a curmudgeon talks turkey

dscf5692My husband lets me experiment with food with impunity, often not eating the resulting disasters, but he doesn’t complain much.  However, he has his limits, and one big limit is the sanctity of the Thanksgiving meal.

O but in my fantasy world,  I have a husband who lets me mess around with the birds and spuds and sprouts and cukes and corn and stuff.  One year, I make an all-Mexican dishes Thanksgiving. Another, we have a fondue party with little cubes of turkey, potato, stuffing, and cranberry bread pudding.  Another, it’s all about cocktails and appetizers — an hors d’oeuvres Thanksgiving, passed in bites on fancy trays by uniformed waitstaff.  Amuses bouchés.


OK, I’m sorta lying.   As much as I like the idea of an appetizer/Mexican/fondue Thanksgiving, I’ve become more set in my ways over the years, too, and really love our traditional Thanksgivings.  In certain ways, I’m really a control freak, and although we invite our guests to bring a dish or whatever makes their Thanksgiving special, I cling to my basics…and they way *I* make my basics. I keep the menu each year, and it shows incredibly little variance — perhaps an ingredient in the stuffing, maybe a slightly different version of gravy, maybe a new dessert — but it is the one thing that hasn’t changed in our domestic life in the over ten years we’ve been married.

But for those of you who haven’t transmogrified into the Andy Rooney of Thanksgiving, I’ve been reading up on some new turkey tricks for 2008.  What are you planning to do with your turkey this year?  If you don’t know, consider these ideas.

dscf5694Like many fans of fussy Chris Kimball from Cook’s Illustrated, I converted to the brining religion after the epiphany he had a few years ago.  Culinate summarizes how to brine, using a similar version to Kimball’s.

This year, however, looks like the cooking pundits have turned to salt rubs instead, both for the ease of the method and the pesky issue of finding a vessel large enough for your turkey and several gallons of water that need cold temperatures.  Bon Appétit sez skip the brine and just salt your turkey.  I say I’d rather use my water-bath canner and put it outside overnight in a brine, but you might find salting appealing.

If you do brine, there’s a new product from Spice Islands, a turkey brine salt that looks lovely in the jar.  Maybe, set in a food processor for a few turns, it would be a lovely salt rub?  It is so pretty I’d consider it for gift-giving, or at least let it inspire a homemade version.  The turkey brine salt looks as if it is made up of coarsely ground salt, brown sugar, dried lemon and orange peel, dried cranberry pieces and whole spices, like juniperberry, peppercorns, maybe allspice.  You add the contents of the 11-oz jar and a gallon of water to make the brine.  N.b., the dried fruit and spices don’t add any substantial flavor to the brine, so it’s a complete waste of money, but she sure is a looker.

Cooking methods are changing, too.  Harold McGee at The New York Times recommends turning the turkey roast into pulled pork — skipping the brining, shredding the meat as you would a pork shoulder, and saucing it with drippings before serving.  Mark Bittman, of the same outfit, oddly enough brings up pulled pork again, and suggests braising the turkey in parts.dscf57004

Probably the most sexy option of them all, I’d venture, is a Chowhound article that suggests dismembering the bird and cooking the legs separately, confit-style, in duck fat.  O mama, that one makes me drool.  I’m not going to lie about that.

But for those of you thinking of messing around too much with the now classic weird-ass recipes out there in the Internet tubes, Gothic Turkey and Turducken, don’t. America’s Test Kitchen debunked the dark, glossy, million-ingredient, Gin Ramos Fizz-inebriated Black Turkey recipe that even I have in my collection, languishing somewhere.  How could I resist?  Well, I have, and I’m glad.  According to their Editorial Director, it tastes bad.  And this, this fake wiki by Mr. Colbert, just sums up how I feel about turducken.  Don’t try it at home, kids.

OK, that about does it for turkey.  Let’s move on to cranberry sauce, shall we?  Stay tuned for more Mrs. Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, Cooking Edition.

What’s wrong with America today?  Back in my day, a bushel of cranberries cost only a nickel…


5 thoughts on “a curmudgeon talks turkey

  1. TheBon 14 November 2008 / 7:07 pm

    Do you have any good resources for cranberries locally? I never had a hard time finding cranberries back home in New England, but apart from a few bags of Ocean Spray I’ve not seen anything available here, and those disappear rapidly.


  2. Eugenia 14 November 2008 / 10:14 pm

    I do. But I haven’t checked them out to make sure they are good yet. Stay tuned. :)


  3. Ceri 14 November 2008 / 11:33 pm

    There are some cranberry farms on the coast. I don’t know if they sell local or not. I have seen guys selling cranberries out of the back of pickup trucks near Oakway plaza the weekend before Thanksgiving.

    TJ’s usually has some sort of cranberries right before Thanksgiving and so does the PC market on 29th (I bet the others do too but haven’t checked)


  4. Janet 15 November 2008 / 12:59 am

    I did the New York Times turkey leg confit a few months back — no duck fat, just olive oil, but it was still pretty scrumptious ( http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/22/dining/221mrex.html ).

    When I’m doing turkey just for the household, not for a holiday, I cut it into parts and simmer it in half white wine and half chicken broth — it comes out incredibly moist and flavorful, and the winey broth makes the most amazing turkey soup imaginable. And it’s easy enough to reserve the legs for confit-making. But I abide by the Cooks Illustrated brining/roasting for holiday turkeys — there’s a lot more room in my basement for a stock pot than there is in my fridge for a salted turkey.


  5. Eugenia 15 November 2008 / 5:59 am

    Ceri’s right about the availability of cranberries at Trader Joe’s and Market of Choice (aka PC) on 29th, especially now. My theory of cranberries is to buy early, since your fridge holds ’em just as easy as their shelves do, and they will run out at the stores. But the cranberries at grocery stores are Ocean Spray or other non-local varieties. Market of Choice has some organic ones at an exorbitant price from who-knows-where right now, too. I’m going to write about the local ones.

    Janet, I completely agree about salted carcasses in my refrigerator!

    I’d love to hear about other experiments with turkey. I should add that to my post.


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