A Martha & Tom Thanksgiving
By Tom // Posted 29 November, 2009 in: Food + Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Technique
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. This was the second year in a row in which I was cooking in isolation from my extended family in Michigan since relocating to Minnesota. I miss having my whole family together and all their different contributions to the meal. On the other hand, cooking in Minneapolis for a small crowd, I have complete control over the meal. This satisfies the control-freak in me, and also allows a bit of flexibility about how I cook the bird.
The bird in question arrived from Clancey’s Meats & Fish last Monday. I was wide-grinningly excited when our turkey — which had never seen the inside of a freezer — showed up under Martha’s arm; I immediately set about dismembering it. Originally, my plan was to cook the bird whole, in search of that classic Norman Rockwell moment. But after reading Kenji Lopez Alt’s enlightening “Turkey Stuffed Turkey” article I could not resist taking my turkey apart. It just makes so much sense: the legs and the breasts are two different kinds of meat that demand different treatments — they are done at different temperatures — and, best of all, if you cut the legs and breasts off, you have the whole carcass to make turkey stock in advance, to be held at the ready for all your stuffing/dressing and gravy needs.
After dismantling the turkey, I salted the legs and thighs and refrigerated them overnight. The next day, they were ready to confit in a crockpot with plenty of olive oil, bay leaves, thyme, orange zest, peppercorns and juniper berries. Before removing the breasts, I carefully took the majority of the turkey’s skin off in one piece — I think Hannibal Lecter would have been proud. The breasts and skin were reserved for Thanksgiving day. Meanwhile, I roasted the rest of the carcass and boiled it down into stock. The copious amount of bones made available by cutting the turkey apart meant that I got a thick, gelatinous stock.
For reference, a ten pound free range turkey produces about 2 ½# of white meat. I felt like a mad scientist rolling the two breasts together and wrapping them in their own skin per Lopez Alt’s instructions. The technique worked out really well; the meat cooked very evenly and the skin even managed to adhere to the meat, no Activa required. Go figure.
My quest to use all parts of the turkey resulted in the surprise best dish of the evening, a turkey liver pâté. After soaking the turkey’s liver in milk for two hours to leech out some supposed metallic flavors, I sauteed it in butter along with some shallots. This I ground to a paste in my food processor along with thyme, turkey meat left over from the stock, salt, lots of black pepper, some juniper berries and a bit of heavy cream. After baking this mixture in a water-bath in a 300°F oven for an hour I cooled it and refrigerated it overnight. The result was amazing. I have been dabbling in terrines, pâtés and other potted meats for well over a year now. The results, while always pretty good — how can you go wrong with potted meat? — were always missing something, or featuring too much. Either I have learned enough or the stars were just aligning right for this Thanksgiving: the pâté was creamy, rich, slightly gamy and very peppery. Great with mustard, pickled green beans and olives. Not how I’ve usually started off Thanksgiving, but possibly a new tradition!
One can hardly have Thanksgiving appetizers without Thanksgiving cocktails. Martha found the recipe we used on Apartment Therapy: 1½ oz rye whiskey (Wild Turkey, of course), ½ oz triple sec (substituted for clear curaçao), 2 oz apple cider, 1 tsp simple syrup and a couple of cranberries for garnish. Changing every “oz” to “cup” we successfully octupled the recipe with enough for everyone to enjoy two.
As for the rest of the meal, it was more or less what you would expect. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce, sauteed green beans with lemon, roasted parnsips, carrots and brussels sprouts, roasted turkey breast and turkey leg confit and plenty of gravy to cover it all.
In some ways Thanksgiving is a stupid meal: nobody can make all these dishes perfectly at the same time. We’d be better off focusing on just a couple and having a really great meal. But it’s Thanksgiving, it happens only once a year, and frankly, nobody expects it to be perfect. That’s why there’s gravy.