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Dishing it Out!
Thanksgiving turkeys

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Thanksgiving turkeys
18 November 2010

 As seen in The Monterey County Herald

Todd Fisher: The days of roasting whole Thanksgiving turkeys are gone

Todd Fisher Dishing it Out!
Posted: 11/17/2010 01:47:26 AM PST
Updated: 11/17/2010 10:32:17 AM PST

When I think of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but have the Norman Rockwell picture flash in my mind’s eye. The shiny, golden-brown, lacquered turkey, platters of cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes with perfectly melting pads of butter and the candied yams.  However, I have found in my 20-some years of cooking that one of the hardest things to prepare perfectly is a moist, succulent, yet perfectly cooked to the bone turkey. And by perfect I mean having white meat that is moist and dark meat that isn’t pink at the bone. If you have been a fan of this column for more than a year you may recall that every year I suggest brining your yard bird. Why? Because it helps, a lot, and a simple brine recipe is easy to find on any food website.

Since I can remember, I have always written recipes that teach you how to cook the whole bird, because that is what Thanksgiving looks like, right? Only last year did I realize I was really doing everyone who asked an injustice. Why cook the whole bird; it monopolizes the oven for several hours and white meat is perfectly cooked at 165 degrees when dark meat needs to swing the thermometer another 15 degrees to 180. No bueno for the breast meat.

So, separating the cuts of meat is the best way to perfectly cook the bird. I am almost feeling guilty for not sharing this information earlier with all of you; I have been doing myself right for years. I remove the breasts of the turkey after the brining time, being certain to keep the skin intact. I  then rub the breast meat with a mixture of olive oil, dried herbs and sea salt. I use bamboo skewers to secure the ends of the skin to the breast meat so the skin does not shrivel up in the roasting process looking like turkey cracklings. I then like to lay the breasts on top of a roasting pan filled with stuffing, cornbread, sourdough, sausage, oysters (or whatever stuffing you fancy) and roast the breasts on the stuffing so it gathers all those natural juices that will run out of the white meat during the cooking process. I mean, after all, the breast meat is not dry without reason.

As we cook it, the juices run out into the pan. Combine that with the long cooking time, and you have a mighty tasty roasting pan to lick.

With the legs and thighs I like to salt and pepper them and lay them on a bountiful bed of mire poix (carrots, celery and onion) and smashed garlic cloves. As they roast, the mire poix caramelizes and absorbs the juices released from the dark meat, acting as a sort of turbo charger of flavor for our gravy when the time comes. Actual cooking time will still vary based on the size of the bird, bit the rule of thumb is 15 minutes per pound of turkey. However, the instant-read thermometer is really your best answer on when it is done.

Before slicing away at your perfectly cooked meats, let them rest at a warm station for 10-15 minutes. Obviously, it goes without saying that the turkey carving will be a lot easier having already removed the carcass. And now that you mentioned it, for you traditionalists who need the picked-over carcass for soup, no worries, the skeletal remains can be boiled and picked at to create your bouillon du jour.

With the decreased cooking time and increased flavor, you can see why it’s time to say goodbye to the Norman Rockwell-esque bird.

Be a pie superstar

I hate to bake. I think a good pie is a really hard thing to do, but a good pie makes Thanksgiving! In fact, if memory serves me correct, the first Thanksgiving between the pilgrims and the Indians was all because of a pie …

Well, as I said, I hate to bake, but Katie Martin of KT’s sweet lunches is offering up sensational holiday pies to make you look like a “pie superstar.” Flavors fall under the traditional standards for the season, such as pumpkin pie ($13), pecan pie ($15), apple pie ($14.50) and a not-so-traditional, but dag-gum-good pumpkin pie with chocolate chunks ($13.50).

Not a fan of pie or just want to bring something else to the party? She will also be baking up her pumpkin squares with cream cheese frosting ($10 per dozen), brownies ($10 per dozen) and festive blondies ($12 per dozen). Martin requests your orders be in by Saturday, Nov. 20, for pickup Wednesday, Nov. 24. She will deliver upon request. For information visit www.ktsweetlunch.com.

Joy of hard ciders

I, along with the help of a few friends, have discovered the joy of good hard ciders. Hard ciders are fermented apple juice, but pear juice is becoming ever popular with some U.S. brewers. Woodchuck and Hornsby make a few dry hard ciders that are refreshing but a little sweet, K Cider is a must for cider fans and hard ciders are awesome paired with your upcoming Thanksgiving feast.

The tart, zesty vibrance is tremendous against the rich, roasted goodness of turkey and gravy, while the spice and earthy qualities draw out the traditional dark spice of stuffings and casseroles. Drop a few ciders into the ice bath of refreshments this turkey day and you will surprise a few friends and create some new hard cider ambassadors along the way.

Cheers and happy Thanksgiving!

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