Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Basics- How to Make the Perfect Turkey and Gravy

Hoooooooooooooooold up.  You were going to buy your Thanksgiving turkey, gravy, and all the fixin's from Dominick's??  Because it's easier than doing it yourself?? Yup, this is what a coworker was telling me, as I thought what about marinating your house in all those smells for hours, if not days? What about the knowledge of your own sanitation and safe food handling?  What about the satisfaction of doing it yourself?   Why pass up the opportunity to purvey your own ingredients?  Why pay someone else for a finished product that is likely more expensive and probably of lesser gastronomic delight than could be obtained through a home-cooked meal?  Another compelling reason? Give some respect to the first meal, as they didn't have Dominick's or Whole Paycheck to rely on.  Do you think they ate turkeys and pumpkin pies at original Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving isn't difficult.  If you really wanna do it right, it will take two days...but I promise most of that time is spent drinking beer!  You can do that, right? Follow these simple steps, and you can easily prepare (homemade!) the heart of the meal- the bird and gravy.  The side dishes and desserts, have family and friends bring that over, they ain't freeloaders.  I recommend you splurge on something nice to drink too, because that's always fun to do that at occasions like this.  Wine with Thanksgiving is absolutely the mostly debated meal when it comes to wine and food pairing.  All those foods and the range of sweet to savory blah blah blah blah blah.  The variety actually makes it is easier to enjoy with your heaping dinner plate.  Drink what you like.  Or Champagne.  It never fails with food.  I picked up my Burgundy for this year from my fav wine store

One week to go, which means you can still buy the frozen guy and let Tom (or Hen) defrost for 3-4 days, depending on the size.  Fresh is good too, if you want to go all out then obtain a heritage turkey from a local butcher or an online place such as D'Artagnan.  It's pricey as hell, money at this point in my life pays for more important things like heat, DSL, and toilet paper.

1. BRINE- this is optional, but well worth it if you decide to.  Why? Moisture retention.  You could even overcook the hell out of it and still end up with juicy turkey meat.  Flavor that moisture, and now you have tasty, juicy turkey meat.  Not cooking the hell out of it helps too.  You'll need a clean 5 gallon bucket and lid from your local Crafty Beaver.  Some people use a clean cooler and then clean it thoroughly afterwards, I'd rather spend the $15 and have a dedicated brining bucket.

Add two gallons of clean water to a large stockpot.  Heat until warm enough to dissolve 1 C of brown sugar and 1 C kosher salt, then let cool.  With the neck and giblets removed, add the turkey and tepid brine to the bucket.  Flavor with- 2 lemons quartered, 1 orange quartered, 2 large onions quartered, a head of garlic, smashed, 2 halved carrots, 1-2 TB of cracked black peppercorns, a few springs of rosemary, thyme, oregano, 2 bay leaves.  If your bird isn't completely covered, add 1/2 C salt and 1/2 C sugar to every extra gallon of water.  Brine for 12-20 hours, flipping halfway through (even if this means setting the alarm on your iPhone to get up in the middle of the night).  Usually it's cold enough in the Midwest to park the bucket outside on the deck, if not you'll have to make room in the fridge to keep below 40F.

2. STOCK- get yourself about 6 large, meaty turkey wings.  Oil em up and season with S&P.  Place in a large roasting pan, 400F until well browned, an hour and a third ought to do it, flipping halfway through.  Remove to a large stockpot.  Place the roasting pan on a couple burners and toss in a few quartered onions, a couple chopped carrots and a stalk of celery in thirds, brown the veg for a few minutes.  It's optional but alcohol helps deglaze the pan and loosen the fond- the tasty browned bits, use a 1/2 C of beer or 1/4 C of dry white wine.  Add 1 C of water as well, scraping your pan with a wooden spatula.  Toss everything in the stockpot, along with a few sprigs of herbs, in cheesecloth or held with a rubber or silicone band.  Add two quarts of water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for at least 2 hours, up to 4.  Skim off some of the foamy bits during the first hour.  Remove the bones and large pieces, strain into a large pot, pressing on the solids to extract all the yummies.  A pair of fine mesh strainers work well, or cheesecloth.  Let sit until the fat rises, then skim that off and save for the roux.  Can be made 3 days ahead.

3. SEASON- fire up the oven or grill to about 450F.  Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well (and carefully in your sink to not spread potential yuckies) and then pat very dry with paper towels, inside and out.  Season well inside and out with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt, then drizzle some canola or vegetable oil all over, make sure you rub it all over real good.  Stuff into the cavity- 1 onion quartered, 1 lemon quartered, a couple pieces of carrot and celery, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Tuck the wings back and under the bird, tie up the legs to close the cavity.  Make a compound butter- seasoned with thyme, sage, rosemary, S&P.  Loosen the skin gently, as not to tear, and stuff the herbed butter between the breast and skin.  

4.  GRILL/ROAST- in a roasting pan with v-rack, for 30 minutes at 425-450F and then turn down to about 350F.  Once the breast becomes golden brown, an hour in or so, cover with aluminum foil and continue to roast until your thermo reads 160(breast) or 175(leg).  Depending on the weight, should be around 2.5-3.5 hrs. Oh yeah, and remove that pop-up thing if present.  Don't poke it too much with the thermo either, as you'll be losing precious juices.  And remember to always read recipes through first beforehand, especially mine.  Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 30-50 minutes before carving.

5.  GRAVY- the reserved fat and any butter as well to make 4 TB, melt in a saute pan and then add 1/4 C of AP flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon for a couple minutes until the roux develops a golden brown, then slowly whisk in your turkey stock, saving a C or so.  Season to taste with S&P as your gravy thickens on medium-low for 10-15 minutes.  I like to add a sprig of thyme as well, removed before pouring into a gravy boat that 10 seconds ago held boiling hot water.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm gravy.

The mis en place- veg and butter, herbs, and a forearm cramp's worth of black pepper and kosher salt.

Any juice from resting and carving should be added to the gravy.  A large carving board with a well helps, thanks Mom! Carve off the legs first, then on one side of the breastbone, cut straight down and then down and out at the bottom of the breast, to carve off in one piece, then in slices.  Separate the drumstick and and thigh, carve off wings too. 

Those carving sets consisting of slicing knife and giant fork are terrible.  Don't ever poke your meat with that fork to enable all those juices, that you worked so easily for, run out on your board.  The foil from tenting, with a towel over that, will give plenty of stability by hand while carving off the hot pieces. 

I love those commercials where the presentation is on a large platter, prettily garnished and whole, placed in the middle of the table.  Cut your own, folks! Hell no that's not being a good host.  A better method would be to place the carved pieces on a large warmed serving plate, covered with al foil at the table.  Practical over pretty always wins out in my book I'm going to write.  An efficient gravy warmer is a blessing as well, to keep the liquid gold piping hot and warm up any slices of turkey breast that may have cooled a little.  I can't wait for all those turkey sandwiches with plenty of Hellman's mayo and freshly ground tellicherry (thanks Megan!) black pepper, and a spoonful of this homemade giardiniera that is just coming into age. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am thankful for my American-made Weber 3-burner gas grill! My first grilled turkey, which was just like a chicken only times two point five.

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