Thanksgiving Turkey Time
I promised in my Talking SCHOP! column this week that I would post the recipe for the holiday bird that has proven successful for a number of people. It calls for brining and cheesecloth and patience, but in the end you get a gorgeous lacquered result.
As I began to comb the 7 years of my writing to find the first time the recipe was published (2007) I came across the 2009 piece entitled Thanksgiving: A Dickens Tale. I included recipes from the past, present and future. It made me smile so I thought I would post it here (with some new edits) to bring a smile to your faces during the holiday which can sometimes be just a tad stressful.
‘Twas the week before Thanksgiving and all through the kitchen,
Not a recipe was stirring and the family was kvetchin’ (Yiddish for complaining).
So you tuck into sleep ‘cause you can’t stop your stressin’,
But you are soon awaken by the clatter of the ghosts of recipes past, future and present.
First: The Ghost of Recipes Past
For the past couple of years I have offered a recipe for brining your turkey for 24 hours before you cook it. The results are an aromatic and moist bird on your table. For an 18-20 pound bird (giblets removed) you will need the following:
7 quarts (28 cups) water
1 1/2 cups coarse salt
6 bay leaves
3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1 bottle dry white wine
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh rosemary
You can adjust the quantities for your sized bird. Just take care that it is submerged in the brine and refrigerated for 24 hours.
Remove bird from the brine; pat dry and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before cooking. (*Apply compound butter here. See recipe in Ghost of Recipes Present below.)
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), melted, plus 4 tablespoons, at room temperature
1 bottle dry white wine
2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
Place rack on lowest level in oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine melted butter and white wine in a bowl. Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into quarters and cut into a 17-inch, 4-layer square. Immerse cheesecloth in the butter and wine; let soak.
Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper inside turkey. Fill large cavity loosely with as much of your favorite cooled stuffing as it will hold comfortably; do not pack tightly. (Cook remaining stuffing in a buttered baking dish at 375 degrees.) Tie legs together loosely with kitchen string (a bow will be easy to untie later). Fold neck flap under and secure with toothpicks. Rub turkey with the softened butter and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper.
Lift cheesecloth out of liquid and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, baste cheesecloth and exposed parts of turkey with butter and wine. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for 2 1/2 more hours, basting every 30 minutes and watching pan juices; if the pan gets too full, spoon out juices, reserving them for gravy.
After the third hour of cooking, carefully remove and discard cheesecloth. Turn roasting pan so that the breast is facing the back of the oven. Baste turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices, continue to use the butter and wine. The skin gets fragile as it browns, so baste carefully. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes.
After the fourth hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not poke into a bone. The temperature should reach 180 degrees (stuffing should be between 140 degrees and 160 degrees) and the turkey should be golden brown. The breast does not need to be checked for temperature. If legs are not yet fully cooked, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.
Transfer turkey to a platter, reserving pan juices. Let turkey stand 30 minutes before carving.
SCHOP! Tip: To prevent stringy sliced breast meat, after letting the turkey rest, cut the entire breasts off the bone then slice each breast against the grain. Slices will be moist and each will have some of that decadent skin.
Next to disturb your dreams is the Ghost of Recipes Present:
This year I will be taking all of the aromatics from the brine and the butter from the basting liquid from the Ghost of Recipes Past and also putting them under the skin by making a compound butter – simply take softened unsalted butter and flavor it with herbs, spices or aromatics of your choosing.
*Working from the large cavity end, gently run your fingers between the skin and the meat to loosen the skin, taking care not to tear the skin. (Be careful not to do this with rings on your fingers!) Place the softened compound butter under the skin and gently massage the skin to spread the butter evenly over the whole breast.
Now it’s just before dawn and you hear the ringtone of the Ghost of Recipes Future, “…domo arigato, Mr. Roboto…” and you’re thinking “what does she have to tell me?!”
She comes with reams of leftover recipes for the day after. Recipes like turkey salad using chopped red onion, celery, good mayo and dried cranberries and seasoned with fresh rosemary and salt and pepper.
How about turkey hash? Lightly brown ½ inch cubes of potato and yellow onion in olive oil and creole seasoning. When cooked, add diced leftover turkey until warmed through. Finish with an egg or two over-easy on top and some chopped scallions.
As you arise the next morning faintly hearing the last of the ghost’s ream of recipes, “…and keep that turkey carcass to make a great stock or soup,” you realize you have a loose plan. You might have to throw in some sides like oven roasted brussels sprouts, some cheesy mac and cheese with Gruyere, cheddar and mascarpone and sweet maple baked yams. Relief.
These ghosts departed without leaving a book…
Only shouting, “Happy Thanksgiving to all and to all, GO COOK!”
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