11.10.11 Talking Turkey

Roasted turkey 790 xxx
photos by george billard
Thanksgiving is two weeks away and this is no time to bury your head in the sand and pretend like it's going to sort itself out. I'm a big control freak advocate of advance planning and you know deep down it really does help prevent all those 11th-hour meltdowns and kitchen hissy-fits, not to mention mediocre meals. Just give in to your inner Martha (the ultimate Higher Power) and get organized as hell. It's all about making lists, my friends! Devise your menu; compile your recipes; pull together your shopping list (checking the pantry to make sure you have those items you're "sure" are there but haven't actually seen in a year) and then make a schedule—yes, a schedule—so you'll remember to start brining the turkey days in advance, and so you can prepare everything possible ahead of time (stock, pie crust, etc). It's a highly tactical operation.

Before you move on to the rest of this post, please check out the photo, above. It's from last Thanksgiving. I've been hoarding it all year so you could see how our turkey turned out. Not bad, eh? Of course I've cropped it so you can't really make out where all the bits of skin stuck to the side of the way-too-small aluminum pan and tore off, but still. Read on to find out how not to have that happen...
House 790 xxx
great house
It seems like Thanksgiving may have permanently moved from the in-laws' place in Lenox to the sister-in-law's abode in Chappaqua. Last year, her house was undergoing some remodeling, but we were lucky enough to be able to stay in the lovely home of her architect, who was away visiting family. It was a cozy and comfortable house with a nice working kitchen and a great nook under the stairs next to the wood-burning stove.
Horse in paddock 790 xxx
the view from the hill
Trussing1 790 xxx
the act of trussing
For our turkey, we followed a technique that involves larding the breast with plenty of butter and then covering it with wine-soaked cheesecloth which helps prevent the dreaded dryness. Eventually you remove it and the skin browns beautifully. (Unfortunately, it seems the cheesecloth can sometimes stick to the skin and never the twain shall part.)
Cheesecloth 790 xxx
Turkey 790 xxx
all dressed up and only one place to go
It turned out that the house did not come equipped with a roasting pan large enough to accommodate our gigantic bird, and this meant a harried last-minute trip to the (thankfully open) market where this measly aluminum pan was our only option. (See "making lists," above.) A generously sized pan with ample room around your bird is essential for even cooking, proper browning and ease of handling. This one looks good; or this one. If you're splurging, copper is the way to go.
Shallots etc 790 xxx
the beginning of a beautiful gravy
I wasn't deterred from making my favorite gravy, which starts out as a layer of onions, garlic and shallots upon which the bird roasts. Once the bird is done and resting, you just puree this glorious tangle of sweetness and drippings, adjust the seasoning with a little sage and sherry, and you've got a delicious gravy. See last year's post for the recipe for this gravy and links to others.But I think we're going to go another route this year, back at my sister-in-law's house. For one thing, she just graduated from culinary school and has all kinds of tricks up her sleeve. For another, we have two turkeys! We're talking about possibly deep-frying one and for the other we're going to follow the directions on this fun new site, Fudehouse, for a turkey that is dry brined—yes, DRY brined—then air-dried and doused with boiling water, all in an attempt to create a juicy and crispy bird. A thermometer is key to knowing when your turkey is done; something as elaborate as this, or as simple as this. Some other essential items include a brining bag; a baster; and a carving board, preferably one with a juice well. And a great apron for the chef!

Do me a favor and also watch their other video on the meaning of "fresh" when it comes to supermarket turkey; and then do yourself a favor and find a local/organic/heritage bird now if at all possible. Local Harvest still has some great options for pickup and mail order.
Gf stuffing 790 xxx
cornbread-sausage-cranberry stuffing
As far as stuffing goes, last year's gluten-free version was a hit all around. It's made with my favorite gluten-free cornbread, studded with chunks of Italian sausage, crunchy pecans and tangy cranberries. You can find the recipe here, along with a bunch of other stuffing ideas.

A preliminary menu discussion yielded these other possibilities for our feast: chicken consommé with tiny mushroom ravioli; spicy yams with pancetta; a green vegetable TBD; a salad TBD; pumpkin custard made this year in individual Weck jars; and the wine-poached apples from yesterday's post. Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are still up in the air... And what are you making??


I'm taking Scottish relatives to Freemans... it won't be anything like t-giving with The Silver Fox! Nor will it afford us a view from the hill as SPECTACULAR as the one above... you really lead a glamorous life.
PBS on November 10, 2011 at 3:21 am —
Freeman's should be an appropriately cozy and American experience—and a lot less work! I had Thanksgiving at Savoy one year and it was grand to be out and about. And, Peter of Best Made Company, I think you know just exactly how "glamorous" my life is...
laura on November 10, 2011 at 4:12 am —
We are hosting Thanksgiving here across the pond for a few expats and some Brits who appreciate turkey and all the fixings and this being our first Thanksgiving abroad. Looking forward to attempting to cook a turkey here in a much smaller oven (our All-Clad roast pan doesn't fit!) and try my hand at my Mom's delicious stuffing recipe. Christoph will make his usual sweet potatoes and all will feel right again on the 24th.
tanya on November 10, 2011 at 6:04 am —
So glad to hear you'll be offering Yankee hospitality, and so much to be thankful for this year, Miss T!
laura on November 10, 2011 at 6:25 am —
i'm making what you're making :)
mwad on November 10, 2011 at 9:01 am —
Thanks for the reminders! Awesome post as usual and will begin planning. You make it easy with all your wonderful tip, tricks and yummy recipes. xo Hugs Claudia
Fabula on November 10, 2011 at 10:02 am —
Really enjoying your blog ... I'm a Kennedy School friend of George's. Must be hard to keep the weight off living with such a fabulous cook!
Janet on November 10, 2011 at 11:14 am —
Thanks, Janet. I try to cook a very healthy and balanced diet, but thank goodness we're getting back to hiking now that George's broken leg is not bothering him so much!
laura on November 10, 2011 at 11:22 am —
Although French, I am now in charge of Thanksgiving because my husband's family is not much into (good) cooking. The menu is as follows: wild mushroom soup (adapted from Silver Palate), turkey from Trader Joe's, my mother's stuffing: sausage, mushroom, chestnuts, flambé cognac. For vegetables: yam casserole with marshmallows on top, Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes - the last ones still not yet so sure.... I will look on your blog and others! Since I don't particularly like any of the traditional desserts, I may try Smitten Kitchen's pear, cranberry and gingersnap crumble with vanilla ice cream. Like you I am not sure for cocktails etc..
Josée on November 10, 2011 at 11:29 am —
Josée, you are definitely an honorary American! I'll be posting a few more recipes before Thanksgiving so maybe you'll find some sides that you like. Your mother's stuffing sounds wonderful...love the French touch of cognac!
laura on November 10, 2011 at 11:48 am —
Laura, I've been making your gravy recipe since you taught me in what?—well, the last century sometime. Easy, delectable and everyone loves it. In fact, I've made it by just pureeing everything in the bottom of the pan with a little white wine and then adjusting with sherry, etc. A little more old school, as in 14th century cold castle old school.
Bill Lutz on November 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm —
So glad to know it, Bill. Old school is the way to go, so much of the time!
laura on November 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm —
not sure how it happened but i have ben hosting Thxgiving for the past 5 or 6 years now--it is a stress-induced few days/weeks but i'm always happy i did it and i love having everyone at my place. the gravy is the part that stresses me the most (please don't ask) so i'm looking forward to trying yours! thinking i might print out your face and attach to my cabinet for inspiration and moral support on the big day!
nikki on November 11, 2011 at 7:45 am —
Nikki, this gravy has been a lifesaver for me and people seem to love it. Remember to make your lists...and breathe! I'll be with you in spirit...
laura on November 11, 2011 at 7:52 am —
Your turkey looks gilded.
David on November 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm —