An Herbal Holiday, Cooking A Turkey The Old Fashioned Way
I grew up in a rather large family by today’s standards. There were 8 rug rats in my family all under the age of 15 at one point in time. So holiday meals were very important family events. My dad was exceptionally fond of turkey so, figuring he had a lot of people to feed, he always bought the largest turkey he could find, usually on the order of 35 pounds or more. That was all fine except for the fact that turkey and its many permutations would be all that we would eat for the following 2 weeks. When the turkey sandwiches, Turkey Divan, hot and cold turkey sandwiches, and finally the “turkey/barley soup” had run its course we would finally be released from Turkey and move on to other things. By the time I was 16 I never wanted to see another turkey.
Over the years I have prepared Turkey in numerous ways, from the traditional bread stuffed cavity to the hurry up and cook it, carve it and serve it type in a restaurant. On one year working the line, I cut and served over 40 turkeys on a Christmas dining menu (one crazy day as I recall, while cutting out the last drum-stick, I also cut across my index finger).
Soaking the turkey in brine to increase the moistness is a good first step, you can find an excellent brining technique on Whats cooking America. I am particularly fond of thyme for use in poultry, so I add a bunch of fresh thyme to the “hot” portion of the brine before I cool it by adding it to my ice-water. Carrots, olives, onions and garlic along with cloves, thyme, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice can also be added to the brine to round out a complete brining treatment for the turkey.
Please remember that poultry is highly subject to salmonella growth so follow the instructions and keep the brine and turkey below 40° to insure that growth is retarded and of course when you cook it make sure that it is totally above 140°. (Hint check it for proper temperature down in the space where the drumstick meets the breast)
More recently the fad has been to do other strange things to the Turkey, like inject it with cajun seasoning and boil it in peanut oil. I even dropped the obligatory $80 for a fancy pot to cook it. And hey, it tastes great, but what the heck do I do with the 3 gallons of peanut oil that will be rancid by next year? Plus how do I get rid of the oil stains on my deck?
This year I have decided to do something different and use a 70 year old recipe for my Thanksgiving Turkey. This looks totally fascinating and once again comes from Leonie De Sounine of Magic in Herbs fame.
“The under the skin stuffing is scarcely known in this country, yet it is unique and practical. Let me hand down some of that knowledge and you may do what you want–improve it, embellish it, accept it, or dismiss it. One of the most unusual stuffings for this purpose is that of chestnuts cooked and pureed and mixed with mushrooms. After one pound of mushrooms have been peeled use the heads and stems, steam in a glass of Madeira, let cool and grind them with the liver of the bird. Place the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours to blend. Then mix with one pound of chestnuts which have been boiled peeled and pureed. Add one-fourth pound of finely chopped bacon, one half teaspoon each of Origanum (Oregano), Chervil and Parsley. Add 1 teaspoon in all of the 4 spices, powdered Cloves, Nutmeg, Cinnamon and Ginger. Season with salt and a dash of Telicherry pepper. Instead of pushing this delicate mixture into the cavity of the turkey, make an incision at the neck end of the breast and loosen the skin by making a pocket from the breast end down to the legs. By using a dessert spoon, fill this pocket with the dressing and close with one or two small skewers the end where the incision has been made.
In the cavity of the turkey place two pounds of chopped apples, one-half pound of fresh butter, chopped nuts and raisins. Add some finely chopped sweet marjoram to the fruit. This blends wonderfully well with the turkey juices and is a most piquant surprise, as is the stuffing which, close to the breast, makes a delicate trimming. The only addition which might pick up the gravy still more is sour cream with a dash of paprika. The stuffing of the cavity is the compote and vegetable for the turkey.”
When I do this I will smooth the stuffing from the outside to insure that it is distributed evenly across the entire breast. Also the apple nut filling for the cavity seems a bit low in quantity so I will probably increase the number
of apples to 5 or 6 as it looks like you would use up that marvelous stuffing much faster than the turkey. Otherwise this recipe looks like winner.
Update I cater at a castle that sits on a mountain with a tremendous view it is in the center of a property encompassing 3000 acres. There is wildlife in abundance of all types. I rarely see these guys, but was fortunate enough this week-end to catch them crossing the road in front of me. Wild turkeys! This is my cell phone camera so the quality is not the best, but they are clearly visible.
I could not get the guy on the left into the picture, just as I snapped it he decided to gobble something on the ground so I cut off his head, figuratively speaking. Actually they are pretty domestic when you consider that I was a mere 10 feet away sitting in my car. There must be 20 of them all together, the rest of them are headed for the deep wild oak brush in the background.
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