Thanksgiving- Installment 1, The menu and the bird

IMG_1177As I started planning this year’s menu, I kept coming back to all the things we miss about living in Florida- the fresh seafood, the bold spices and the abundant farmer’s markets. I think some of the nostalgia stemmed from this being my son’s first Thanksgiving away from home. We have always gathered as a family no matter how far apart we were, but this year Dylan had a new job and could not get away so I prepared for my first holiday without him. He and I grew up together amid university classrooms and local kitchens. I had him young, but was determined to finish my degree. I made my way through college working in restaurants and he was right there with me so I knew this year would be hard. Fortunately, my new chapter of cooking with Olivia opened the door for some salve to that wound. Liv and I planned the menu together keeping in mind all of our favorites and honoring some of Dylan’s. Below is what we came up with.

Thanksgiving 2014

Chipotle Honey Glazed Turkey w/chipotle honey gravy

Sweet and Golden Potato Gratin

4 Cheese Baked Fusili

Andouille Sausage and Crawfish Cornbread Stuffing

Cauliflower Salad

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Cranberry Orange Relish

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Maple Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Some of these are recipes I have been making for years and others are items Liv and I wanted to try and tackle for the first time. We have kind of a strange tradition in our family. We always spend Thanksgiving proper with my husband’s family and then Friday we host a Thanksgiving Part Deux for our friends. Friday is when I try bold spices, different ingredients and more adventurous takes on classics. I make a ridiculous amount of food, we share laughter and good wine, and it reminds me of all those holidays when my restaurant crew would gather and cook together. No matter what though, it all starts with the turkey. I always order a fresh turkey, no hormones or weird additives, just fresh bird. This year we went big with a 22 pounder, maybe our biggest ever. I was unsure of the logistics of getting it on the roasting rack, but my husband had visions of turkey sandwiches, turkey hash and turkey pot pie dancing in his head so I acquiesced. I know brining has fallen out of favor, but I still believe in the benefits of a good seasoned salt bath for 24-48 hours so we also picked up some pink Himalayan sea salt, smoked paprika, whole cumin and chipotle chili powder to forge a seasoned salt mix. The other pre-cooking prep that is really important is getting the right amount of unsalted butter out to bring to room temperature for you various recipes. It seems trivial but anybody who has baked knows the need for room temperature butter- microwaving is no substitute.

Being the smart people we are, we saved most of our shopping for Wednesday, yes the day before Thanksgiving when normal people are out just picking up the last few things. Lady luck was on my side though, I acquired everything except scallions which I knew I could pick up Friday morning. Wares in tote, I headed home to make the salt blend and get the turkey going. Liv and I wrestled the enormous turkey into the sink and began the process of removing extra fat pads and all the organs stuffed in the neck cavity. Once everything was trimmed, we rinsed the turkey well and dried it. Drying the turkey is a crucial step. It allows the skin to soak up all the goodness you are about to put on it and it also encourages a more golden brown skin when roasting. Next up was the spice mix. We toasted the cumin seeds over the stove until fragrant and smoky and then moved them to a spice mill. Our spice mill is really an old coffee bean grinder, but it works like a charm. Once the cumin was ground, we added it to the salt, smoked paprika and chipotle chili powder and stirred it to combine.

Salt mixture for turkey bath

Salt mixture for turkey bath

Liv was dubious about this process, but I explained to her how juicy and flavorful the turkey was going to be after it’s “bath”. With a little effort, we got the turkey in a roasting bag and spread our salt mix all over. We sealed it up and transported it to the refrigerator downstairs to absorb all the yumminess for the next 48 hours. I never knew how great a second refrigerator could be until my first holiday meal with one. I have always struggled to fit all the food at various stages of prep around the holidays into my one refrigerator. A few years ago we upgraded appliances and my husband suggested keeping the old fridge just in case. He was right. I am not sure I could do some of our larger holiday meals without it. Now if only I could get those double wall ovens…but I digress. Below is our turkey recipe. Stay tuned for the rest of the Thanksgiving feast recipes in the coming days!

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Chipotle Honey Glazed Turkey and Chipotle Honey Gravy

Ingredients:

Salt Mix-

2 tbsp. whole cumin seeds

1 cup Sea Salt (I like the pink, but you could use any sea salt)

2 tbsp. smoked paprika

1 tbsp. chipotle chili powder

Turkey-

1 20-22 lb. fresh turkey, organs removed from neck cavity

1 cup clover honey

2 tsp. chipotle chili powder

1 vidalia onion, chopped

1 bulb garlic, peeled and rough chopped

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

4 cups turkey stock

Gravy-

drippings from pan, strained

2 cups flour

Procedure:

First, let’s make the salt mix. Toast cumin seeds in skillet until fragrant and smoky. Transfer to a spice mill or mortar and pestle and grind. Place all ingredients for salt mix in a bowl and stir to combine. Then we need to prep the turkey for the bath. remove all fat pads and internal organs from neck cavity. Rinse bird thoroughly and pat dry. Some people like to reserve the organs and fat for their gravy, but I do not. I make my gravy just using the pan drippings. Place the turkey inside a roasting bag on top of a sheet pan and spread the salt mix all over. Close the bag and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

After the salt bath has set for your preferred amount of time, it is time to get down to business. The turkey must be rinsed completely and patted very dry. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Move your turkey to the roasting pan- preferably one with a rack to elevate it out of the pan juices and ensure proper skin crisping. Chop the vidalia onion and garlic and combine in a bowl with 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder. Distribute this mix to the cavity of your bird. be sure to get it all the way so the aromatics can flavor the bird while it is roasting. Tuck the wings under so they don’t get crispy and tie your legs together with some kitchen twine to secure the turkey. Spread your stick of room temperature butter all over the turkey and voila, it is ready for the oven. Pour 3 cups of turkey stock in the bottom of the roasting pan and set your timer for one hour.

IMG_1167IMG_1166

I like to let my bird cook for an hour to start and then move to the basting process. After the first hour, I baste every 45 minutes so I can keep an eye on whether it is browning too quickly. After a couple of hours, I tent the turkey with heavy duty foil. It does not have to be tight, just a loose cover to protect the skin from burning until you are ready to start glazing.

While the turkey is roasting, make the glaze. Combine the honey and 1 tsp. of chipotle chili powder. I start glazing my turkey the last 40 minutes of cooking. I brush it with my snazzy silicone brush 40 minutes out and then again 20 minutes out. This creates that deep mahogany color of the skin. My turkey cooked incredibly quickly this year- a mere three hours. This was unusual since it was so large- I chalk it up to my sad oven, but that is another story. You are looking for a temp of 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. Once you get there, remove the turkey and let it rest about an hour for maximum juiciness.

At this point, you should have a pan full of savory pan juices. I strain these to get out the unnecessary tidbits. Put the strained juice in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add your flour and whisk briskly until combined. Let the gravy simmer a little until thickened. I find the pan juices are so seasoned I do not need additional salt and pepper, but it is always a good idea to taste it for seasoning. Once you have reached your desired gravy consistency, you are ready to serve. Since I did not do mashed potatoes this year, my family poured the gravy over their turkey and stuffing. Their sighs of approval indicated it was pretty good. Next installment….sides with attitude!

 

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