Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Turkey Dinner for the Over-70s

Every month in Russia St. Remy hosts a luncheon for our over-70 members of the community. Last month at my suggestion we had Oktoberfest (but no beer!), with brats and metts and saurkraut. This month, we had an early Thanksgiving, which was my fault. It started last month with me recalling how, when I was a kid, the school cafeteria would have turkey and dressing a few days before Thanksgiving, and before you know it, I'd talked myself into preparing a turkey for everyone. The plan was that I would make a turkey and stuff it, and make gravy; the staffmember who organizes these lunches would organize the rest.

Well, the turkey was a smash hit; probably the best I've ever made. There were many comments, so I'll publish here what I did. Very little is original; I have no shame in using recipes of others. In this case, I started with a fresh turkey from Kuck Turkey Farm up the road in New Knoxville; expecting a good crowd and not wanting to run out, I ordered a 32-pound bird. As soon as I got it home last Thursday, I brined it using Martha Stewart's recipe. This really is the key. At Martha's suggestion, I brined it for 24 hours; earlier I was thinking another 12 hours or so would have been a good idea.

I should also acknowledge that I modified Martha's recipe: I didn't find juniper berries nearby so I threw in a good slug of Tanqueray Gin; the whole garlic I had on hand was pretty dessicated, so instead I used a combination of garlic paste and powder from what I had on hand. Finally, she called for a bunch of fresh thyme; Krogers didn't have that (it usually does), but it did have a package of thyme mixed with rosemary and sage, so I figured that would have to do. Martha also suggests turning the bird over half-way through, which I thought ludicrous given the size of the turkey; instead, I just stirred the thing around. Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I almost forgot the fresh herbs, and so didn't include them at the very beginning, but tossed them in an hour later. I say all that to say, had I followed the recipe precisely, I'm sure it would have been even better.

Thankfully it was cold enough to keep the bird in its bath outside; I put it in my garage and used a couple of packages of Coke Zero to weigh down the lid. At first I worried about it freezing, but then remembered it had lots of salt in the brine, so rested easily.

After the turkey came out of the brine, I put it in a baking pan and set it, naked, in the fridge. After soaking it, I was now drying it out -- that is, the skin. As good as brining is overall, it does work against the interest of crispy skin; so this drying process helps. The turkey sat in the fridge for two days before being put in the oven last night around 7:30 pm. I rubbed it all over with olive oil and sprinkled it generously with cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Several times I basted it with melted butter.

I cooked it for about 14 hours; but because I didn't trust my timing, so after starting it at 350 degrees for an hour or so, I turned it down to about 270, and then lowered it to 170 overnight. I didn't want it to overcook while I snoozed. At six A.M., it was almost to the temperature I wanted; I cranked up the temp to around 220, and checked it again after Mass; it was ready.

My original desire was to stuff it, but cooking it long and slow made that risky. Also, to keep the breast meat juicy, I like to cook a bird breast-side down, and then for the last few hours flip it breast-side up. But I realized flipping this 32-lb monster was a ludicrous idea so I cooked it breast up from the beginning, covering the breast with some foil until this morning.

Since the meal was at a building a short distance away, I had to figure out how to get it there without problems. One of my staff -- who helped me get the bird out of the oven -- suggested a cooler, which I put in the back of my car, and drove very slowly to the site of the meal.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about the stuffing dressing. I had a recipe for Southern-style cornbread dressing that I'd used before, but I couldn't find it, so I opted for this one.

Some readers may know that there is a kind of tug-of-war about this particular dish: should it be drier or wetter; and should it ever be stuffed in the bird, or prepared as a casserole (i.e., dressing)? I like the cornbread, but I also like it a little drier, and I like it in the bird if possible. This recipe worked well, and I actually followed it pretty closely. I had some Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic I hadn't opened, so I used that, and I added a little more celery. I also added the optional sausage. I omitted the gravy, opting for a drier. Several days earlier I bought some days-old bread, and made some Jiffy cornpone, both of which I staled in my cut up into cubes and staled in my kitchen.

I prepped everything for the "stuffing" last night, putting it all together with the wet ingredients this morning after Mass. While the never-stuffed stuffing was baking, I fixed the gravy. I took the pan drippings -- half of which I poured into the stuffing dressing to make up for it not having actually been in the bird -- and added some turkey stock. I made a roux with flour and some fat I skimmed off the drippings and added that back into the liquid, and simmered that. It tasted pretty good, but I think it would have been better on the heat a mite longer.

As I said, I think this was my best turkey and the dressing was very good. Best of all? Leftovers and a carcass I can use to make stock!


rcg said...

This is masterful! I need to find that turkey farm. You did a great job adapting along the way.

Well done! (But still juicy 😉)

Fr Martin Fox said...

Thanks! I have plans to make it even better next time!