A few years ago, I headed down to San Diego to have Thanksgiving dinner with my old friends Peter and Sarah Simoneaux, New Orleans expatriates (who've since moved back home). They and I were invited to the home of some friends of theirs, and we agreed to provide some side dishes.

The meal was lovely, and afterwards one of us remarked about how wonderful all that leftover turkey would be, and how they'd enjoy it over the next few days. "Oh, we're leaving for Mexico for a vacation tomorrow," our hostess said, "and we're just going to throw it away."

Peter and I nearly shrieked. The very idea of such waste! This was potential gumbo about to go in the trash! "Can we have it?" we pleaded. Sure, no problem!

Folks ... what ya do with ya leftover turkey carcass is to make a gumbo. It's fabulous. Sure, make turkey sandwiches, turkey whatevers, but reserve a pound or so of turkey meat and the bones/carcass and make this. You won't regret it. And maybe, the two-days-after-Thanksgiving dinner of gumbo might just become a tradition in your household.

This recipe calls for ... drum roll, please ... bacon fat. Stop screaming. Look, how often are you really going to use this much bacon fat? Once a year, maybe?? C'mon, live a little. It's not like I'm recommending that you eat bacon fat-soaked biscuits for breakfast every day. As I recall, it took about a pound and a half of bacon, fried crisp just like I like it, in order to get this much bacon fat. And what are you gonna do with all that bacon, you ask? Well ... um ... you could make BLTs for your entire family. You could give some away to friends and neighbors. Or ... you could do what Peter and his son William and I did. (We ate it all.)

What the hell. We live once.

Blend oil (or bacon fat) and flour thoroughly in a thick skillet and cook over medium-high to high heat, stirring CONSTANTLY. BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO BURN IT!! If you start to see lots of black specks in the roux, you've screwed it up. Dump it out and start over. Keep cooking and stirring until the roux gets darker and darker. It's best to use a very heavy bot or skillet for roux-making, especially cast iron. With a good cast iron Dutch oven or skillet, you can get a beautiful dark roux in only about 20 minutes.

If you prefer a blond or medium roux, cut down on the amount of roux you use; dark roux does not have as much thickening effect since the starch is so thoroughy cooked.

You should turn the fire down or off as the roux nears the right color, because the heat from the pan will continue cooking it. You can also add your onions, bell peppers and celery to the roux as it's near the end of cooking to arrest the cooking process and to soften the vegetables (I like to do it this way, and I recommend it). KEEP STIRRING until the roux is relatively cool. Add the roux to the stock.

Slice the andouille or smoked sausage and brown, pouring off all the fat.

Saute the onions, green onions, bell pepper and celery if you haven't already added them to the roux, and add to the stock. Add the sausage. Add the bay leaves and Creole seasoning (or ground peppers) to taste and stir. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer; let simmer for about 30 minutes. Keep tasting and adjusting seasonings as needed.

If you're making an okra gumbo, add the okra now and cook another 30 minutes or so. Make sure that the "ropiness" or "stringiness" from the okra is gone, then add the parsley and the reserved turkey meat. Simmer for another 15 minutes, then add the shrimp. Give it another 5-6 minutes or so, until the shrimp are just done, turning pink. Be very careful not to overcook the shrimp; adding the shrimp should be the last step. Adjust seasonings, adding salt, pepper and perhaps Tabasco as needed. Remember that gumbo shouldn't be too spicy hot.

If there is any fat on the surface of the gumbo, try to skim off as much of it as possible. If you're making a filé gumbo, add the filé powder at the end of cooking. Turn off heat, add the file, let it sit on top of the gumbo for about 2 minutes, then stir it in and wait another 2-3 minutes. Residual heat and carryover cooking will take care of it. Once you've added the filé powder to the gumbo do not bring it to a boil again, or it will become stringy.

Serve generous amounts in bowls over hot rice.


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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)