Thursday, November 15, 2012

Turkey!

It’s time for turkey, so here’s your once-over-the-world guide to roasting that bird.  If you’ve decided that turkey is always bland and dry, I beseech you to keep trying.  I have roasted everything from lean but flavorful (and sinfully expensive!) heritage breed birds to the cheapest frozen bird that can be found at the discount store, with success at both ends of the spectrum.  It doesn’t take professional training, but rather planning ahead, good timing and a bit of patience. Feel free to let me know if you have specific questions! 

Choosing your Turkey
In Mexico, we don’t have as many options as we do in the States, but don’t fret.  Perfectly acceptable frozen turkeys are available almost anywhere you would normally shop, and fresh turkeys are available at the Mercado de San Juan, which is located on "Ernesto Pugibet", between José María Marroquí y Luis Moya, four blocks from Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas. Here are two maps: http://goo.gl/maps/MMTdM
http://goo.gl/maps/UgVCT
Once you’ve decided where to buy, plan on 1½ to 2 pounds per person, and I always overestimate so there are plenty of leftovers.  For example, if you are having 10 people, get at least a 15 lb bird and if you like experimenting with leftovers (recipes below!), get 18 pounds. 

Defrosting
Let’s start at the beginning.  Most of you will buy, now and in the future, a frozen turkey.  The first thing to do is figure out how long and how you will defrost your bird.  Here are the options:
a)      In the Fridge: This is the most desirable and safest way to defrost.  Place your turkey in the fridge in its original packaging on a platter with the breast side up.  Your turkey will take about one day for every four pounds, which means a 15 lb bird will take four days.
b)      In the Sink/Cooler: This is an effective way to defrost that takes less time but more work.  Cover your turkey with cold water, and change water frequently to keep it cold.  It will take about ½ hour for every pound, which means a 15 lb bird will take 30 hours.

Flavoring
How will you flavor your turkey in preparation for cooking? There are a lot of different options, but the two I like the best are brining and basting, and I usually do both!  Here are your options:
a)      Brining: This is a simple method of soaking your turkey in a “brine” composed of water, salt, sugar and aromatics for many hours prior to cooking.  The flavored water seeps into the turkey, resulting in succulent, savory meat.  If you know your turkey is lean or you have a tendency to over dry your bird year after year, brine it.  Many brine recipes can be found online but don’t be intimidated from creating your own.  The general ratio is about 1C of salt and ½C brown sugar to 1 gallon of water.  Mix these three ingredients together along with any desired aromatics (good choices include peppercorn, dried herbs like rosemary, dried apples, star anise, cinnamon sticks, juniper berries, whole allspice, ginger, etc).  Bring your mixture to a boil, then let cool to room temperature.  In a brining bag or a large stock pot, add at least 1 more gallon of water plus a bunch of ice and your brining solution, along with your already-defrosted turkey.  Place this in the fridge and allow to brine for at least 24 hours and up to 72 hours.
b)      Basting: This is a great way to flavor your bird, and is advised even if you used a brine.  Dry your bird inside and out with paper towels.  Using course ground salt and freshly ground black pepper, season your bird inside and out.  Mix at least one stick of softened butter with some chopped fresh herbs of your choosing (such as rosemary, sage and thyme).  Simply rub this mixture inside and out of your bird (don’t forget under the skin).  Any extra should be used on the skin outside the breasts.  You really can’t use too much, so be liberal.  Place sliced lemons and oranges along with a wedged onion and extra herb stems inside the cavity of your turkey and you’re all set.  (Please note: It is generally not advised that you stuff your bird, as was tradition in the past.  It slows the cooking and generally does not reach a safe internal temperature for consumption, plus the cavity never holds enough stuffing anyway!)

Cooking
Now it’s time to cook your bird.  First you have to calculate how long it will take.  You will need 15 minutes for every pound.  For a 15 lb bird, that means you need at least 4 hours, as well as rest time which is at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.  There are many options for cooking your bird, but here we’ll focus on the most traditional: roasting.  Here are the steps:
1)      Preheat your oven to 450°F.  If you don’t have a roasting rack to elevate your turkey, use a bunch of vegetables (onion, carrots and celery) in the bottom of your roasting pan to serve the same purpose, but do not neglect to elevate your turkey in one of these ways.
2)      Truss your turkey, which means tucking the legs of your turkey under its body and tying them together with kitchen twine (or whatever you have around—I have literally used a hair tie before in a pinch).  This is a necessary step to ensure even cooking.  Place your turkey on your roasting rack or bed of vegetables in the roasting pan.  
3)      Roast your turkey for 30 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 325°F.  Keep an eye on your turkey, but it’s not necessary to continually baste, as this causes fluctuations in temperature and slows cooking time.  Baste only when you have to open the oven for another reason, such as tenting the bird or checking the temperature.  If you notice that part of the skin has already reached the desired brownness, simply put a double layer of tinfoil over that part of the bird.  It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to shield the skin.
4)      Roast your bird until the thigh meat reaches 165°F and the breast reaches 155°F (both parts measured in the thickest area, away from the bone).  If you reach either temperature before the other, tent that part of the bird with foil as well until the other part is ready.
5)      LET YOUR TURKEY REST (covered all over very lightly in tinfoil) for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour.  This step is vital to allow the juices in the meat to redistribute.  If you don’t let your turkey rest, the juices will end up on your cutting board and your meat will be dry, which defeats all your hard work! 

Timing
Planning ahead is vital for Thanksgiving dinner, so here’s a sample timeline for a frozen, 15 lb brined bird:
4 days for defrosting + 1 day for brining (minimum) + 4 hours cooking time
+ 1 hour resting (best to plan for the maximum in case cooking takes longer) =
5 days and 5 hours total
Therefore, if you want to eat at 4pm on Thanksgiving, better get that frozen 15 lb turkey in the fridge by 11am on Saturday morning!
 
Gravy
Even if you don't like to admit it, you love gravy.  Especially on Thanksgiving.  Bon Appetit has a promising looking recipe from their Thanksgiving issue which includes homemade turkey stock that I think I'm going to try this year.  But here's a method I have used in the past with great success:
 
Yield: About 6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 C butter
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 package turkey giblets from inside your turkey, or you can use turkey legs/bones, or even chicken giblets, bones, wings, etc.
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 large stalk celery, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1/2 C dry white wine
  • 4 C chicken broth or stock
  • Bay leaf and Thyme sprigs
  • Drippings from pan in which you've roasted your turkey (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp Madeira or Sherry (optional)
  1. Make your roux (please reference my blog post on roux): Melt butter in a saute pan over low heat. Whisk in flour and increase heat to medium-low.  Cook roux, stirring often, until it reaches a medium brown color and has a nutty aroma.  Let roux cool. (This step is important to avoiding lumpy gravy later!)
  2. Preheat oven to 450°F.  In a large, oven-proof saute pan, heat canola oil in oven until smoking.  Add turkey or chicken pieces.  Roast in the oven until golden brown, turning occassionally.  Remove pan from oven and remove turkey or chicken pieces.
  3. Transfer pot to stovetop and place over medium heat.  Add onion, celery and carrot to hot pan.  Stir to scrape up fond (browned bits) from bottom of pan, and cook, stirring often, until soft and golden brown.
  4. Add dry white wine and reduce until almost dry.  Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.  Temper roux into broth (this is important for avoiding lumps; more info in my Roux blog post) and bring back to a simmer.  Add bay leaf and thyme sprigs and let simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Strain gravy through a fine mesh sieve and discard mirepoix (onion/carrot/celery) and herbs.
  5. Add pan drippings and Madeira or Sherry.  Allow to simmer 5 minutes longer and serve hot.
Leftovers
Leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner are great fun, and fortunately ideas are all over the place.  One of my absolute favorite dishes to make with leftover turkey is Curried Turkey and Isaeli Couscous Salad with Dried Cranberries.  I make it every year the day after Thanksgiving, and sometimes throughout the year using leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.  You can substitute regular couscous (which is small and easier to find in Mexico) for the Israeli couscous (which is large, also known as pearl couscous).  However, I think it is much better with the Israeli variety, which I have found at both Superama (perhaps this was a lucky find as I haven't seen it since) and also at Sinai Kosher Deli and Bakery, located at Av. Stim #72 in Lomas de Chamizal.  Anyone know if they have it at City Market?
Back to leftovers, Bon Appetit also has a great selection of leftover recipes in their Thanksgiving guide.  The Turkey and Mushroom Risotto looks especially promising.  Of course, there's always the old standby: the sandwich, in which you include all the stuff that used to be on the dining room table in between two slices of bread.  I think this year I'll do delicious grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches using my grill pan, some nice French cheese (so glad that's available in Mexico!) and cranberry sauce.  You've got to use it up somehow, right?!

Good luck to you, and have a wonderful Thanskgiving!  Let me know how it turns out!