I’ve gotten a jump on my holiday shopping this year, namely by pre-ordering a heritage bird for Thanksgiving from Bill Niman at http://www.bnranchtotable.com. I am ridiculously excited that he’s offering heritage turkeys, and that the bird doesn’t have to travel far. Niman and his wife, Nicolette, are leaders of sustainable and humane farming—their BN Ranch is in Bolinas in Marin County, not so far from where I grew up in Northern California—so it feels right that this bird joins our Thanksgiving table.
Posts Tagged ‘turkey’
No doubt if you’ve looked at any food sites or read any editor’s letters, you’re in a freaking frenzy that you have waited TOO LONG and needed to start prepping the meal two weeks ago, and that you are a total domestic failure. Relax. Pour a glass of wine. Worst case, you may be a little late to make your own gravy, but if you are in Los Angeles, just grab some at Joans on Third and be done with it. Focus your attention on making the most flavorful bird that is dripping with juice and has perfectly crisp skin. Having worked for years at a food magazine myself, I’ve tried countless turkeys—wet brined, cider-brined, beer-brined, smoked, grilled, deep-fried, turkeys rubbed with compound butters, Cajun spices, turkeys glazed with maple, citrus, soy, you name it. But the best, hands down, is Russ Parson’s Judy Bird inspired by Judy Rogers’ legendary roast chicken at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. Flip through any food magazine since Russ published the recipe in 2007, and you’ll find countless knock-offs. His original recipe is still the best.
Make it your own by adding a pinch of dried herbs to the salt—I like to pick up on one of the flavors from the stuffing like using dried sage or fennel—or citrus zest. The basic formula is 1 tablespoon of salt for every 5 lbs of bird. If you can start it tonight, perfect. But tomorrow will give you enough time to produce a bird like no other. I promise it will be the first Thanksgiving where people actually want to eat the turkey.
It’s taken me three days to get around to writing this post because it’s taken that long to recover from making Sunday night’s mole poblano, the prized dish of Mexico that contains over 20 ingredients that lend this sauce its gorgeous complexity. Having cooked from Gourmet and Martha for years, I was not intimidated by an unmanageable list of ingredients. That said, and to borrow from our former Chief Executive, I may have “misunderestimated” what is involved in the actual process of making the mole—a fact that became clear somewhere around Hour 3, when I was still in the thick of it with no end in sight.
But let’s back up.
Some of you might recall the Turkey Trauma of Thanksgiving 2010 in which I was sent a barely street legal 7.5 lb turkey the size of a large chicken instead of the 12-14 lb bird I ordered. It’s been burning a hole in my freezer drawer ever since. Last weekend, I decided to break out Tiny Tom and make my very first mole. A few days before I made the mole, I dry brined the turkey with salt and Mexican oregano and let sit in the fridge. I’ve included a mini can (7.5 ounces) of Dr. Pepper in the photo for an idea of scale. Think about it.
J’adore mole, particular the darker versions with a hint of chocolate (which tempers the heat of the chilies). I found this recipe for Turkey in Mole Poblano in an old issue of Saveur. I can promise you that when followed to the letter of the law the recipe is nothing short of spectacular. It’s also nothing short. Period. Because mole takes a long, long time. First there is the deseeding of the three types of a few dozen chilies.
Some of these seeds get toasted with sesame seeds stovetop before they are ground into a fine powder.
Whole cloves, peppercorns and aniseed get toasted separately and then ground into a fine powder before joining the mix, along with dried thyme, marjoram, cinnamon and torn bay leaves. Meanwhile the deseeded chilies are submerged in boiling water for half an hour before they are toasted in small batches in hot oil.
Then comes Satan’s work. In several batches, you puree chilies with their soaking liquid and stock in a blender, then pass through a sieve. This takes more time than you can possibly imagine. Then you set the chile purée aside.
Back to the frying pan. There are various seeds and nuts that also get the hot oil treatment—individually—because each ingredient cooks at a different rate.
As well as slices of bread and stale tortillas. Once they’ve all drained on paper towels, they get added to the spice powder mixture.
And then set aside while you slice an onion and peel 10 cloves of garlic. These get sautéed, transferred to the spice mix, and then tomatoes and tomatillos are sautéed, transferred to mix, and then along with this stock, it all gets pureed in the blender and pressed through a sieve. I really never want to see my blender again after this project.
At some point I threw the bird in the oven—it’s all a blur—and at some point all of the above ingredients were married on the stovetop and simmered away for a good long time.
And don’t forget the cup of chopped Mexican chocolate!
It was a good six hours of active cooking—and that’s not counting the shopping. But nothing worth having comes easy. And mole is very much worth having. All the better if you can share it with good friends. And by the way? That turkey served four.
Two thousand ten will go down in the books as one of the most memorable Thanksgivings—for the good, the bad and the unbelievable. On this beautiful sunny Los Angeles morning, surrounded by my family, the turkey trauma of three days ago seems like another lifetime. And so I will answer a few questions. Yes, the turkey turned out okay. In fact, it was fantastic! So here’s what I learned. You can safely defrost even a 16-pounder in a matter of hours (click here for info). And even one day of salting will produce superior results. This turkey was so juicy and flavorful. Look at it coming out of the oven!
And then my husband, who is the greatest in the whole wide world, took to the bird with the precision that only a Japanese knife can offer.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. My dad surprised us with a magnum of 2004 Stony Hill Chardonnay.
And so, it was quite late and we were quite drunk by the time we tucked into my sister’s pumpkin and pecan pies made with the buttery best crust imaginable. Oh, and the pies were pretty spectacular for breakfast, too, though this coffee doesn’t hold a candle to the Stony Hill.
My sister has arrived and is making beautiful flaky crusts for the sour cream-pumpkin and pecan pies as we speak. My husband is scoring red pearl onions, which I will simmer in port just as soon as I hit “post.” After the turkey trauma of the past 24 hours, I am finally feeling relaxed and good about dinner tomorrow (and I haven’t even started drinking yet!). Thanks in no small part to my TURKEY SAVIORS, who talked me off the ledge and taught me how to defrost a bird at the 11th hour. About an hour ago, I salted our 16-pound turkey with a heaping three tablespoons of kosher salt and a generous pinch of dried sage.
It is now peacefully resting in a bag in the fridge, where it will dry brine until it’s ready to roast tomorrow afternoon. What follows next is why this holiday is my favorite of the year. The mixing, the baking, the brining, the boiling, the simmering, the sautéing, staying up late and getting up early to cook. And now if you’ll pardon me, I’m off to do just that!
Yesterday afternoon I blew my stack. I’m not proud of this and I’m sorry, Dan at Heritage Foods USA, that you were on the receiving end. But here’s the thing. After pacing like a jungle cat all afternoon in anticipation of the arrival of my 12-14 lb heritage bird (which I’d ordered on August 3), the box arrived. And it was surprisingly light. Upon opening the box I wondered if my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me because the turkey was only slightly larger than the two pork chops that were also tucked inside the box.
And so, in a panic, I called Dan at Heritage Foods USA in Brooklyn, NY, who was able to get a bird on a truck to catch a redeye to Los Angeles for arrival this morning. The new bird is indeed here and, well, he’s a beaut. A 16 pounder. But I’m super bummed out because the bird is frozen and will have just one night of dry brining before 10 people gather at our table tomorrow night. (Thank god we are eating late.) So what do you do with a frozen 16-pound bird in order to get it on the table in 24 hours? I frantically texted the pros and here’s their sage advice:
Janet Taylor McCracken, associate food editor at Bon Appétit: If it’s still frozen, keep it in an airtight bag and place it in a cooler filled with cold water. It should defrost pretty quickly, as in a couple of hours. If the water gets too warm (above 45°F), put some ice in it.
Russ Parsons, author and Food Editor of the Los Angeles Times: You can even roast it if it’s still partially frozen. It’ll take more time. And it may be slightly mushy (defrosting too fast), but this is about survival, right?
Kristine Kidd, Bon Appétit‘s former Food Editor (for 20 years!!!) and author: To thaw quickly, put in a large bowl or sink with cold water to cover (if possible). I would do this wrapped in an airtight plastic bag. Change water often, and it will thaw surprisingly quickly. Another idea, Gelson’s carries Diestal Heritage birds. I pre-ordered, but you could call around and see if they have extras. These are not pure heritage as from Heritage foods, but a cross breed. I am grilling one right now, à la Russ. Mine got only a 24 hr salting, followed by 8 hour drying in fridge. I started the process yesterday morning at 10 AM. I’ll tell you how it comes out. A third idea—cook your small heritage turkey, plus another small turkey from Gelson’s or Whole Foods, and let everyone have a taste of each.
Amelia Saltsman, TV host and author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook: I wouldn’t worry about brining turkey. Rub with butter or olive oil and kosher salt. Roast on a “rack” of whole carrots, celery, quartered onions, etc. After about 30 minutes add some water to pan, which will start some steam going to keep breast moist, not to mention augment juices later for basting and gravy. Hope this helps!! Happy turkey day!
So the moral of the story is to BE THANKFUL FOR YOUR FRIENDS, especially those who are far better at making lemonade from lemons than you could ever be. And it helps if these friends are some of the best cooks in the whole wide world! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and check back for progress on our bird, which is currently frozen rock solid and cooling its wings in our kitchen sink:
I woke up this morning and immediately deployed a four-letter word. Maybe even a few of them, if I’m going to be totally honest. How on earth are we only a week out from Thanksgiving? Fortunately, I am a creature of habit and so the menu isn’t changing all that much. There will be Escarole Cornbread Stuffing (above), rich with prosciutto, parm and fresh ricotta. It’s pretty much the BOMB. And a Heritage Turkey is waiting to wing its way west to be dry brined à la Russ Parson’s Judy Bird recipe in the LA Times. My favorite Brussels sprouts with shallots and fennel will of course be making the scene.
All the usual suspects will be there, including our friend Vincent’s saucy roasted cranberries with a jalapeño kick. For a complete look at this years menu, check out last years. In fact, not much changes year to year—and a recent facebook poll confirmed that this is true at most tables. We like the familiar. This is a holiday about tradition after all. But still. I have a few tricks up my sleeve, so check back tomorrow for ideas, including what I’ve humbly determined to be the ultimate Thanksgiving appetizer…
Yes, our 10.5 lb Frank R. Reese Jr heritage bird is here, having winged its way to Windsor Square, Los Angeles, traveling untold distances from Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Tampa, KS. But not without first being delivered earlier this morning to the wrong address in another ZIP CODE, which necessitated The Foodinista driving to retrieve it from the 10th floor of a high-rise office building (thank you very little, Heritage Foods USA). Just as last year, the bird emerged from an insulated silver-lined flight vessel:
As you can see, the bird loves metallics. Here it is in the sink, post rinse:
Then, using Russ Parson’s dry-brining technique outlined in the Los Angeles Times, I mixed two generous tablespoons of kosher salt with some ground dried sage and cracked black pepper and sprinkled over the bird.
Then the bird goes into a turkey bag, and sits in the fridge until show time on Thursday…
By now I’m guessing most of us have settled on our menus for Thursday, but for those still looking for inspiration, here are some ideas of how my friends and family are spicing up the holiday table.
Geoff, screen writer: “We cheat on turkey, but it’s truly delicious. Greenberg Smoked Turkey. Slice and serve.”
Sara, fashion publicist: “I am BBQing my turkey – do it every year like my father did except that I don’t have to put a parka on every time I baste it. I make my father’s BBQ Sauce – RED RIVER that he created from his 1960’s cooking club. Makes an awesome smokey gravy too!”
Janet, food editor: Dry-brined turkey. “Just haven’t decided what way to go [with aromatics] – thinking rosemary, maybe ground fennel seeds….It’s so hard to decide these things!”
John, actor/writer: “We have a heritage turkey. I can’t wait to destroy it with a carving knife while everyone tries to smile.”
Kim, fashion editor: “A simple turkey breast for two using the same Thomas Keller roast chicken technique you detailed a while back. It just doesn’t get better than that!!”
Kate, writer/producer: “Chestnuts, breadcrumbs, sausage. And hard-cider gravy.”
Lisa, wine marketing: “I always do a version of this BA recipe [Apple & Sausage Stuffing]- I also add dried unsweteened cranberries!
Julie, agent: “I have the best stuffing recipe from my step dad a few of the key ingredients are – sausage, apples, apricots, spinich, apple juice, white wine… even better the next day on a stuffing / turkey sammie….”
Nicole, creative development: Her Italian grandmother’s stuffing—”French bread, celery, onions, mushrooms, herbs, butter, garlic, etc, etc. I love it.”
Carolynn, food writer extraordinaire: Check out her blog post on an AMAZING Sourmash Apple Crisp.
Joy and Michelle, Napa Valley natives, respectively: classic pecan and bourbon pecan.
Elissa, mother of four girls, with another baby en route!: “Here in TX it’s definitely pecan… but I’m thinking of adding a sweet potato pecan pie to the mix (thanks, epicurious)”
Jessica, actor/culinary student: “Classic pumpkin pie, Old Fashioned Apple pie with dried cherries and homemade vanilla bean ice cream.”
Andy, writer: “My wife’s mom makes a killer walnut pie … goes beautifully with a white port.”
Aunt Holly: classic apple pie from Grandma’s recipe.
Betsy, mother-in-law: My mother-in-law does two versions of pecan pie—a classic and a chocolate-pecan pie. She also sets a stunningly beautiful table with heirloom monogrammed silver, beautiful white/gold china and vintage amber Biot wineglasses. We’re so sad not to be sharing Thanksgiving with my in-laws! Sending much love from the left coast to the right. xoxo