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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Talking Turkey

It's November which means Holiday Cooking Season is officially open!  If I'm cooking, I start planning my menus weeks in advance.  If I'm making the whole meal, I also break each recipe into steps, figure out which ones I can do in advance and how far in advance, and draw up a schedule to save myself the grief of discovering that I need to do 8 different intensive cooking tasks at once.  Making Thanksgiving (or Christmas or New Year's or Easter) dinner in a step a day makes life so much easier on the holiday itself!

I don't generally subscribe to notions of "tradition" and "convention" and "because we always do it this way" LOL  I mean, I've done that for holiday meals b/c my husband prefers it when I don't muck around with his favorite dishes, but truthfully, it kills a little bit of my soul not to try at least one thing new.

I have come to a point though where I've found a few things that work really well and so I gravitate to those recipes.  I don't do exactly the same thing every year, but I've got a rotation of less than half a dozen Thanksgiving main dish recipes now.  My favorite preparations are either brining the turkey or using some kind of butter-herb rub under the skin.  Brining gives a very moist turkey with crispy skin after roasting, while the sub-q butter gives the turkey an unmatched flavor although it sacrifices the crispy skin.

Either way, you want to make some turkey stock in advance for gravy.  I have occasionally seen boxed turkey stock at the store, if you wanted to buy it rather than make it.  No, homemade gravy is not hard (whereas canned gravy is yucky).  The turkey needs to cool before you whack into it anyway, so there's plenty of time for gravy-making.  If you make stuffing, you can also use the turkey stock for the stuffing.  Btw, I do not stuff my turkey, partly b/c of the health recommendations against doing so and partly b/c if I make stuffing, I want those crunchy, crispy bits that only come from being baked next to rather than inside of a turkey.

A quick thought about thawing...the standard line is that you want to give the bird 24 hours in the fridge for every 5 lbs, so a 15 lb. turkey should thaw in 3 days, etc.  I find that this never is sufficient to thaw that block of ice in the cavity, the one you'll have to chisel the giblet package out of if you don't have a totally thawed turkey.  So I calculate 1 day per 5 lbs. plus an extra day for the giblets.  And if you plan to brine, don't forget to set your thawed-by target 24 hours prior to actual cooking (I screw up so you don't have to).

First things first, stock.  Make some the weekend before Thanksgiving (or earlier) and freeze it.  Use the meat from the wings/drumsticks in tacos, soup, pot pie, salad, sandwiches...you know, any of the Thanksgiving leftover recipes.

Turkey Stock
Makes 4-5 cups

3 lbs. wings or drumsticks (if you have it handy, the neck is good too)
2 onions, trimmed and quartered (unpeeled)
2 celery ribs, broken into large pieces
2 carrots, broken into large pieces
3 quarts water
handful fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

Spread the turkey parts and vegetables on baking trays.  Roast at 500F or broil 20 minutes.  Remove vegetables from oven and scrape into a large stockpot.  Turn turkey parts and continue broiling/roasting for another 15-20 minutes.  Add turkey parts to stockpot.  Pour a small amount of water into the roasting pans and scrape up brown bits (fond).  Add this to stockpot. 

Add remaining seasonings and water to pot.  Bring to a boil, skim foam, reduce heat to medium and cover.  Simmer 3 hours.  The vegetables, turkey, fond, seasonings and water can be combined in a 6 quart crockpot as well and cooked on low overnight.  Strain, discard solids and freeze stock.


Now for how you prep the turkey.  I have 3 recipes that follow, two of which use soy products.  Neither the Miso-Butter Turkey (adapted from Gourmet mag) nor the Soy Sauce Brined Turkey (adapted from a Kikkoman recipe) taste particulary "Asian" in flavor, but the soy lends a incredible depth of flavor not available from other seasoning products.  They also salt the turkey plenty, so do not add more salt!  The other brine is a Mexican-inspired recipe (adapted from Steven Raichlan's Primal Grill) that uses "hot" ingredients but does not make the bird overly spicy.  The spice works to make the savory and sweet spices "pop" and makes killer-good gravy. 

The best piece of equipment for brining a turkey is a clean 5-gallon bucket, provided that you can configure your fridge to accommodate the bucket.  If you can't, I've also put the turkey and brine inside a large garbage bag in a large sturdy roasting pan (no disposable pans here) to fridge overnight.  Make sure your turkey is thawed before brining and that you remove the giblets first.

This is the type of miso I find in my grocery
store, either in the Asian foods aisle or in
the refrigerated section by the tofu
Miso-Butter Turkey
Makes enough for a 16 lb. turkey

1/4 onion
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup miso (white or red)
1/2 tsp pepper

Pulse onion in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add butter, miso and pepper and pulse till combined.  Make this mixture the weekend before to fridge, or earlier to freeze. 

On Thanksgiving, run your hand between the turkey skin and meat, starting at the breast and working into the thighs.  Allow butter mixture to come to room temp.  Spread it under the skin, dividing it evenly under all parts of the skin.  Follow roasting instructions below.

Umami Turkey Brine
Makes enough for a 20 lb. turkey

2 gallons water
10 oz. regular soy sauce
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp dry sage
2 tbsp dry celery seed
1 tbsp dry thyme

Combine all ingredients, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved.  Pour over turkey in desired container.  Let stand overnight or up to 24 hours before roasting.  Before roasting, pour off brine and discard.

Cinnamon Chipotle Brine
Makes enough for a 12 lb. turkey

1/4 cup fennel seed
2 tbsp whole or ground aniseed
3 tbsp ground coriander
3 tbsp star anise
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp red chili flake
2 tbsp thyme
2 tbsp parsley
1 tsp whole cloves
5 cinnamon sticks
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup white sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 gallon warm water
4 canned chipotle chiles with 2 tbsp adobo sauce
16 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp liquid smoke

Toast fennel seeds (and whole anise seeds, if using) over medium heat in a dry skillet until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Whisk fennel, remaining spices and herbs, sugars and salt into water.  Stir until dissolved.  Stir in chipotles, adobo, garlic and liquid smoke.  Pour brine over turkey in desired container.  Let stand overnight in fridge or up to 24 hours before roasting.  Before roasting, pour off brine and discard.


Now that the bird is prepped, one way or the other, it's time to roast!  I just like roasting at one temperature until the bird is done and basting every 30 minutes or so.  Easy.  No oven temperature changes, no flipping a heavy, hot turkey upsidedown, just leave the beast be.  I add some quartered onion to the cavity and tie the legs with kitchen twine, nothing fancy.  I baste with a mixture of white wine, water and butter, and I don't cover the bird with foil unless it's browning too fast.

To Roast

salt and pepper
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 cup white wine or vermouth
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter, melted

Pat the turkey dry.  Season inside and outside with salt and pepper.  Place the onion inside the turkey cavity.  Using kitchen twine, tie a knot around the end of one drumstick.  Wrap the twine a couple of times around the two drumstick ends in a figure 8, then finish by tying a loop around the other drumstick end.

Put the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan.  Roast at 325F.  Use the Butterball time charts or the USDA time charts to find an appropriate appoximate cooking time for your turkey weight. 

Stir together the wine, water and butter and baste with this mixture every 30 minutes during cooking.  Tent with foil if the turkey begins to brown with a lot of time left to cook.

Start checking the temperature of the turkey about 30 minutes before expected finish time.  The USDA says the turkey is done when the thigh registers at 165F.  The temperature will continue to rise once you take the turkey out of the oven and let it rest before carving. 

When the turkey is done, remove it from teh roasting pan to a carving board and tent with foil.  Let it rest 20-30 minutes before carving.


And while the turkey is resting, make some gravy!  The following recipe calls for the pan drippings as well as the fat from the roasting pan.  Using the cooking juices is what makes gravy "gravy" rather than a stock-based sauce.  The pan juices have so much flavor, especially if you've used one of the preparations listed above.  If you want a simpler, more prep-ahead friendly plan, you can make a gravy using beurre manié (flour/butter) and stock ahead, then stir in just the pan drippings (fat strained off) at the last minute.

Turkey Gravy
Makes 4 cups

4 cups turkey stock (above)
6 tbsp flour
salt and pepper

After removing the turkey from the roasting pan, pour any drippings into a large measuring cup or fat seperator. 

While the fat rises to the top, heat 1 cup of stock in the microwave until it's steaming hot.  Pour this stock into the roasting pan and scrape up brown bits.  Pour this mixture through a sieve into a bowl or measuring cup.

When the fat has separated from the drippings, pour off the juices into the bowl with the strained pan juices if using a gravy separator (or skim the fat from the top if using a measuring cup).  Put the fat in a large saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, and whisk in the flour.  Cook 1-2 minutes, then slowly whisk in the pan juices/drippings followed by the remaining 3 cups of stock. 

Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until thick, about 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Pin It

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