HOLIDAY KITCHEN TIPS
Originally I was calling this segment of my blog “Thanksgiving Kitchen Tips,” but due to some technical difficulties, I was unable to start posting what will be a series of kitchen tips in time for that particular feast, so I’m choosing to include Christmas as another great reason to enjoy the same dishes, and my tips will be applicable for that holiday as well. In fact, most of the ideas I share aren’t necessarily limited to a specific day or even a season.
As usual, I provide a bit of background so you’ll know that I don’t just crown myself a kitchen guru, but collected bits of information out of necessity when various duties fell to me.
When I lived in Hawaii, a number of people who came from the Mainland had no relatives with whom they could share this special holiday. For some reason, which I cannot remember, it fell to me to be the chief cook and bottle washer in charge of preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast for as many people that would fit around our table.
I have several recipes and tips for Thanksgiving that I think make for the perfect feast, worthy of this long tradition so enjoyed by our country. Admittedly, I am taking liberty with the use of “perfect.” In fact, my life is more of a series of imperfections, but that’s another subject.
I will start with how to brine a turkey. Anyone who has ever roasted a turkey knows that it’s easy to end up with a turkey too dry to choke down, even with plenty of ever so fattening gravy. One way to avoid this involves a brined turkey.
In this part of Missouri, one can be lucky enough to have a wild turkey to grace their table. If that occurs, it is even more important to brine the bird. This will help to remove whatever gamey taste your diners may perceive. I actually prefer a wild turkey. However, even if I buy a 20 lb., store bought turkey, I will brine it. It makes for a much juicier and tasty fare. Some purists think it alters the texture of the meat. I don’t find that to be the case.
The most important aspect of my system is to use apple cider. Apple juice will work as well, but apple cider is almost always attainable at this time of year.
You must be sure that your turkey is completely thawed two days prior to cooking. You will need a bucket or container deep enough to hold the entire turkey. Line your container with a fresh trash bag. Put the bird with the chest cavity at the top.
Into a sauce pan, add ¼ cup of maple syrup
2/3 cup of kosher salt
½ cup of sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
1 tbsp. of black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
At least four cups of apple cider
Following this, you can boil the liquid so that the salt and sugar completely dissolve. Then let it cool.
Put the bird into a container, and into the cavity add a quartered orange,
A quartered onion
A quartered apple
1 rib of celery chopped into two inch pieces
And enough ice to completely stuff the cavity.
You can also add about six cloves of garlic, a couple of bay leaves, ginger, sliced and peeled, Sage leaves, a couple of bay leaves, rosemary sprigs and thyme. The herbs are not essential, but will add to the flavor of the turkey in the long run.
Pour the cooled liquid into the cavity of the turkey. Since you have stuffed it with veggies and fruit, the liquid may overflow around the sides of the turkey. That’s fine. After you have poured in the prepared liquid, add even more cider until the turkey is completely covered with apple cider. This all needs to be done so that the turkey can brine for at least over night. Many brine recipes call for a 24 hour brine. I wouldn’t keep it in the liquid any longer than that.
Make sure that you refrigerate the turkey while it is in the brine. When you’re ready to roast the turkey, remove it from the brine. Rinse it thoroughly, removing all of the vegetables, fruit and herbs you have stuffed into the cavity. These veggies and fruit can sit in the pan beside the turkey. I like to cook my turkey on a rack with the breast down. That way, the juices will drip down into the breast, which is the part of the turkey most likely to be dry.
After this you can use whatever roasting method you usually employ. I like to roast my turkey for about six hours with the oven at about 250. Be sure to have a meat thermometer to insure that the inside of the breast reaches 165° F.
You can use whatever liquid drains into the roasting pan to make your gravy, but be sure to remove the fruit, veggies and herbs. Also, it’s important to wrap the exposed ends of the legs and wings of the turkey with foil so that they don’t burn. There’s not enough meat on these parts, so they will blacken and may even leave a charred taste to your bird.
When you brine a turkey, basting is not necessary, but neither does it hurt anything. You can stuff the turkey with dressing if you like, but again, you must be mindful of reaching the correct temperature to avoid any botulism. You can find lots of information with several versions of the correct temperature. Make sure to do your homework.
Before you brine the turkey, be sure to remove the gizzard, liver and heart and neck, which are usually stuffed inside the turkey cavity and wrapped in paper. It’s easy to forget they’re there. These parts are great for making your gravy. Just boil them for a long time. You will see that the water will render additional juices from these innards. You can chop the heart and liver if you like and keep the nuggets in your gravy. Your gravy will require flour, salt, pepper and a bit of sugar. Add the flour to water before putting it in the gravy pan. Make sure it is well combined with the water to make a paste. This will help you avoid lumps in your gravy. You can add the flour paste a little at a time. It will not thicken until you reach a gentle boil.
Don’t carve the turkey right away after removing it from the oven. The juices need to flow back into the bird. Just let it rest and it will preserve its own juices. It will also be easier to handle once it has cooled a bit.
If you’ve read my recipes in the past, you will know that all of these steps are filled with options. Cooking should be fun. If you get too worried about following a recipe to the letter, it will get boring.
In future segments of my blog this month, I’ll talk about dressing, cranberry bread, cranberry sauce, curried yams and corn pudding. I’ve never had a complaint about my Thanksgiving feast. I let someone else bring the pies, or if that fails, I buy them. Enough is enough. A good friend has, for the past several years, provided sweet potato pies with pecan topping. They are fantastic. Don’t forget to have real whipped cream on hand. Even the spray can is alright, as long as it’s a true dairy product.
I don’t use lite products, margarine, fat free or any of those other methods of cutting back. I do encourage pushing back from the table before you’re miserable.
Admittedly, I can’t help but add some vaguely related tips that can keep your kitchen running smoothly for more than just holiday festivities. Myriad uses for leftovers after cooking a large bird are at easily available. Remember that using leftovers in a creative manner can be much more appealing than zapping a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes in a microwave.
Save your turkey bones. You can boil the turkey bones several times and get plenty of rich broth from them. The flavor is in the bone marrow, so I’m told. Sounds believable to me. Freeze the broth after it cools and it will last all year. You can also set some of the broth aside to make additional gravy for those days after Thanksgiving when you’re finishing up the leftover dressing and turkey. When you boil the turkey bones, you will be able to save bits of turkey meat that you just couldn’t get to before. Save these bits to add to the broth with veggies and it will make a great turkey soup. The broth and bits of turkey will freeze nicely and can come in handy when you want a little bit of variety in your menu later on. While turkey is a great holiday food, it’s also good from time to time just to add variety to your menu.
Finally, always remember, if, when carrying the bird to the table with your guests looking on, you happen to drop it, just pick it up and announce that you’ll go back to the kitchen to get the other turkey you roasted.