Monday, November 29, 2010

My First Thanksgiving

No, I'm not going to post some picture of me at 10 months old gumming cranberry sauce. That was the first time I was around for a Thanksgiving holiday.

This was my first Thanksgiving because it was the first time that I was in charge of cooking the turkey. Or rather, turkeys.
There were two.
For 5 people...

Being 30 has brought a number of milestones and Life Truths to light, and the first time cooking the Thanksgiving Turkey for the family was another one of them. I am always sous chef in my mother's kitchen: peeling, chopping, dicing, hefting, and generally helping to make our meals happen.
I still did all of that this year, but with the additional 100% responsibility of the birds.

And you know what?


I mean, I couldn't retain my blog name if I didn't knock it out of the park now and again. (As well as go out singing until all hours every so often.)

Turkey # 1, moderately golden, totally juicy
Popular opinion seems to be that the entire purpose of Thanksgiving Dinner is just to have the leftovers as sandwiches, so my mother makes sure we have a LOT of turkey.

Specifically, two 14-pound birds. For 5 people.

I basically brought half a turkey back to NYC as leftovers.

(And I'm so full of fatty foods that I had to make some kale and white bean soup to detox over the weekend!)

And it SNOWED on Thanksgiving (in NJ)!
Granted it didn't stick to the ground, but it was still a surprise to see it falling for a couple of hours.
I maintain that our planet is actually a month ahead of our current seasonal calendar.
It's just insanity. 
And reason.

Back to the food...
We had stuffing and baked potatoes, both white and sweet, and corn and cranberry sauce... and turkey.

Turkey #2: Food Porn
LOOK at that bird! It's a friggin' masterpiece.

And no, it those dark spots are not burnt skin. They are the brown bits that were on the bottom of the pan when I cooked off the bacon that I mixed with the brandy and then poured over the turkey.
Sound familiar?
I mean really, if it works for chicken, why wouldn't it work for turkey?
I now proclaim my motto of the Three B's of Thanksgiving:
Bacon, Brandy, & Butter

(Optional 4th B of Booze for the Cook)

Close-up Turkey Porn
Ok, so the method I used was as follows:
Allow the bird 45 minutes to an hour to come to room temperature before you even think of cooking it. You want ALL of the chill off of the meat.
And you will be able to tell because you'll be getting your hands all up in that bird's business.
(Same goes for when it comes out of the oven. 45 minutes of rest before you carve it or all the juices will run out.)

Naturally, both of our "fresh" organic birds came largely frozen, so I spent the first few hours on Tuesday and Wednesday doing the cool water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes, until the birds were completely defrosted.
Don't forget to remove the bag of giblets and the neck from inside the bird's cavity.

Using about half a stick of butter per bird, I let it come to room temperature and then spread the softened butter under the skin of the bird over the breast meat.
I was NOT going to chance dry meat.
I salted the cavity of the bird as well as the skin and tossed 1 medium onion, quartered, into the bird's cavity along with some fresh thyme, because that's what my parents had in the fridge. Sage or rosemary would also be great here.
 2 cans of chicken stock + water went into the bottom of the roasting pan along with another chopped onion and 3 peeled and chopped carrots.
Preheat oven to 325º
Follow the steps in The Greatest Roast Chicken for the bacon and brandy part.

That weird looking thing is the turkey neck.
Even if you don't like the giblets that come with the bird, use the neck!
I tossed it into the bottom of the roasting pan, turning it once halfway through cooking, and not only did the meat on the neck taste like roasted thigh meat, it also exuded collagen into the drippings which make for a thicker gravy later on.
Also, it's fun to snack on.

Using my grandmother's rule of thumb, I roasted the birds at 325º for 12 minutes per pound.
I basted every 20 minutes or so, and when the skin on the breast meat started to look like it was pushing the line between crispy and burning, I covered it with tinfoil.

And now for the extra brilliant part.

I took the skin I reserved from Turkey #1 (roasted and carved the day before, so the skin would be soggy Day 2) and put that skin ON TOP of the foil so that it would re-crisp for the final 20-30 minutes.
I even basted the skin once. 
It was delicious.
Cracktacular skin
Don't believe me? My brother posted this the day after Thanksgiving:

And as it was his idea for me to take over The Bird this year, and he's quite particular about the quality of his food, I was over the moon when he posted this online on Thanksgiving:

Pardon me while I get a bit weepy, and also walk around pumping my fists at the sky and calling myself The Queen of Turkey.
(And no, that's not a political statement.)

Back to cooking points:
Finally, and most importantly, you must let your turkey rest for roughly 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size it may be longer, or else all the butter under the skin, bacon fat and brandy in the world will not stop the juices from running out and giving you a dry bird.

A note on carving:
I find it easiest to loosen the legs and remove first the drumstick, and then the thigh. Next remove the wing as a whole piece. Any joint you have trouble with, place the tip of your knife into the meeting of the bones, and wiggle a bit until it separates.
Finally I carve the breasts off as one large piece each and slice them crosswise so each piece has a bit of skin attached.
And of course afterwards I get in there with my fingers to tear all the little scraps of meat that are missed by "pretty presentation" carving so that no part of the delicious bird goes to waste.
Except for the bag of giblets.
Oh well.

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving, that you have come out of your Turkey Comas feeling rested and rejuvenated, and that the rest of the holiday season treats you well.

Queen of Turkey, out.


Jennifer said...

You are truly a goddess among chefs.

Sassy said...

I never doubted your talents, but am still in awe.

Chuck said...

I still have me a bird left (our company gives turkeys to all employees for Thanksgiving)a nice 20 pounder. I now know how to prepare it to pay homage to the Queen of Turkey. Damn that made me hungry for some bird right now!

Thanks for the great post!

The Average Broad said...

I want to shrink myself down and live inside that turkey and then just eat from the walls every time I get hungry. Holy crap, it looks so good.

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RocknRollGourmet said...

Thanks for the love, guys!