Dear Mr. Dukakis

Dear Mr. Dukakis,

I read the article about you in the Boston Globe a few days ago. At first I thought just that it was a cute profile of a thrifty, kitchen-clever man. I and, I dare say, most of America asked, “Who knew that about him?” You have to admit that inviting strangers to drop by your house with poultry bones is a little odd.

I trained as a chef and worked as one for a period of my earlier life, so I know how to coax flavor — the richness and goodness you described to the Globe — from bones and connective tissue. I prefer to remove all the meat beforehand and save it separately, but our respective techniques are merely different routes to the same destination.

Stock works not only for soup but also for risotto and chili and sauces. Did you ever read the late novelist Laurie Colwin’s 1992 essay in Gourmet about lentils? I recalled it as I read about you and your turkey carcasses. Here is an excerpt, in which turkey stock could play a part just about anywhere:

In all your life you will be hard-pressed to find something as simple, soothing, and forgiving, as consoling as lentil soup. You can take things out of it or put things into it. It can be fancy or plain, and it will never let you down.
The unhealthy way is made with slab bacon, preferably double-smoked, cut into dice and sautéed with onion and garlic. Or made with short ribs, which have a sublime flavor and tons of fat, most of which is happily absorbed by the lentils and then passed right into your bloodstream. You can throw in some delicious, high-calorie, and very indigestible sausage. All of these will produce a delicious soup.
Or you can poach your lentils gently in a very rich, defatted chicken or beef stock, then pour the result in a blender with a spike of brandy (or not) and some cayenne pepper and serve this very velvety potion to grown-ups.
Lentils are friendly – the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.

You and I both know the disgusting truth about the dysfunctional relationship we Americans have with food. We overprocess it, eat too much of it and still throw away more of it than anybody else. The NRDC estimates that 40 percent of our food goes uneaten. All that waste costs money, loads landfills and dirties the atmosphere.

It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving as I write. My husband and I had only a nine-pounder this year to feed four people so there was hardly a huge mound of meat to deal with. We ate a couple of obligatory plates of microwaved leftovers and didn’t complain.

FREE TIP: An interesting way to snazz up leftover stuffing or dressing is to moosh a couple of eggs into it and make waffles. It’s still the same stuff but now with a nice crispiness to it. I suppose you could get the same effect by turning the egged-up stuffing into a frying pan with butter, just like you’d make a big potato pancake, but the waffle holds gravy (also leftover) better.

But this morning, inspired by what I read about you several days ago, I went to work on the carcass.

I picked off every morsel of meat big enough to get stuck in your teeth and set it aside.

The bones and everything else went into a stockpot with half an onion, a carrot, a couple of celery stalks, and some parsley, basil and thyme.

All that was left to do was wait and enjoy the smell on a cool Mississippi afternoon.

About three hours later, flavor and goodness duly coaxed, I strained the result and packaged it for freezing.

So what do you know? A quirky man and his Thanksgiving leftovers represent more than just a case study in soup. You are an example for the smart use of our resources and for good eating on a shoestring.

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that the newspaper article and my effort today with my own turkey carcass will turn me into you. For one thing, there’s the matter of limited freezer space, but I also don’t think I have the constitution to eat turkey soup more than once every couple of months. You can’t win ’em all.

But at least I am thinking more about frugality, at least where food is concerned. Tonight, two days after Thanksgiving, I’ll make paella for dinner. And instead of shrimp or mussels I’ll put leftover turkey in it. And instead of water I’ll use turkey stock.

You did me a service this week, Mr. Dukakis. But I expect you touched many more people than me. And I expect landfills across eastern Massachusetts and beyond won’t see many turkey bones next week. Thank you for that.


Clay Russell

PS: The turkey paella turned out quite good. I recommend it.

PPS: After I made the stock I tossed the bones into the woods behind the backyard. Pay it forward is my motto.