Thanksgiving Post-Mortem

For those interested in trivia, 51 million turkeys were consumed by Americans this Thanksgiving Day.  Needless, to say not all Americans gathered around the table to give thanks: Native Americans gather annually on this day in Plymouth, MA to celebrate this “National Day of Mourning.”

It’s hard to argue with their point of view, but I suspect that if the NFL Washington “Redskins” change their name and logo to something less “racially” offensive like “Foreskins” all will be forgiven by Native Americans.

Given GourMay’s declining readership, Editor-in-Chief Sheila has recommended that we give readers “what they want to hear,” rather than the “rantings of a grumpy old man.” We want to hear from you, so please check on the box below that best represents your view in this year’s first “Right Side of History” Poll:


Regardless of which way you voted, I would like to provide readers with a post-mortem on my spatchcock heritage turkey that we cooked for Thanksgiving. It was delicious and the recommended timing was dead on! I will certainly be using the technique for all future turkeys. Found below are a few photographs of the bird at various stages of the cooking process.

Turkey Legs Skin Side Down at 250 degrees

Turkey Legs Skin Side Down at 250 degrees

Flip turkey breast and cook for about 2 hrs at 250 degress

Flip turkey breast and cook for about 2 hrs at 250 degrees

Papa and sous chef with Turkey

Papa and sous chef with Turkey

Now there are many people who dismiss the culinary virtues of a heritage turkey, but frankly it tastes like turkey rather than the factory-farm variety produced by Perdue. Courtesy of Cooks Illustrated (Nov-Dec Edition), found below are the characteristics of a heritage turkey as agreed to by the Livestock Conservancy and the American Poultry Association:

  1. Heritage turkeys must have a long productive lifespan – five to seven years for breeding hens, three to five years for breeding toms – and have a genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor production systems.

  2. Heritage turkey must have a slow to moderate rate of growth, reaching marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs before building muscle mass.  Commercial turkeys grow to full size in only 12 to 14 weeks.

  3. Unlike commercial turkeys that must artificially inseminated, heritage birds are the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.

Now heritage turkeys cost quite a bit more, but are certainly worth the money.  If you attend a market, consult with your poultry specialist.  They often can supply heritage turkeys for far less than ordering online.

Thanksgiving Dressing

turkey-dressingMany will argue that the most important fixture at a Thanksgiving meal is the dressing rather than the bird.  I am prone to agree as members of my family will often engage in rather heated debate over the “best” way to prepare dressing. I have no intention of raising Thanksgiving tensions any further but I have recently come across a couple of tips (Cook’s Illustrated on the Food Channel) that I felt were quite useful. In addition, I will share our traditional dressing recipe (sans meat or oysters) for those prone to making their own dressing rather than buying it at a grocery store.

Tips to Prepare Dressing

  1. We have long ago given-up cooking dressing in the cavity of the bird.  Aside from being a chore that yields only a limited amount of dressing, some studies suggest that the undercooked drippings of the turkey can be harmful to your health.  Why take the chance?  As such, we prepare and cook the dressing separately.
  2. Yes, Sheila makes turkey stock by slow-cooking turkey wings and legs overnight using the same ingredients (but three times as much) described in GourMay’s recent recipe on chicken stock.    (Editor’s Note:  Most people will use chicken stock for Thanksgiving dressing, but it isn’t quite the same.)
  3. Our family prefers the dressing to be a bit drier than most and this is accomplished by removing the aluminum foil some 20 minutes before the end of baking and/or reducing the amount of stock that is added to the dressing.
  4. NEW TIP – You should slowly bake the bread pieces (about an hour at 250ºF to remove the moisture.  Cook’s Illustrated has proven that it removes moisture far more effectively than the traditional way to let the bread harden on the kitchen counter for a couple of days.
  5. NEW TIP – Cook’s Illustrated rendered fat from turkey wings by poking holes in the wings and then browning them quickly on both sides (about 10 minutes) before setting the wings aside.  They then sautéed the vegetables (see below) in the drippings with a couple of Tbs of butter.  Most importantly,  they placed the turkey wings on top of the dressing to allow more “natural” drippings to infuse the dressing while it baked.   The dressing and turkey wings are covered in foil and returned to the oven to bake for about an hour.

GourMay’s Traditional Thanksgiving Dressing

Ingredients

  • 12 Cups of bread cubes (if possible, 1/2 of which should be traditional unsweetened cornbread)
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 3 cups finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 Tbs poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 1 cup of turkey stock (add more if you want a “wetter” dressing).  Note:  The stock should only be added shortly before baking.

Preparation

  • The dressing maybe prepared a day or two earlier, but do not add the stock until shortly before baking.
  • Saute onion and celery in butter.  Combine with other ingredients (except the stock) and adjust seasoning to taste.
  • Preheat oven to 325º
  • Add turkey stock to dressing mixture, place in a casserole and cover with foil and bake for about an hour.
  • Uncover for the last 20 minutes or so for a slightly crisper dressing.

Peace to you and your family this Thanksgiving.

 

Penzey’s: Green Chile “Turkey” Chili

Other than visiting the fresh fruit market in an exotic country, there are few things more exciting to do than a periodic trip to the spice market. While normally the only place you can do this in the United States is at an Indian or Chinese grocer; today there is a useful and more pleasurable alternative: Penzey’s.

I realize that sniffing spices may not be your cup of tea, but a visit to a local Penzey’s store in your neighborhood (Editor’s Note:  Click the link to find a Penzey’s store near you) is as good as daydreaming or sipping a piña colada on a Caribbean beach. Seriously, how can one resist inhaling the distinctive aromas of 10 varieties of cinnamon? Sure, many of Penzey’s establishments are not located in the most fashionable areas of town, but the olfactory experience is second to none.

Now, I realize that not everyone can visit a Penzey’s retail outlet, but you can connect with Penzey’s online and while you are there sign up for their quarterly catalog. One of the nice features of the catalog is that it includes a number of customer-supplied recipes that are truly quite delicious. For instance, featured in this latest catalog, is a recipe submitted by Zelda Howell from Amarillo, Texas for Green Chile “Turkey” Chili. Dig in!

Green Chile “Turkey” Chili

 Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh poblano pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 Tbs ground Cumin
  • 2 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 1 4-oz can diced green chiles
  • 1 16-ox. jar salsa verde (your favorite green salsa)
  • 32 oz. chicken stock
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1-2 tsp Kosher-style flake salt
  • 2 15-oz cans cannelini/white kidney beans
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Directions

  • Heat 2 Tbs of the oil in a stockpot over medium.  Add the ground turkey and brown, turning and breaking up frequently to make it as fine as possible.
  • Once the turkey is no longer pink, transfer it to a bowl and set aside.
  • Add the remaining oil, diced onion and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently until translucent, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the poblano and bell pepper and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the CUMIN, OREGANO and CAYENNE (Editor’s Note:  Spices in CAPs can all be purchased at Penzey’s) and stir until combined.
  • Add the turkey, BAY LEAVES, canned green chiles, salsa, chicken stock, water and SALT.  Stir to combine and then brink to a simmer.
  • Once simmering, cover and turn the heat down to low.  Simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Uncover, add the beans, stir to combine and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  • Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro.  Best served with warm corn tortillas.

I realize that today’s generation of internet-educated “foodies” think that something that tastes flavorful must be harmful to your body, but this is just an urban legend.   Adding cinnamon to your organic tofu makes it taste better and is full of antioxidants and may have some useful properties to help deal with alzheimers, diabetes and complexion problems.  Shouldn’t you be adding a bit of spice to your life?