Posts Tagged ‘turkey’

The last Thanksgiving, for a while

29 November 2012

Thirteen years and a few months ago, Thomas and I moved to New York for two or three years. Thomas says one or two years. Apparently, we hadn’t discussed things in great detail. Actually, he went to DC while I settled in New York; it was clear that he would join me a year later. At least I think it was. (He did.) We had married in Berlin three weeks earlier.

Next summer we are moving to London. I know better than to give an estimated time-frame. I think it will be temporary. Thomas thinks it won’t. We still own our opinions.

So for me the holiday this year took on the slightly nostalgic sheen of our last Thanksgiving stateside, for a while. I pulled out a carefully folded, diligently preserved page from the Wednesday, November 17, 1999 New York Times: In a Berkeley Kitchen, A Celebration of Simplicity. I didn’t host Thanksgiving that first year, a friend had invited us to her huge, raw, self-renovated, artfully stage-managed Meatpacking district loft. She gave me the newspaper clipping and asked whether I might bake the cranberry upside-down cake. Of course I would.

The feast featured turkey and salmon, creamed leeks and lots of other sides that I can’t recall, though we helped prepare most of it that afternoon. There were probably thirty guests, in a grand space that could have accommodated sixty. We sat cross-legged on cushions around a long low candlelit table. I eavesdropped as a soul-searching dancer waxed existential with a timidly successful artist. New York! I had landed, incredibly, in the middle of a Woody Allen movie (I grew up in France, after all).

Now, when I pull out the yellowed, dried-out newspaper, that night comes rushing back. And those tentative beginnings in New York. Moving to a new city not knowing a soul (ok, two souls). The daunting search for work in a completely new world. It was scary and exciting and wonderful. Alice Waters’ Thanksgiving recipes remind me of all of it.

This year I didn’t prepare the cranberry upside-down cake because dessert is the one thing I don’t make on Thanksgiving nowadays, but I made her wild mushroom stuffing and the stewed fennel. For old times’ sake. And lots of other things. In the past I’ve stuck to a well orchestrated, carefully balanced mix of dishes and flavors that worked very well but kept bugging me as lacking the true spirit of American Thanksgiving, which, I know, is very much about the abundance of sides. Pushing aside this European restraint, I let go.

I would make mashed potatoes, of course, and a shaved Brussels sprouts salad I’ve been wanting to do for years. On the Monday before Thanksgiving I tried to make cranberry chutney. It wasn’t right. On Tuesday I cooked it again, with more sugar and some walnuts. I imagined something sweet and very thick, practically sticky. Wednesday evening Thomas baked his pumpkin pies, I made soup, and as I started a classic cranberry sauce I felt the chutney still needed more sugar, more cooking. It was getting late. But at 1:00 am I decided I must also make those pickled carrots I’d seen a few days before. And I had squash so I’d roast that with spices and a light touch of maple syrup. It was a lot of fun. The final menu looked something like this.

Thanksgiving Menu

Celeriac and chestnut soup

Heritage turkey
Wild mushroom stuffing

Mashed potatoes
Stewed fennel
Spicy roasted squash
Brussels sprouts salad with pecorino
Pickled carrots
Cranberry sauce
Cranberry chutney

Desserts — pumpkin pies, pear and chocolate tarte, apple cake, tiramisu, chocolate soufflés …

The next day, elated from the party but also exhausted from it all, as we drove away to spend the rest of the weekend — traditionally — by the sea, and although our friends were already scheming to come to London to celebrate next year, I was practically ready to leave that holiday behind.

A new city, a new country, new traditions, surely. Of course I wouldn’t. I’ve taken Thanksgiving with me from Paris to Berlin and home to New York. London Thanksgiving will have to be, and forge its own traditions.

Heritage turkey with apple chestnut stuffing

29 November 2010

Back from a lazy long weekend here is the recipe for our Thanksgiving turkey – with plenty of time until next year, or a head start for Christmas if turkey happens to be on your menu.

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Apple chestnut stuffing

I am not bound by tradition when it comes to stuffing, so I don’t consider it essential to include bread. This recipe was initially inspired by a goose stuffed with lady apples but has evolved quite a bit.

For a 16-18lb (7-7.5 kg) turkey:

1 large bunch parsley

2 handfuls fresh thyme

2 handfuls fresh sage

10 thick slices bacon

800 g (5 cups) whole peeled cooked chestnuts

8 medium-sized tart apples

5 medium-sized red onions

Maldon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Pick leaves from herbs and discard stalks. Set aside.

Place half the slices of bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Once it is brown and crispy on one side, turn over until brown and crispy on the other. Remove from skillet and set aside, keeping rendered fat in the pan.

Peel, core, and cut apples into quarters, then cut each quarter in half crosswise. Brown apples in bacon fat for 3-5 minutes over high heat.

Crumble 2/3 of the chestnuts, leaving about a third whole, and add them all to the apples. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Chop the thyme and sage and add to the apple/chestnut mixture. Transfer to a bowl.

Place the remaining slices of bacon in skillet over medium heat and repeat browning process. Remove from skillet and set aside, keeping rendered fat in the pan. Slice onions and cook them in bacon fat until translucid and just starting to brown. Add to apple/chestnut/herb mixture.

Chop bacon, chop parsley leaves, add to the rest of the stuffing, season generously with salt and pepper, and mix carefully.

***

Heritage turkey

I don’t make turkey often enough to have acquired proficiency in roasting the birds, but they have usually turned out anywhere from quite fine to fairly spectacular. I am refining the technique, one turkey a year at a time, to hit the high moisture marks every time. These are the steps I followed this year, with decent, though improvable results. 29 November 2010

Note from 25 November 2011: I edited the recipe slightly and reduced cooking times after another Thanksgiving turkey cooking adventure this year.

16-18 lb (7-7.5 kg) heritage turkey

Butter

Coarse gray sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Stuffing

Take turkey out of refrigerator well in advance (for example before you start making the stuffing), so it has time to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 475°F (245°C).

Once turkey is at room temperature, separate skin from breast meat and rub softened butter onto breasts. Season inside of turkey, then spoon stuffing into the two cavities, front and back, and sew shut with kitchen string. Rub skin on all sides with generous amount of coarse sea salt and black pepper, and tie legs together with string.

Place turkey in a roasting tray, breast side down, and roast for 10 minutes. Turn turkey breast side up and roast for another 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F (175°C), add a little water at the bottom of the pan, and roast for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer* inserted in the inner thigh registers 150°F (65°C). While the turkey cooks, place a wet muslin cloth over the breasts and baste over the cloth and legs regularly, adding water to the juices if needed. Remove the cloth after about 3 hours to allow the skin to become very crispy.

Let the turkey stand for 45 minutes. Meanwhile reduce the juices and make the gravy, but I won’t tell you how because I prefer to just reduce the juices, keep them piping hot, and pour them over the meat before serving. (Full disclosure: I have asked willing guests to make gravy in the past couple of years, and I must admit it was very good – maybe next year I will tackle the sauce myself).

Check at the joints of the thighs and legs. If they are still uncooked (juices running bloody), remove from the turkey, return to the oven, and cook for another 25-30 minutes or until the juices run clear.

Carve and serve breasts, thighs, and legs.

*I acquired a thermometer unintentionally when the owner of Flying Pigs Farm gave me one at the market one day. He was obviously nervous I might overcook the beautiful loin roast I had just bought from him. I must admit the thermometer came in handy for the pork, and is very useful for turkey.


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