deal of flavour, but the Chinese regard texture in some dishes as being every bit as important as flavour. There was also a magnificent display of Imperial Peking hors d'oeuvres, which, among various other delicacies, included slices of meltingly fatty belly pork. (I've just remembered the name of the place! Pangs! But am not sure whether it still exists.) Then there was this bang-bang thing, so here it is - well, at least, my interpretation of it for your Christmas bird.

Note: should your cold turkey be very dried-out and crumbly, I wouldn't bother using it for this dish; make a hash, or some other vehicle that will introduce moisture back into the meat. However, should you wish to make the dish from scratch - which is more than worthwhile - then simply steam a couple of large chicken breasts, allow to cool and then proceed with the recipe.

350-400g cooked turkey (or moist chicken, duck or goose) meat, shredded into thin strips

for the sauce

350g jar of smooth peanut butter

100ml light soy sauce

5 tbsp lemon juice

5 tbsp sesame oil

3 pieces stem ginger (plus 3 tbsp of the syrup)

1 level tsp dried chilli flakes (less or more, depending upon your taste)

2 peeled cloves garlic, crushed

100ml water

for the salad

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into matchstick shapes

1 bunch spring onions, trimmed, washed and shredded Iengthways

a little salt

1/2 tsp caster sugar

juice of 1 lime

2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted

2 tsp sesame oil

coriander sprigs

To make the sauce, put all ingredients into a liquidiser and blend until smooth. Push through a sieve into a bowl. The consistency required is one of bottled salad cream; if you think it a bit thick, simply whisk in a little warm water. This sauce keeps well in the fridge for at least a week, stored in a screw-top jar. Toss the sesame seeds in a dry pan over moderate heat until light brown in colour and tip onto a plate to cool.

Put the salad ingredients into a bowl and mix with salt, sugar and lime juice. Spread out onto a serving dish. Distribute the meat on top and spoon over the sauce. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds, drizzle with sesame oil and decorate with sprigs of coriander