Pizza a Casa Chases Big Turkey Little China

Peking-style turkey replaces an old bird.

EM8-LowRes1Peking-style turkey with soy sauce gravy might not have graced the table in Norman Rockwell’s famous rendition of the archetypal American repast, but for Mark Bello—the pizzaiolo behind Pizza a Casa, which runs cooking classes and Little Italy walking tours centered around the pie—it makes perfect sense.

Raised in Jersey by an Italian dad and a Jewish mom, Bello eats the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, then goes out for Chinese on the 25th, often in Chinatown near his apartment on Catherine Street. And, for the past two years, Thanksgiving has been in Chinatown, too: It’s a potluck at Bello’s place, complete with a soy-roasted bird prepared by Noodle King, the Chinese barbecue joint around the corner at 19 Henry Street.

Bello has always had a soft spot for soy sauce. Growing up, he recalls, “every Sunday we used to drive into the city and eat dinner in Chinatown.” And when he visited his grandfather, Hyman Brechner, who grew up on Hester Street and ran a printing shop at Lafayette and Bowery, they’d go out for dim sum. Grandpa Brechner even made homemade Peking duck for Christmas dinner, inflating the bird’s skin (which helps make it so crispy) with his mouth.

For his own first holiday potluck three years ago, Bello made his bird the traditional way. But it eventually occurred to the cook—who already sources pizza ingredients like cheese and sausage from shops in Little Italy—to ask the waiter he’d befriended at Noodle King if they could prepare the turkey for him, Pekingstyle. The answer was yes: In fact, a sign in the window—sadly, only in Chinese—advertised their ability do just that 364 days a year. (They close one day annually, just after the Chinese New Year.)

It took two days to prepare, says Bello, and resulted in a bird with “beautifully lacquered skin,” the dark meat perfectly done, the white meat super-juicy, the cavity fragrant with five-spice powder. Ever since, Bello has included Noodle King on his walking tour (pizzaacasa.com) and insisted on a Peking-style T-day turkey, serving it with the sweet dipping sauce the restaurant provides as well as his own traditional gravy, which he makes using the outstanding chicken stock he buys from Noodle King, too. Although it’s decidedly un-kosher, says Bello, since the stock’s flavor is boosted with pork bones and dried squid, we’re sure his grandfather would approve of the tradition.

Photo credit: Michael Harlan Turkell

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.