Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The First Thanksgiving

For the past 18 years, my mom had cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my sister and I. When she passed away last May, my wife, sister and dad had Thanksgiving dinner at the country club, partly because our child was due any minute and we didn't want to have all of this food and not be able to make it, and partly because they had a really amazing spread there. Fast forward to this year, when I would be cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner- from turkey on down.

I'll start with this- the closest thing i've cooked to a turkey before is a cornish game hen. While it's similar, it's really nothing like a turkey- it's small and (from what I assume) a lot more forgiving when it comes to cooking. But the fact that I had cooked it before...well, it made me confident that i'd be able to tackle the turkey without any real difficulty. Right? It can't be THAT hard...
So a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I started to plan what I wanted to make. Obviously turkey, stuffing, green beans, gravy, rolls, spinach dip, and some kind of potato. My wife wanted to make a sweet/savory potato casserole, so that was hers, but the rest went to me. She will talk about the potatoes in an upcoming guest blog. I ordered a free-range organic turkey from a local farm (13.5 lbs, $42) and purchased organic stuffing, butter, and herbs (rosemary and thyme) from Whole Foods. As a nod to the Thanksgivings with my mom, I got the same gravy that she would use (jar turkey gravy) and Kroger yeast rolls. The spinach dip and green beans were another tradition at our house, and consisted of a hollowed out dark pumpernickel loaf, and filled with Knorr spinach mix, cut spinach, sour cream and mayonnaise. Wheat rolls were cut up to dip. Green beans were purchased fresh from Kroger.
Where's the parsley?
Thanksgiving morning, I brought the turkey in from the garage (it was cold enough outside that the garage was around 40 degrees, and the turkey spent the past two days chillin' on top of my '95 Mustang) Plus, it saved room in the fridge, so win-win. Using the roasting pan that my mom would use for cooking the turkey, I first put in about 1" of concentrated chicken broth and about 1/4 stick of butter (unmelted). Plopping the turkey in next, I finally did a few things that i'd wanted to try for a long, long time.  First, I pulled the skin loose of the breasts and put 1/4 stick of butter, and about a tbsp of minced rosemary, sage and thyme between the skin and the meat.
It puts the butter under the skin, or else it gets dried out again.
The remainder of the butter went inside of the bird. Now that the main prep was done, in my opinion, the most important part was next- preparation of the skin. A lot of people don't like the skin, but I do. There's a fine line between a nice, crispy skin and slimy, chewy skin that makes you feel like this guy...
Two SotL references already?
While I do enjoy a nice Chianti, Thanksgiving isn't the right time for that. Though I did cook the liver and heart from the giblets and add them to the stuffing. It was tough not eating the whole liver. It was delish! To prep the skin, I brushed it lightly with some olive oil, then sprinkled chicken bullion powder on it, rather liberally. Some fresh ground pepper, onion powder and a pinch of garlic salt and it was ready to go in the oven.
Future noms
I had read a few different ways that people prepared their turkeys and decided to combine a few, along with what I thought would work well. I set the oven to 500 degrees and put the turkey in uncovered for 45 minutes. I put it in with the legs toward the back of the oven, as that's typically the hottest part of the oven. I resisted the urge to baste the turkey at all during the first 45 minutes, so when the time was up, I pulled it out and basted it thoroughly. Wow, that sounds incredibly...inappropriate. 
Totally innocent. 
The skin was nice and crispy, and was now ready for the bulk of the cooking. When cooking larger pieces of meat, I prefer the fast start/slow finish method. Having seared it at 500, i turned the oven down to 300, covered the turkey, and put it back in the oven. Other than periodic basting, it was untouched for the remainder of the time. 

While the turkey was cooking, I worked on making the side dishes. Typically, when one thinks of green beans and the holidays, they think of the canned green beans smothered in cream of mushroom sauce and french fried onions on top. This is nothing like that, and something that my mom was an absolute whiz at making. Basically, it's fresh green beans cooked in butter then mixed with breadcrumbs. That's literally it- nothing else.

...and after.
It took just about 3 hours in the oven for the turkey to finish. When it came out, I didn't know what to expect. It looked good, sure. It smelled amazing. When I cut into it, though, was it going to do that "Pssshhhhhhhhhhh" thing that happened in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? 
Save the neck for me, Clark.
Thankfully, no. Even though Lisa had every expectation that it would, it didn't. I used the knife to cut the breast meat, but that was literally all. The meat fell off the bone on the entire turkey- white meat, dark meat, everywhere. I only used a fork to get every last bit onto the serving tray.
Turkey for me, turkey for you.
The turkey was perfect. The meat was moist, the skin was crispy, the drippings could have been a soup unto itself. One thing that people should do though in order to keep their leftovers tasting like they just came out of the oven on Thanksgiving is to pack them with a lot of the liquid. I pack my leftovers in a plastic container and cover them with the butter/broth mix. When you heat up the turkey later, heat it up with the (now gelatinized) liquid. It'll be as perfect as the day it was made!

So in the end, while I wasn't really intimidated by cooking, I was heading into a bit of uncharted territory. Having confidence in your ability, along with using what you know about cooking other types of food comes in so handy. Everyone loved the food from start to finish, and i'm still eating leftovers. Not that I'm complaining, mind you!
Wonderfully prepared place settings!
This dinner wasn't exactly impulsive. It was pretty much the complete opposite of that, but the method of cooking, the way that I planned...most of it was done the morning of. I look forward to many more Thanksgivings being hosted at our house. It really gives you a perspective on what you're thankful for- and for me, it's family, friends, and a wonderful future with them both.
Safe to say that he was a fan.

No comments:

Post a Comment