Turkey!!! And side dishes too.Posted: 6 January 2011
Now that we’re all trying to squeeze our way back into our pants, I thought I’d write up the glorious turkey I made last month. I know, I’m really helpful am I not? Following the turkey we’ll do some more things on cookies because who can’t get enough cookies? Anyway, back to the turkey.
This year when our farmer (his name is Daryll btw) put up a sign reminding us to reserve our turkey, we did so immediately. Let me tell you, it was not cheap. Heritage birds at his farm are treated exactly how a turkey should be treated. Plenty of room to roam, peck, lots of sunshine, slow growing, no hormones, no antibiotics, organic feed. You get the picture. Our ‘bourbon red’ turkey was $5.50 per pound and required a $10 deposit. Target and Wal-Mart were selling birds for .48 cents per pound. It’s sort of amazing how food prices can vary isn’t it? I could for sure spout off at this point about the industrial food system in this country and the evils of the military industrial food complex etc. but we’ll save that for another time. 🙂 I will say, I don’t think any animal-food like turkey or beef or chicken should ever cost less than $1 per pound. That’s ridiculous. So yes, we spent a small fortune on our 12lb turkey.
I prepared our bird the first Saturday in December. After doing a lot of research I learned that while heritage birds usually have a smaller breast than your typical grocery store bird, they have much meatier legs and thighs since they’re allowed to move around. This tends to mean that the breast dries out while the legs and thighs finish cooking. Since I adore white meat I wanted to do whatever we could to keep the meat juicy and delicious. I read and read and read some more and learned that of all the preparation methods, the best for locking in juiciness is a dry brine. In other words, salt. Lots of it. For our dry brine I rubbed kosher salt, thyme, basil and rosemary into the meat of the bird, UNDER the skin. Yes, you have to slice the skin off the meat, but leave it in tact so you can pull it over the meat again. Cover the bird with a garbage bag and let it sit in your fridge for 3-5 days. Our’s sat for 5 days. On day 6 I took him out (yes, him) and rinsed the flesh as best I could. You want to rinse the bird to reduce any saltiness from the brine. The salt gets absorbed into the meat within the first day and the other days it’s busy breaking down the meat and muscle and tenderizing the meat. Yum. I think next year I’ll rinse the bird, let it soak in fresh water bath for a few hours, then rinse again. Although our meat was super flavorful, I think it was probably a tiny bit too salty. A better rinse should whisk a lot of that away while the work is already done in terms of the bird’s tenderized meat. I’m not complaining though, this turkey was so juicy, it was like eating a rotisserie chicken!
After rinsing the bird, let it dry for one day in the fridge. You probably can’t just let it sit uncovered, but maybe cover it with an open garbage bag or some paper towels. The skin has to dry so it will brown.
I have a few obstacles in my way when it comes to turkey-roasting. 1 – no roasting pan, just 9×13 cake pans. 2 – no rack for use in roasting pan. 3 – a broken meat thermometer (whoops). 4 – tiny oven (24 inches). 5 – tiny kitchen (a constant obstacle, let’s not lie). No matter, I forged ahead with my roasting. I had read about a few tips on how to keep the breast meat moist while allowing the legs and thighs to cook faster. One tip was to preheat the oven to 500º with the roasting pan inside. Then, when the bird is ready, you quickly plop it into the pan. The pan, retaining the heat from the hot oven will cook the leg/thigh meat faster because it’s closer to the pan itself. Of course, this recommendation is really for a proper roasting pan, complete with a wire rack on which you place the bird. Since I don’t have such fancy items, instead my bird sizzled like crazy when I plopped it into the pan. I’m not sure if this actually did anything though. I also covered the breast meat with foil for the first 2 hours of cooking. This kept the skin from browning while it was covered, but also kept the meat from drying out. I uncovered it for the last hour and the skin browned nicely. As you can see in the pictures, the breast looks bald. This was because I had loosened the skin from the meat and when it browned, it sort of shrunk upwards. I think next time I’ll pin it to the meat so it stays covered.
My efforts were a success. Even with the bald, skinless look going on up front, this breast meat was shockingly juicy. Seriously, I was worried that I had undercooked it (don’t worry, I hadn’t. Despite my lack of meat thermometer, I did have a digital thermometer!) when I cut it open and saw all the juiciness. So yummy! The skin browned nicely too on the breast. The problem that I realized when making my gravy was that without a roasting rack, the skin around the neck and underside of the bird never browns. So my drippings were pretty pale considering the largest portions of skin were still white. I feel like that’s pretty unhelpful. Next year I must obtain proper roasting equipment. Mom??
Since we’d paid $66 for this turkey I wasn’t going to waste any of it. I’d read that boiling the neck and giblets would provide a nice meaty gravy, so I did that to create my stock. Then added my pale drippings. It might not look dark brown, but holy guacamole, this was such yummy gravy, if I do say so myself. Seriously, when we finished it we were both pretty sad that it was gone. After carving (and eating) a lot of the meat we sat down to a delightful dinner.
Our sides were whipped sweet potatoes with bacon and blue cheese; stuffing made with dried cranberries, apples, red onions, rosemary and thyme; Brussels sprouts cooked in a cheesy gratin; and left over buns that my mom makes. And of course, the gravy. It was so delicious. The Brussels sprouts weren’t great though and since then I’ve discovered much better tasting ones than the recipe I had. The stuffing was pretty good, although I think it would have been better if we’d let it bake a little longer and let the bread get a bit crunchy. Unfortunately, the stuffing and sprouts got baked in the oven while I was carving the turkey and once the meat was ready, the sides needed to be ready too. The sweet potatoes were amazing, obviously.
Of course, with a 12 lb turkey and only two people to eat it, we had leftovers for a while. We had open-face turkey sandwiches for two days and then I made a giant pot of turkey enchilada soup with the rest of the meat. I boiled the cleaned carcass to make 5 quarts of broth so really, NOTHING went to waste. The soup lasted another 2-3 days for both lunches and dinner. Delicious. I wish I had some right now actually.
Mmmm, delicious soup. That’s a recipe for another day. On to the side dishes!
Savory Sweet Potatoes
2 Large Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 slices of bacon, cooked
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
chopped green onions (optional)
Boil the peeled and cubed sweet potatoes until tender (approximately 20 minutes). While boiling, pan-fry the bacon until it’s ‘crispy’ but not burnt. Let rest on a paper towel until cool. Drain boiled sweet potatoes and let sit in a strainer for 5 minutes, tossing occasionally. You want as much water removed from the potatoes as possible. Once well drained, whip the sweet potatoes with a hand or stand mixer until creamy and smooth. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and crushed red pepper for taste. Break the bacon strips into pieces and add half along with the blue cheese to the sweet potatoes. Mix gently with a spatula until combined. Pour the sweet potatoes into an 8×8 baking dish and spread evenly. Top with mozzarella and remaining bacon and bake at 350º until golden and bubbly. Top with green onions if desired.
15 slices white sandwich bread, lightly toasted and cubed (generic store bread is best)
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 medium apple, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 cups chicken broth
Rosemary, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a 9×13 baking pan, adding the broth last. Bake at 400º until the broth is absorbed and the bread has turned golden brown.
3 cups sprouts, boiled and rinsed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 Panko Breadcrumbs
Salt, pepper, garlic to taste
Place the cooked sprouts in a 9×13 baking dish. Pour cream and milk over the sprouts. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic. Gently toss the sprouts to incorporate seasoning and evenly distribute milk and cream. Sprinkle the tops with Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake at 400º until golden and bubbly.