Thanksgiving isn’t just a meal, and it’s not just one kind of holiday. So every week in November we’re sharing Thanksgiving #saveurtraditions from friends of SAVEUR. Today: The family behind Woks of Life on why the day after Thanksgiving is almost better than the main meal.
A Thanksgiving at the Leung house looks very much like one at a lot of other homes across the country, but the real magic comes the day after.
During Thanksgiving day, what we do is pretty standard. My sister busies herself by cramming decorative gourds into every nook and cranny of my parents’ house, and we all pitch in to prepare a 14-pound roast turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, homemade Parker House rolls, and the perfect pumpkin pie. And then we eat. A lot.
But the work isn’t done when dinner’s over. Once we’ve all roused ourselves out of our food comas, we get to work on the leftovers. Putting any leftover morsels in the fridge for sandwiches the next day, everything goes into containers, save one thing: the turkey carcass.
That very night, we put the turkey carcass and any vegetables from the roasting pan into a big stockpot with water and rice, and bring everything to a glorious boil, which will eventually turn into one of the best things about Thanksgiving: leftover turkey congee. As we lounge in front of the TV watching Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials, plotting our plan for Black Friday the next day, that pot is quietly bubbling on the stove. It’s like Thanksgiving Dinner 2.0, the aroma that wafts through the kitchen.
The next morning, we put the pot back on the stove, bring it to a boil, and serve up steaming bowls of porridge, garnished simply with some chopped scallion and cilantro. This has always been—and always will be—the breakfast that we have the morning after Thanksgiving (in fact, my mom enjoys it more than Thanksgiving dinner itself).
I’m not exactly sure when this tradition began, but we’ve been doing it every year for as long as I can remember. I’m guessing that it originates on my dad’s side of the family, who grew up as a first generation Chinese-American in upstate New York. I have a feeling that this congee was probably an invention of my grandmother or grandfather, both great cooks.
Save the fact that you need to have roasted a turkey the day before, this is pretty much the easiest congee recipe ever. After Thanksgiving, most people throw away the turkey carcass after all is said and done, but smart people make stock. And smarter people make congee.
Bill, Judy, Sarah, and Kaitlin Leung are the cooks behind The Woks of Life. After her parents, Bill and Judy, moved to China in 2012, a 22-year-old Sarah Leung started the blog as a way for them to record old family recipes, and for her and her sister Kaitlin to share their crazy stateside kitchen experiments. For the past two years, the entire family has been using The Woks of Life as a platform to communicate, tell stories, and share food across distances.