Yes, it *is* true. You can cook a turkey for dinner on a weeknight.
Or at least my friend A___ thought so. During an extremely hectic week she managed to hit up Costco where they had nice organic turkeys on sale. While she buzzed off to her frenetic workday her dear beau R___ brined the turkey. We don’t know what he put into the brine actually, it was one of those mysterious guy moments where they work their kitchen magic and make it look so easy. I love it when that happens! While we were on our way over to the beach house, R___ removed the turkey from the brine, rinsed it and put it on a pan with a rack back in the fridge to let dry out a bit and preheated the oven for us. Give that man a beer!!
After we decompressed a tad, or, that is, A___relaxed, after all she had the busy day and I did not actually, I was pretty relaxed and sipping some chilled white wine I brought from the Roost. We futzed around the kitchen a bit, chatting and laughing; there is no better way to relax after a tough day to joke and laugh with friends with a little wine, the attentions of a warm, loving boyfriends (hers) and the unabashed adoration of two giant hounds. After spending some good quality time over at the beach house over the past year or so I have found that I really feel much happier when I am in full household with lots of animals and phone calls and craziness. It is especially difficult to come home to the Roost after this, despite that I love my cozy place with my modest collection of nice things and my insanely fat cat. It is so quiet and solitary here. I guess my fate is to roost alone but I think that my chicken analogy extends to the point that I recognize I would be happier in a flock. But many life lessons can be learned in the kitchen. I have learned that you may start out with a set menu but must adapt to what is fresh, what is available and what doesn’t get burnt. It is just like life, you have to make do with the ingredients you have in your life’s “pantry”, sometimes it is Top Ramen, sometimes it is prime rib. But what ever it is, you need to be as happy as you can with what you have, and enjoy the process.
But I digress. Let’s talk turkey!
A___’s place is welcome to all and additional guests were arriving shortly who were not as understanding about dining at 9:00 pm on a weeknight, or later, as we have done on occasion. Given the time constraints I suggested that we butterfly the turkey like I sometimes do with chickens when I am in a hurry. We had a recipe somewhere in the manse but couldn’t put our fingers on it at that exact moment, so I did the next best thing. I called mOm! I love it that moms know everything. If you need to know how to get a stain out of a blouse or what to do when you are feeling sick and are not sure if it’s dire or not, or how to roast a turkey in a hurry, moms are always there with an answer and a calming chat. With my mOm’s guidance, we set the oven at the suggested temperature of 450 F and the time range for cooking a bird.
I grabbed a nice knife and cut out the backbone of the turkey, which was surprisingly easy, despite a slight variance in architecture of a turkey vis a vis a chicken. Near the tail the bones are a little denser than a chicken and not quite in the same place but with a few sharp jabs I was able to cut the entire backbone and tail off. Next, I flattened the turkey by performing CPR gestures on the breastbone. Yelling “cough it up” did not help, however, but it did produce howls of laughter by my kitchen mates and a few barks from Rocky. Once the breastbone had been compressed sufficiently, I tucked the wings back and adjusted the drumsticks so that the now (more) flattened bird would fit on a baking sheet. (Sorry, no pictures, my hands were gooey.)
A___ had been chopping up carrots, celeriac and onions and arranged them on the baking sheet with some crimini mushrooms to serve as an impromptu roasting rack, plus they would double as the vegetable portion of the evening and do triple duty as flavoring of the pan juices for a light gravy. Mr. Turkey got splayed on top of the veggies, given a brief but relaxing massage with olive oil and a salt rub with Kosher salt and grinds of pepper. I also got wild and added a dash of garlic granules on top. Somehow it just felt right. Suitably relaxed, the turkey got tossed in the hot oven for 40 minutes, then it was rotated in the oven (and he was starting to brown nicely) and then roasted for another 40 minutes. After a total of 80 minutes Mr. Turkey was a deep mahogony, the meat had begun to withdraw from the ends of the drumsticks and the internal temperature was 170 F in the thigh and was a big higher in the breast. This means that we could have actually removed the bird after a total roasting time of 70 minutes, which is pretty quick for a 14 pound bird, don’t you agree?
It required manly strength to lift the bird out of the oven, and after this assistance, we girls retired him to rest on a warmed platter covered with a little foil for 15 minutes or so. The veggies were lifted off the baking sheet using a slotted spoon and set aside in a covered serving dish.
(shown here with some commercial cranberry sauce)
We poured off the drippings into a saute pan, where I removed the excess fat with a spoon. Meanwhile R___ deglazed the baking sheet with some red wine (a meritage of Zinfandel, Merlot and 10% Cabernet) and also a half glass of my white wine (Buena Vista Chardonnay). The winey mixture was added to the saute pan and I let it reduce a few minutes then added a light cornstarch slurry just still the sauce coated a spoon.
Then I carved up the bird, the skin was so crisp and the meat was extremely juicy. The breast sliced up perfectly, nary a shredding moment, and was so juicy when I pressed with the knife some pearls of savory turkey juice beaded up on the meat. Perfection!
Dinner was on the table in a hurry! A___ had made a roasted cranberry sauce with whole spices and her famed Persian rice. Perhaps someday I can persuade her to share the recipes. I just felt lucky to eat them!
(Can you see the little rabbits cut out of potato and onion that decorate the top of the Persian rice? They were particularly delicious and almost caused WW3 with fencing forks dueling to the bitter end)
A__ whipped up a quick salad of sliced cucumbers and radish, dill and a creamy dressing. It was perfect with the turkey and roasted root vegetables.
I have a question to pose to the universe, or perhaps just a puzzlement. Despite using over 6 carrots for the root vegetable dish there were hardly enough carrots to go around. What happens when one cooks carrots? No matter how many one cooks it seems like there are never enough. Do they become the “angel’s share” like wine while they are cooking? Do aliens invade the kitchen and beam them out of the pots and pans? Have the dogs acquired opposable thumbs and had a snack? It is extremely perplexing to me.
Irregardless, between 4 adults and 1 teen, almost all of the thigh meat and a breast were consumed in one sitting. Only a 1/4 cup of the roasted cranberry sauce remained and perhaps a tablespoon of gravy. Gravy is another mysterious substance, there is never enough of it no matter how much you try to make! All, sweet mysteries of life!
We laughed and talked and toasted each other the Russian way with icy crisp vodka. A hearty toast was made to R___ for his impending birthday, and to the darling daughter for surviving finals week at school. Finally we toasted our friendship and family and our wishes of joy, happiness, peace and health for Christmas. Nostrovia!!
The wine for dinner was a special treat for the birthday boy. A gorgeous lush Hendry Zinfandel, Block 28 from 2005. It was just released this year and is drinking well. I really prefer not to let Zins age too much as I feel they lose their lush fruitiness with the sands of time. This Zin was elegant, lightly tannic, spicy with black pepper and currant, a perfect match to turkey. If you ever get a chance to try Hendry’s wines I commend you for your good taste. George and Mike Hendry are great winemakers, not to mention that Mike is the cutest vineyard manager / winemaker I have ever met.
(A plateful of holiday joy. Mmmm, turkey! Sorry for the cruddy pictures, I do my best with my cell phone)
A Speedy Turkey Dinner
Although I don’t have the ingredients used in the brine from last night, here is a brine that I have used and loved. Brines are like any recipe, you can add what ever you have on hand so please count this ingredient list as a guideline, with the exception of the salt to water proportions. If you are really pressed for time you can skip the brining, just be sure to season the bird well on both sides with salt and pepper and chopped herbs. I love brining poultry now because it gives you such insurance against drying out the meat if it cooks faster than you expect. I love that peace of mind, and the flavor just cannot be beat.
The Briney Deep:
a thawed 14# organic turkey
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar (omit if you are using juice)
1 gallon water, vegetable stock, white wine or a combination of them
1 Meyer lemon, sliced
1 head of garlic, sliced in half
2 apples, sliced in half, then sliced into 1″ pieces
2 onions, sliced in half, then sliced into 1″ pieces
1 T peppercorns
bunches of fresh herbs: sage, thyme, bay leaves, a little rosemary, marjoram, oregano
1 gallon cold water or half water, half apple juice or apple cider
Bring the water/broth/wine to a simmer with the salt and stir until dissolved. Add herbs, savories and spices, and cold water/juice/cider. The brine should be cold before immersing the turkey, or at least cool. In a XL Zip Lock bag or a brining bag add the turkey and the brine, press out as much air as possible from the bag, place in a large bowl or pot (insurance in case the bag leaks) and refrigerate overnight. Or, brine in the morning and cook the turkey that night.
A few hours before cooking, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Let rest in the refrigerator uncovered on a rack. This allows the skin to crisp up during roasting.
To Roast the Turkey and Root Vegetables:
1 pound carrots, cut into large chunks
1 celeriac or celery root, tough skin cut off with a paring knife, and flesh cut into large chunks
3 onions, cut into wedges
8 oz whole trimmed crimini mushrooms
3 T olive oil
1 tsp granulated garlic
Remove the backbone and tail from the turkey using a sharp knife. Save backbone and tail for stock or turkey bone soup! Turn the turkey over and flatten breastbone by pressing very firmly on the cartilage of the breast. Tuck under wings and tie the legs together.
On a baking sheet arrange large chunks of root vegetables and mushrooms. Place turkey flat upon the vegetables and place in a preheated 450 F oven. Roast for 80-120 minutes, rotating the pan after 40 minutes. Internal temperature of the turkey should be between 165-170 F in the breast and thigh.
Remove turkey from roasting pan and let rest, covered, for 15-20 minutes.
Meantime, remove vegetables from the roasting pan and taste for salt and pepper. Keep warm. Make the gravy (see below).
Carve turkey into serving pieces and serve on a warm platter drizzled with some gravy. Don’t forget to keep the breast and thigh bones for the stock pot!
1 cup red wine
1 cup water (if needed) or unsalted chicken broth
2 T cornstarch, dissolved in 3 T cold water
1 T fresh lemon juice
Pour off drippings from roasting pan into a sauce pan. Pour wine into roasting pan and scrape up all browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula, pour into sauce pan. If there is not a sufficient quantity of juices to make ~1 1/2 – 2 c sauce, add water or broth. Let juices simmer for 5 minutes, taste for salt and pepper. Add Port and lemon juice, taste to balance the sweet and the acid. While juices are simmering, whisk in half of the cornstarch slurry and test for appropriate thickness (should be like half and half), add more cornstarch if necessary. Let simmer for one minute more then pour into a warmed sauceboat. Strain if desired, but I like a rustic gravy sometimes.
Next time you see turkey on sale at the market, please toss one in your cart and give this cooking method a try. You will love the freedom of good turkey in a hurry.
Now as you know, hopefully, from reading my post-Thanksgiving article, there is nothing I love more than a turkey sandwich. A few days ago my hosts had a nice lunch in the Richmond district of turkey and cheese panini and A___ had been obsessing over them ever since and really wanted to have one today with the leftover turkey. Since she and R___ had some errands to do in the morning, I took it upon myself to get some of the prep work done before they returned. A___’s vision was sliced turkey and cheese on a halved ciabatta loaf with caramelized onions. Doesn’t that sound delicious?
With a Strauss Dairy eggnog latte in hand, I set about caramelizing the onions. I must say as much as I love cooking and all the tasks involved including prepping vegetables, making perfect tiny brunoise, stirring risotto constantly to attain the perfect texture, even washing up the dishes (but not the silverware), the one task I find tedious is caramelizing onions. It takes time, attention and you cannot rush the process. Even the redoubtable Cooks Illustrated’s quick version of French Onion Soup requires a minimum of 20 minutes standing there and stirring. Yawn. Fortunately there is Twitter to keep my occupied, plus the fun of trying to keep the dogs out of the kitchen while I am in there, a Sisyphean task. Some clever person out there could make a killer business by selling tubs of caramelized onions to high end grocery stores. If you do this, please send me a lifetime supply of onions as my reward for gifting you with this idea.
By the time my hosts returned home, the onions were a deep coffee brown and the dogs were dancing with joy at seeing their “parents” home. Oh, and it was their meal time. That makes anyone popular, yes?
I am not going to give the recipe for the sandwich here. Anyone can make a great sandwich without a recipe!! But here’s what I did in case you want to duplicate our delicious lunch today. I lightly broiled the bread and we spread the top half with a light coating of mayo and some dijon. On the bottom of the bread half we spread the caramelized onions and topped that with slices of turkey gently warmed up in the microwave with the left over gravy. Swiss and Gouda slices topped the turkey and we ground a little fresh pepper over the top. The bread halves were placed on a foil-lined tray and broiled until the top half was just warmed (and removed at this point) and the cheese was melted and bubbling on the bottom half. We put the bread halves together and placed the sandwich back under the broiler for a moment to warm up the top of the bread and provide a little crunch. A___ had cleverly scored the top piece of the bread in two places, equally dividing it into 3 large pieces. This really made cutting the hot sandwich a snap with the bread knife. We cut each 3rd in half again and served the sandwiches with the leftover cranberry sauces.
I loved adding large spoonfuls of cranberry sauce into my sandwich. I do admit I have an addiction to the ubiquitous jellied cranberry sauce in the can, but this roasted cranberry sauce was really incredible. The combination of the crunch of the bread, the ooziness of the cheese, the tender moist turkey, the unctuousness of the onions and the cool tang of the cranberry sauce was divine. The only thing that could have improved this sandwich would have been leftover stuffing, however that’s a post-Thanksgiving Day tradition, alas. Or, perhaps next week, when I get the urge to have turkey again in a big hurry.
A big thank you to my dear friends for such a wonderful dinner and lunch and all of the good times.
Have a great weekend!