Make Me a (Turkey) Sandwich
Thanksgiving. That special time of year where millions of citizens of the United States gather to celebrate that time when Native American’s saved the white, European strangers only to be forced off their lands and nearly extinguished from the Earth by the same white, European strangers. To celebrate this massive oppression of a native culture we eat more food than any normal human should consume in a week and follow it up by falling asleep on the couch watching a game that consists entirely of men smashing into each other like rams fighting over the finest female in the flock. So, for this week’s cooking recipe it seemed appropriate to try to cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
For starters, we cook what, for no explicable reason other than that Ben Franklin wanted to make this the official bird of the United States, a turkey.
Roasted Beer-Brined Turkey with Onion Gravy and Bacon
Food & Wine is a glorious magazine that provides loads of wonderful cooking tips. They have great ideas about seasoning and cooking processes. There is one major flaw with all of the cooking tips in Food & Wine. They assume that everyone has every possible cooking device in every size ever made in this or any other country. Typically, this hasn’t been an issue but it became abundantly clear when trying to make this turkey. If you have a pot that would fit the full recipe described in the magazine, then you must be cooking in an oil drum. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just jump in.
The recipe was created for cooking a full turkey about 12 to 14 pounds. I cooked this bad boy up at half that weight because I wasn’t cooking for the entire World Champion Chicago Cubs so everything I’m describing is half of the ingredients listed in the recipe at Food & Wine. Here is what you’ll need:
- 1/8 cup mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 4 bay leaves
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup salt
- 1 onion
- ½ slab of bacon
- 3 12-oz bottles of a stout beer
- 6 to 7-pound turkey breast
- ½ cup turkey stock or chicken broth
- ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
Got all your stuff together? Excellent. Hoping to make this for dinner tonight? Well you better start looking up the number for the Chinese delivery because you won’t be eating this delicious meal for at least 29 hours. Let’s get started by getting the brine ready to go.
According to Food & Wine, you start by combining the mustard seeds and peppercorns in a very large pot to toast over moderate heat. If you read ahead in the recipe the turkey is supposed to fit into this pot along with the three beers and eight cups of water. Guess what? I don’t have a pot that would meet these criteria for a seven-pound turkey. I can’t imagine anyone having a pot this big for a 14-pound turkey. The point is that you don’t need to do the toasting of these items in a giant pot because you are going to be soaking the turkey in a giant bowl so just use a moderately sized pot to start toasting the mustard seeds and peppercorns. It’ll take about 2 minutes.
After everything is toasted add the brown sugar and salt to the pot then remove it from the heat. Pour in two cups of water then stir up everything until the sugar and salt has been dissolved. Sit that aside and let the water cool down completely, meaning until the mixture has been cooled to around room temperature. This will take 15 minutes or so.
While this is cooling down, let’s take a minute to talk about beer. The recipe calls for Guinness Stout which is a perfectly reasonable beer. If you choose to stick with Guinness as the beer, then you would be perfectly fine. However, being the beer snob that I am, I wanted something a little more local and a little more unique. So, I went with Cocoborealis by Chaos Mountain Brewing Company out of Callaway, Virginia. Cocoborealis is a Triple Chocolate Stout which means it was brewed with two types of chocolate roasted malts and with significant cocoa powder. The beer is pretty good on its own so I was hoping that the darker malts and chocolate flavor would give some big flavor to the turkey. Don’t feel like you have to go local and craft to make this turkey. Just make sure you get a stout. A cheap light beer (Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light) isn’t going to work and even a lager from a craft brewer just won’t give you the flavor.
Back in the actual recipe you are supposed to add the onions, bacon, the 3 bottles of beer, and 8 cups of water to the pot. Well, none of that fits into a decent sized pot and still leave room for the turkey so don’t poor this into the pot. What you need to do is find the biggest bowl you have in your house. You think it is that salad bowl? Think again because that isn’t big enough. I went with a giant plastic bowl that is twice the size of any cooking pot I have in the house because otherwise I would never have been able to brine this 7-pound chicken breast. So instead put those ingredients directly into the biggest bowl or pot you can find, including the mustard seed, peppercorn, brown sugar, salt, and water mixture. Stir that up a few times just to mix everything together then add the turkey to the bowl, breast down. Cover the turkey in whatever way possible (I had to use plastic wrap because there is no lid on the planet that would fit over this bowl) and slide the bowl into the fridge. This is where the turkey will sit for the next 24-hours.
Now you have 24-hours to kill before you can start cooking this giant bird. What should you do? Don’t worry because I already thought about this. You see, by cutting the recipe in half you are only required to use 3 beers for the brine. Well that leaves at least three delicious stouts that are available. Sounds to me like it was meant to be so grab a beer or maybe grab three. Take a bottle, drink it down, and maybe even pass it around. After three of these tasty stouts you will feel nice and tired so just lay down and rest your eyes.
After your evening of drinking you will wake up refreshed and rejuvenated. There is nothing better than a three-stout evening to really get you ready to cook a turkey. Get ready because this is the hard part. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is heating up, pull the turkey from the massive bowl and pick off all the extra stuff (peppercorns, mustard seeds, and bay leaves) and pat the turkey dry. Place the turkey in a roasting pan, breast side up, and scatter the onion wedges around the turkey. Pour a cup of water into the pan so it doesn’t completely burn the onions.
Pull the bacon from the brine and slap them on the on the turkey. The recipe says that you should secure the bacon to the turkey using toothpicks. This isn’t necessary because the bacon will stick to the turkey all by itself thanks to the liquid from the brine on the turkey and on the bacon. The turkey will just about cover the entire breast. Slide the turkey into your oven and then sit back and wait for the magic to happen.
In about two hours, a thermometer shoved into the turkey thigh should read 150 degrees. Does it? No, then put that bird back in the oven because no one likes getting food poisoning (unless you are a Kardashian that is getting ready to fit in that dress for the next red carpet event). If it is, then it is time to pull the bacon off the turkey. You aren’t done cooking the chicken, just done with the bacon. Set the bacon aside (we’ll use that again later) and shove that now beautifully brown turkey back in the oven because that thermometer needs to read 170 degrees before the turkey is down. So, sit down and stare directly at the wall while sitting on your hands to prevent yourself from eating the bacon.
About 20 minutes later your turkey will finally be done. Thank goodness, you can finally cut it up and eat it. Slow down there, Usain Bolt. That turkey needs to rest on a cutting board for about 15 minutes before it is ready to eat. It also leaves time to make the gravy.
Pour all the juices and the onions from the roasting pan into a saucepan and put it over high heat on the stove until it gets boiling. Add the turkey stock (I sure you hope you didn’t have it sitting out on the counter from the night before when you were getting your ingredients ready) and bring the pan back to a boil. At this point the recipe says to mix the mash the butter and the flour into a paste. Then whisk the paste into the mixture until it thickens up which should take about five minutes. Skip making the paste because this is a waste of time. Just put the butter in the boil and melt it down then whisk in the flour. This will make your gravy and boy is it good.
One of the last steps, according to the recipe, is to cut up the bacon and fry it over high heat until it is crisp, so about three minutes. This is a useless step because when you pull the bacon off the turkey it will be plenty crisp. Trying to fry up this bacon would just burn it so completely skip this step.
Finally, 29 hours after you started this process, you will have a turkey that is ready to eat. It will be juicy with a deliciously crisp skin. The gravy will be super rich and full of onion goodness. The crisp bacon will melt in your mouth (not in your hand). You will have plenty of turkey to last for days not only for your Thanksgiving meal but for a few sandwiches later. Enjoy!
You need a few side dishes to go along with this first we will make some potatoes.
Mashed-Potato Casserole with Sage and Fontina
Trying to cook everything in one day from scratch for a traditional Thanksgiving feast is a fool’s errand. For starters, the turkey is going to take up the entire oven for at least two and a half hours. So, unless you are Emeril Lagasse with duel ovens in your kitchen you won’t be able to use that oven for anything else. That is why your best bet is to make as much as you can ahead of time with only the need to heat required later. That is what makes this mashed-potato casserole with sage and fontina so great. Another Food & Wine special (as are nearly all the recipe’s I utilize for my cooking), you can mix up this entire dish the day before with just the need to toast it a bit in the oven the next day. Ready to get started? Oh, you don’t have your adult beverage in hand yet. I’ll wait. Wow, that is quite a glass of wine. Did you leave anything in the bottle? Who am I to judge anyway? I’m on Great Lakes Christmas Ale number 4 so let’s get going. Here is what you’ll need (and keep in mind this is ½ of the recipe for about 4-5 servings):
- 3 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature (don’t worry, you won’t get sick)
- 1 ½ pounds of potatoes (I used baking potatoes)
- ¼ cup crème fraiche (about 2 oz. I’ll explain what this is below)
- 1 tbsp. chopped parsley (just use the dried kind in your pantry)
- ½ tbsp. chopped sage (again, just use the dried stuff in your pantry)
- 4 oz. of Fontina cheese
- Salt and pepper
- 2 ½ tbsp. breadcrumbs
- 2 ½ tbsp. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Got everything together? Good, let’s go. As with every recipe in every magazine or cookbook I’ve ever seen, the first step per the actual recipe is to heat (let’s not get into “preheating” again) your oven to 400 degrees. Feel free to do this if you have a gas oven and your happened to have lost power so you have no other way to heat your house. It will be expensive, but it will work. My oven doesn’t take 35 to 45 minutes to heat and that is about how much time you have before you will need your oven. You may not even need your oven until the next day (as we will see below) so if you are making this the night before your meal with the intention of heating it up the next day then don’t even turn on your oven.
Now that you haven’t heated your oven it is time to get started. Throw those potatoes into a giant pot and cover them with enough water to cover the potatoes completely plus another 2 inches. Pop that bad boy on the stove and bring it to a boil. This will take a little while (10 – 15 minutes) so use this time wisely by reading a book. I suggest Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. The (mis)adventures of one James Bond as they were originally conceived will help to pass the time.
Now that the water is boiling you will need to let the potatoes cook for another 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender. That means until you can stab them with a fork and it goes in easily. This gives you even more time to continue reading some classic James Bond. Why don’t you pour yourself a drink? A vodka martini would be nice. Shaken, not stirred.
Ding! Your potatoes are ready. Drain those bad boys then return the potatoes back to the big-ass pot. Mash the potatoes (I use a hand masher but I know my Mom uses a hand-mixer) with 2 tablespoons of the butter, the crème fraiche, the parsley, and the sage. Get it nice and mashed. Crème fraiche is sort of like sour cream but has a bit of a different flavor. You'll be able to find it with your cheese at the grocery store. Put your back into it. Season the whole thing with salt and pepper. Now, fold in (do not mash) the Fontina cheese. You want to have this mixed well but not blended so the finished product still has big chunks of cheese.
Pull out your most expensive baking dish, look at it and how nice it is, then put it away and get yourself a reliable 2-quart shallow baking dish. Grease it however you like (I use an olive oil spray but you may prefer the cooking spray) and then spread your mashed potato mixture across the entire dish. Use your level to make sure the top is even or else you will be put in cooking jail where you will have to listen to Anthony Bourdain look down his nose at you because you like craft beer.
To make the top look crispy and delicious, in a small bowl use your fingers to blend 1 tablespoon of butter with the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese until you have some nice crumbly crumbles. Top the potatoes with the crumbs as evenly as possible (don’t forget about that cooking jail). Now is the point where you decide if you need to cook this immediately or keep it for tomorrow. You can always cover this and keep it overnight to cook the next day.
Whenever you are ready to cook, heat your oven up to 400 degrees. Slide the baking dish (don’t forget to take the cover off if you kept in the fridge overnight) and let it bake for about 30 minutes. It may take more or less time depending on your oven but once you have a nice golden brown top to your potatoes you are done. Try your best not to eat the entire dish before serving this to your guests because these potatoes do kick some major ass (hand salute, “Major Ass”.)
I guess we should try to be healthy so let’s add some green vegetables.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cumin and Coriander
This one is super easy and although I didn’t find the dish to be amazing (like the potatoes) it does add some flavor to one of the least respected vegetables on the market. Here is what you need.
- ¾ tsp coriander
- ¾ tsp cumin
- 1 lbs. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
- Some extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
For a change, the recipe is accurate when it starts with heating the oven to 450 degrees. This is actually appropriate timing because it will take less time to get the ingredients ready than it will for the oven to heat. On a large baking sheet, mix the brussels sprouts with the olive oil making sure to coat everything that is going to be baked. Crack some salt and pepper those bad boys then toss them in the oven for about 8 minutes.
Once the 8-minute timer goes off (did you finish your Ian Fleming book yet?) add sprinkle the coriander and cumin over the Brussels sprouts getting them evenly coated. Slide back into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden and crispy. That’s it! If you are feeling feisty you can grate some lemon zest over them but who cares. What’s great about this is they can be made earlier in the day and then served either warm or at room temperature.
There you have it. Three Thanksgiving dishes in just a few easy steps. Our little family also enjoyed some buttermilk biscuits that Cece and Rizzo made to compliment the feast. Stay tuned for an update to this blog that will bring you Rizzo’s recap of making those delicious biscuits. I mean, how can you not have biscuits with a Thanksgiving meal?
Keep eating, my friends.