Sunday, November 13, 2005

Savor Your Turkey Day

Being totally non-subjective, turkey is some of the best food out there. For me, it is the ultimate comfort food with a side of heaping garlic-mashed potatoes. In high school, almost every lunch I had was a roasted turkey sandwich, with mustard, lettuce, and tomato on hearty, nutty bread, and I never tired from it. When my brothers or I returned home from university, my mother was sure to have a twenty-pound bird warm and ready (even if it was an 8am arrival, no matter what season—my mother can be a bit of an insomniac). And so it is as the holiday season rolls around that I am giddy with the prospects of a fresh, juicy bird with plenty of leftovers to make my grandmother’s Latvian Pancakes (look forward to this recipe shortly). Because as any child who grew up in the U.S. and was force-fed the classic tale, ”A Christmas Story” knows, it is the dear leftovers that are most precious (or was it the leg lamp?).

This month’s New York Magazine offers a great article on how to select your holiday turkey (as well as appetizers, potatoes and vegetable accompaniments). It is complete with the ins and outs of what “natural”, “farm fresh” and all those other confusing terms that come stamped on a bird mean. It also begs the reader to beware of your standard commercial bird (like Butterball) that comes injected with butter, water and other flavorings. To kick off your holiday, I have prepared my very first, no mother aided, turkey (does the “Joy of Cooking” count as a mother?) sans vegetable accompaniment. Yes, pure bird (and stuffing).

This was a last minute rush of inspiration when D and I were hungry and craving next week’s turkey. So why not just make our own now? An 11 lb turkey at the supermarket was purchased. I wanted an organic, but my local butchers will not carry any birds until next week. I found one with “minimally” injected water, and no flavorings at the local grocer-- the next best step, I assume.

The Stuffing:
Oyster stuffing was what was really desired. After a two-hour search, no fresh oysters were found. I retreated with mushrooms, leeks (in lieu of onion), parsley, walnuts, and fresh breadcrumbs from the bakery. Here is a slightly altered “Joy of Cooking” recipe (more mushrooms and leek instead of onion):
¼ cup butter
4 cloves garlic
2 turkey livers (taken from the giblet pouch of the purchased bird), chopped
2 cups mushroom, chopped
2 small leeks, whites only, chopped (or onion)
4 cups bread crumbs
3 eggs
1 cup celery, chopped
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried basil (or tarragon)
½ tsp nutmeg
kosher salt/ fresh ground pepper to taste
****other filling options instead of mushroom/ onion are:
1 cup oysters
1 cup sausage
1 cup shrimp

1) Over medium heat, melt the butter. Brown the liver. Add mushrooms, garlic and leeks. Cook about 10 min until leeks are limp and mushrooms are browned.
2) In a mixing bowl, while the above is going, mix the remaining ingredients.
3) When the liver, mushroom, leek, garlic combination is done, add it to the mixing bowl and stir all ingredients evenly.

The Turkey:
As I said, an 11 pounder was bought.
1) Remove from packaging, wash, and set it in a large pan.
2) Remove the giblet package, and stuff solid with the above stuffing. Insert your own meat thermometer into the meat, away from the bone (I think these are better judges of actual temperature than the cheap plastic pop-up that come in some meats).
3) Melt a generous dollop of butter and soak it up with a piece of cheesecloth. Cover the breast meat (not the drumsticks) with the buttered cloth (this is to keep moisture in the white meat and to-be-removed when there is 30 min cook time remaining).
****Note: “Joy” states 20 min per pound as correct roasting time. Luckily, I investigated other options and found ”William Rubel’s” website helpful. He states that it is more important to concentrate on temperature. While “Joy” states 180F is proper for a finished bird (and 160F for stuffing), Rubel suggests 140F to keep the white meat moist and “no more”. No brining was done. Neither “Joy” nor Rubel recommend it, as the salt from brining is absorbed into the turkey and it loses the natural flavors.
4) The bird entered the oven on the middle rack at 5pm (we were expecting dinner around 9pm per “Joy’s” min per pound analysis. The extra stuffing, set in a casserole dish, was placed to the side of the turkey, uncovered (it should have been covered)
5) After 30 min the bird was removed and a first round of basting was performed. Casserole dish of stuffing removed.
6) Another 30 min, the bird removed again for another round of basting.
7) Another 30 min lapse, basting again. The temperature was already up to 150F. I removed the cheesecloth and decided 20 min more cook time to brown the breast.
8)The bird was removed just before 7pm, at 160F in the meat and 140F stuffing. This equals about 10min per pound cook time.

The Gravy:
This is a quick, improvised recipe that worked very well. While my mother always makes a delicious clear, broth-like mushroom gravy, D declared a thick southern gravy was the only thing that would work. A combination (slightly on the thick side) was made and D was very happy with the added mushroom chunks:
3-4 mushroom buttons, chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
juices from turkey
1 heaping Tbl flour
milk to preferred consistency
1) In saucepan melt a tab of butter. Brown the mushrooms, onion and garlic slowly (about 8 min)
2) Add all turkey juices (I poured it straight from the baking pan into the saucepan, careful not to topple the bird onto the floor)
3) Bring to a boil then reduce heat, add flour. Remove from heat and stir vigorously to evenly distribute flour. Add milk to thin out to preferred consistency.

The Result:
I am an amazing turkey chef! I kid you not. Who needs a mother to cook a turkey when you have me?

Okay, so the separate casserole of stuffing was a bit dry. Otherwise, everything else was delicious, moist and perfect. I think the dry casserole stuffing (while still edible) would have been good with about ½ cup chicken stock added pre-baking. The stuffing that cooked in the bird was perfect though (do not add stock to this. The natural turkey juices soak right in). It clumped well and was moist. The celery remained crispy and refreshing. The nuts were a delicious surprise and the mushrooms were meaty.

Now, the turkey-- oh, the turkey! As I said, marvelous. The white meat was perfect -- moist, tender, oozing with juices, finger-licking good. It might not look so good in the picture (does it? I tried to get a close up of the juices in the second picture), but it was. And to think of it: enough dark meat to save for the above mentioned, much desired, Latvian pancakes (even better than this turkey, I kid you not).

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