Thanksgiving Countdown!

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1080_wild-turkeyAt  T-6 the Thanksgiving Countdown has begun !  It’s always surprising how such a big, sophisticated city like New York gets all crazy over Thanksgiving !  Maybe it’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade but there has always been a sense that this is OUR holiday and New York has always been quite focused and old-school about its attendant festivities.  Yes, it’s the best holiday in the best city in the best and most beautiful season (uh … maybe a little cold this year!) – before more commercial holiday hoopla overtakes us all. But the fourth Friday in November has a simpler mission:  to be all about family, friends and food – and our deep gratitude for them all.

Heritage TurkeySo, let’s talk turkey.  Every year there seems to be a lot of pontificating about the best way to cook the traditional bird.  There’s been the 500-degree bird, the milk-soaked bird, the deep fat fried bird, the turducken bird … and so on.  2014 seems to be the year of the BRINED BIRD.  It’s not that this is a new cooking technique (it has had its own following for years), it’s just that it seems to have reached critical mass this year.  Lucky for the MWC,  there is the truly accomplished, thoughtful and imaginative cook, Beth O, in our midst who has used this method for years and has provided the following straightforward, time-tested instructions:

First, make sure you use a free-range bird. Get over to Williams-Sonoma and buy their wet brine mixture that uses apple cider and water. Remember to start early for this method because you need to boil the brine and then refrigerate it overnight before mixing in the cider and immersing the bird. If you have a large turkey (20+ pounds) it helps to put the turkey in a brining bag and put it in a cooler (or some other large leak-proof container) surrounded by ice.  Take the turkey out of the brine at 7am and bring it to room temperature.  Roast the turkey using Martha Stewarts “Turkey 101” method. [Click here for link to Martha’s instructions !]   You get a gorgeous, moist bird!  Try to time it so you take the turkey out of the oven about two hours before dinner.  Take the turkey from the oven and  cover it in foil and then cover the foil with a clean bath towel to keep the heat and moisture in….basically you’re giving Tom the Turkey a holiday facial !  Always use a thermometer – those pop-up ones inside the bird are not to be believed !

Fig. 6-10 Ross Simpson turkey colorsThe other challenge this Thanksgiving which many home cooks are taking on is featuring a Heritage Turkey as the centerpiece of the holiday feast.  A heritage turkey is typically descended from one of several historic turkey strains – and they have all sorts of great names reflecting their origins – Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff,  Black Spanish, and White Holland.   They are more genetically diverse, are raised outdoors where they roam freely in pastures and are fed varied diets.  It takes longer for them to mature to full-size.  They are smaller-sized and have darker meat than the usual “Big White” bird served at Thanksgiving.

Why might you care?  This very question was asked of Lauren P, MWC member, restauranter and chef who said, “ It depends on whether or not it is important to you to cook a bird that is more like the wild birds that early settlers prepared for Thanksgiving; whether it matters to you to support smaller Heritage turkeysfarmers as opposed to Big Agriculture and if you want a bird which has not been genetically modified.   Or you just might want a bird that has more flavor.”  So, while heritage turkeys are much more expensive than other varieties many home cooks opt for them for reasons ranging from political to culinary.

There is a belief, however, that a heritage bird requires special care and handling.  Taking up that challenge is MWC Member, gourmand and crack researcher Martha H. who refers us to a serious guide for the preparation of a heritage turkey which appeared in Cooks Illustrated. [Click here for link.]  Have to admit that it sounds like a lot of work – but maybe it’s worth it to not have the poor ol’ turkey be an afterthought ?

Aside from dinner there’s plenty else to think about for the holiday.  What are the new balloons this year?  What are you doing the night before?  Can you get out early Thanksgiving morning and wander over to the Natural History Museum to check out the still-tethered to the ground balloons?  More on all of this later but as of today – we’re at T-6 and counting – it’s time to get your provisions together and plan for dinner so you can truly enjoy the day of.

Thanks to Beth, Lauren and Martha for their turkey advice – it will make next Thursday tastier and easier !

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