Dealing with Christmas leftovers has become, over the years, as exciting to me as planning the main festive meal.
When I pore over lists of which hotel or restaurant is offering what, I think about how I can turn what I order into more interesting meals than turkey or ham sandwiches.
My sister rarely makes it back to Singapore for Christmas so it is usually just my parents and me. I know I should order less, but sometimes, the best tasting offerings come in big servings. I hate the thought of wasting food, so the only way is to get creative.
Leftovers have been turned into savoury bread puddings, soup, shepherd's pies, fried beehoon, pasta dishes and congee.
I even eye the stuff people usually throw out. At Christmas parties, for instance, I might ask the host if I can take home the turkey carcass. I have become quite shameless about hoarding these bones because I know they can be put to very delicious uses.
It takes very little to transform the carcass into a hearty stock, which can then be used to cook my morning oats or congee or soup.
One excellent dish to make with turkey stock is chye buey or choi keok, which means "leftovers" in Hokkien and Cantonese respectively.
It is more popular in Malaysia than in Singapore and I cannot imagine why, because it is delicious.
The dish comes in handy during Chinese New Year, where leftover roast pork, chicken or duck are made into a hearty stew with lots of juicy mustard greens, called kai choy in Cantonese.
1 turkey carcass
2 medium onions, 400g total
3 to 4 heads garlic
4 litres water, or enough to cover the bones
1 kg cooked meat - turkey, roast duck, roast pork, pork knuckle or sausages
12 to 15 dried chillies
15g to 30g assam keping, commonly called assam skin
2kg mustard greens, called kai choy
5 to 6 tomatoes, about 500g
Salt to taste
1. Strip the meat that remains on the turkey carcass and refrigerate in a covered container. Chop the carcass into large chunks and place in a large and deep pot. Peel the onions, halve them and place in the pot. Cut the heads of garlic in half, exposing the cloves (pictured). Place in the pot. Pour in the water and bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and let bubble for two hours, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
2. The stock can be made a day ahead. Strain into a deep container, cover and refrigerate. Before using, use a spoon to remove the layer of oil that would have floated to the top. If using immediately, strain the stock into another deep pot. You should have 2.2 to 2.5 litres.
3. Place the pot holding the stock over high heat. Add the turkey and other cooked meat. Rinse the dried chillies and assam keping under running water and add to the pot. Scrape the skin off the ginger with a teaspoon, slice thinly and add to the pot.
4. Wash the mustard greens under running water, trim the wilted parts and cut into large chunks. Add them to the pot. Quarter the tomatoes and add them to the pot.
5. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to medium low. Taste and add more assam keping if you like. Let cook for one hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Just before the hour is up, taste and add salt, if needed. Ladle into a large serving bowl and serve with rice.
Some friends told me about it years ago and it works just as well with Christmas leftovers.
I strip a turkey carcass of all the meat, and am always surprised by just how much is left on the bones. The meat goes into the fridge and the bones into a large pot.
Most turkeys are already flavoured in some way, so all I need for the stock is a couple of onions and a few heads of garlic. After a couple of hours of simmering, I get an aromatic stock.
Then it is really a matter of chucking stuff into a large pot and letting everything simmer slowly in the stock. The turkey meat and other leftovers - roast pork belly, pork roast, roast duck or goose, pork knuckles, ham and even sausages - can go into the stew.
What makes it appetising after rounds and rounds of eating rich food is its tanginess.
Some people use tamarind paste, but I prefer the clean-tasting tartness of assam keping, also called assam gelugur. Ask for assam peh at the wet market. It comes from the Garcinia atroviridis tree and is made by drying slices of its bright yellow, pumpkin-shaped fruit.
I like my food tart so I usually use 30g of assam keping. If you are less tolerant of sourness, start with 15g, taste and add more if needed.
The other flavourings in my recipe are dried chillies and ginger.
A key ingredient is mustard greens. Like assam keping, it is not often found in supermarkets, so head to the wet market.
Pick heads of kai choy without leaves because the thick, fleshy stems are the real attraction. They soak up flavour from the meat and stock and make for excellent eating. I hated the vegetable as a child and could not stand its bitterness. If you simmer it long enough, however, the bitterness goes away.
Like most stews, this one tastes better the next day. If you finish the mustard greens, but still have stock and meat left, just add more of the vegetable and let it cook low and slow.
Needless to say, you will need rice to go with this.
In the lead-up to Christmas, I have already made the stew twice - this has been a bumper year for carcass hoarding - and am looking forward to making it at least once more. This time, I will add the bone I salvaged weeks ago from a smoked turkey leg.
Is it wrong to be more excited about leftovers than Christmas Eve dinner?
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