Tag Archives: turkey

Let’s talk turkey.

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IMG_1680My friend Sam, the guy who takes all these stunning food photos, is cooking his first Thanksgiving dinner this year. Last night as we talked turkey, Sam said something profound: “I don’t even know where to start.” Even the few lucky enough to learn from mom are often reenacting kitchen rituals last updated a couple of generations ago.

Here then is my Thanksgiving gift to Sam, a quick and simple guide to a straight forward turkey, no special ingredients, no crazy techniques, but it will put a delicious and respectable bird on the table so you can get back to sharing a special day with those you love.

1. Buying your turkey: You’ll need 1 pound of bird per person. That may sound like a lot, but it takes into account the weight of the bones. Turkeys typically range from 8-24 pounds. If you’re serving less than 8 people, congrats! you’ve got leftovers for late night sandwiches. If you are serving more than 16 people, I’d consider buying and cooking two turkeys.

When choosing your turkey, be just fussy enough. If what you can afford to feed your family is a $.98 per-pound bird from the grocery store, go for it. If you can afford a free-range organic bird for $4 a pound, it’s probably worth the expense. You don’t need to spend $10 a pound, period.

If at all possible, buy a fresh turkey. Frozen birds can take more than two days to thaw safely in the fridge (about 24 hours per 5 pounds). Remember that the neck and gizzards are usually placed in the cavity of the bird, often wrapped in paper or plastic. Remove them and save them for stock.

2. Brining: Brining, at its simplest, means soaking your turkey in heavily salted water, about 1 cup per two gallons. Coarse kosher salt gets the job done at a reasonable price. If you want to chop up and add one onion, one apple., 3 ribs of celery, 3 bay leaves and a tablespoon of peppercorns, go for it, but a simple salt brine works wonders all on its own. Any time in the brine helps, but 24 to 36 hours is ideal.

3. Use the right pan: If you are going to drop some money, do it here. Get ready to spend $100-120 on a roasting pan. Buy a multi-ply, stainless pan with a better heat conducting metal like aluminum or copper in the middle. This is the one place that All-Clad falls down. Check out Calphalon or Mauviel.

The reason for the heavy pan is so that you can take it out of the oven and put it over a burner or two to make the gravy. Do not buy non-stick, it reduces browning, which means less flavor.

4. Getting it ready to roast: There are four things to remember for a great turkey:

  • IMG_1676Rub your bird with butter: Rub the turkey inside and out with a cup or so of softened butter. Then salt and pepper the cavity.
  • Stuff it: I’m a stuffing-inside-the-bird guy. If you want to stuff your bird, nuke it first, as hot as you can get it, then stuff the bird right before putting it in the oven. This reduces the time needed to get the center of the bird to a safe 165 degrees, reducing the likelihood of drying out the lean white meat. If you don’t want to stuff it, add some aromatics to the cavity, try a halved lemon and a few sprigs each of parsley, thyme and rosemary.
  • Tie it up: My Mom uses a magic, ancient system of cruel-looking, metal skewers to hold her turkey together. This is easier. Tuck the wings into the body, and, using kitchen twine, tie them in place, running the string once around the thickest part of the bird. Using a second piece of string, overlap the legs and the big meaty piece at the butt, and tie those together, sealing the cavity.
  • Lay it on a bed of aromatics: This is the secret to great gravy. Cut an onion into thick slices. Cut a carrot in half the short way and the long way. Cut three celery ribs in half. Lay these in a single layer on the bottom of your roasting pan with a couple sprigs of parsley and thyme, and two bay leaves. Add 3-4 of cups of dry white wine, about 1/2″ deep. Place the bird directly on the bed of vegetables.

5. Roasting: There are a million right answers here, but I’ll give you two.

  • 350 degrees for 13 minutes per pound. Place the oven rack in the bottom position in your over and pre-heat it to 450.When you put the turkey in reduce the temperature to 350. Baste it every 45 minutes with the pan juices. Starting at 2 hours, check the temperature inside the thigh and the breast, with a quick read thermometer. Make sure the thermometer isn’t touching bone. The turkey is done when both the breast and thigh have reached 165 degrees.
  • 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes per pound. This method is for unstuffed turkeys weighing no more than 16 pounds. Larger or stuffed birds just need more time for the heat to penetrate. Baste every 20 minutes with pan juices. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer starting at 1 hour. The turkey is done at 165 degrees.
  • Tenting and turning. I’m a fan of turning my turkey halfway through cooking. I think it gives you moister breast meat. To do this, simply start your bird, breast side down in the pan, and flip it breast side up halfway through your projected cooking time. This isn’t a must, but it’s worth the work. If your turkey is browning too early, tent it with foil. This will prevent the skin from burning.

6. Resting: This may be the most important thing you do all day. When you take your cooked turkey out of the oven, place it on a platter and cover it in foil. Let is rest for at least 15 minutes. But let’s be realistic, you’ve got a gratin to pop in the oven and some squash purée to reheat, so your bird’s got a good 30-40 minutes to rest, and it will be juicier for it.

7. Great gravy: You will be remembered forever for bringing rich, flavorful, thick gravy to the table. Once the turkey is out, tip your pan toward one corner and skim off the fat, or use a gravy separator. Return the liquid to the pan over medium-high heat and reduce to about 1/2 a cup, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Add 6-8 cups of homemade turkey stock (which you’ve made ahead of time) and reduce by half. Strain the stock, reserving the solids.

Take one cup of stock and whisk in 1/4 cup of flour to make a slurry. Return the remaining stock to the pan over medium heat. Chop about 2 cups of the vegetables and add those to the pan as well. Once the stock is simmering again, whisk in the flour mixture. Let this cook for 10 minutes longer to thicken.

Remove the gravy from the heat and whisk in 2 tbs of cold butter, along with a splash of brandy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Now, bring your gravy to the table and prepare to be revered.

8. Carving: There’s no way around it, this is going to be awkward. Even the best YouTube video won’t prepare you for feeling your way around the leg and wing joints, as you separate them from the body. But don’t worry about it.

First, remove the legs and wings, feeling for the joints. Next, remove the thigh from the drumstick. A pair of sharp kitchen shears will make this much easier than a knife.

Next, remove the breasts, slicing down from the top along the breast bone. Continue, pulling the breast away from the bone and slicing out horizontally to remove the meat.

Now carve the breast and the thighs, cutting the short way across the pieces of meat. It will kind of be a mess the first few times. Just heap it on a platter and then watch no one care, as they load up with turkey and slather it with gravy.

Congratulations!

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Remember, if you want to do this like a pro, you’ll have to cook a turkey more than once a year. Otherwise, just eat that delicious turkey and toast to the many blessings in your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Stock is magic.

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Thanksgiving dinner is a pause. I somehow put everything down for three days and focus on bringing one meal to the table. In a life filled with multi-tasking and the constant feeling that I lost a week somewhere in 2003 that I desperately need to get back, it’s a moment of peace.

That peace begins with a deep breath and a pot of stock. Even before I’ve finished the menu, the house fills with the scent of roasting meat and rough-chopped aromatics. Stock is effortless and rote, a handful of ingredients with no complex techniques, simply roasting and simmering with a little deglazing in between.

But, for its simplicity, stock adds great complexity and depth to the meal that lades the table Thanksgiving day. It brings satisfying richness. It elevates pan drippings into gravy, layers the simple sugars that glaze sweet potatoes and parsnips, transforms day-old bread into moist, herbed stuffing. Let’s hit the kitchen.

Rich Turkey Stock

Ingredients:

  • 6 pounds turkey parts like necks, legs or wings, cut in 3-4″ pieces*
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1.5 cups dry white wine or dry Vermouth
  • 4 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  • 6-8 parsley stems, about 2″ each
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns

*You’re looking for cheap meat, less than $3 a pound, with some bone in it. Have your butcher chop it down for you.

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Place turkey pieces in a single layer in a heavy bottomed roasting pan (you’re going to put the pan on the stovetop later). Do not crowd the turkey. Roast in two batches if needed.
  • Roast the turkey until rich brown, about 1 hour. Remove turkey to a large stockpot.
  • Add carrots and onion to the same roasting pan. Toss them in the rendered fat from the turkey and place in the oven. Reduce heat to 375.
  • After 30 minutes, toss the roasting vegetables in the tomato paste and return to the oven. Turn the oven back to 400 and roast for 10-15 minutes until golden brown, watching carefully not to burn. Remove vegetables to stock pot with roast turkey.
  • Place the roasting pan over two burners on medium high and add white wine. When wine comes to a simmer, scrape up all the brown goodness. When wine reduces to 1/4 cup, add additional water if needed to finish scraping the brown bits from the roasting pan.
  • Pour deglazed pan juices into stock pot and add remaining ingredients.
  • Fill pot with cold water to cover turkey and vegetables by 2 inches.
  • Bring the pot to a simmer over medium low heat, partially covered. It will take about 45 minutes. Skim off any foam that collects on the surface.
  • Continue to simmer stock, partially covered, just a bubble or two every few seconds, for three more hours. Be careful not to let it come to a boil. Add more cold water if needed to keep meat covered. Skim any additional foam that collects on the surface.
  • After three hours, strain the stock and remove the solids, discarding them. Strain the stock through a fine sieve and then one more time through a sieve lined with a  layer of paper towels or double layer of cheese cloth. You will have to change out the towels or cheese cloth several times, as they become clogged.
  • Place strained stock in the fridge overnight. In the morning, skim the coagulated fat from the surface.
  • Taste a little stock with a pinch of salt. If needed, reduce stock by up to 25% to concentrate flavor. It should make about 3-3.5 quarts.
  • Refrigerate for three days, or freeze up to 6 months.