Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Best Turkey

Although I love Thanksgiving, the holiday, I am not equally enamored of the traditional feast. Turkey once a year is too much turkey for me. In the oh-so-many years since I have been keeping my own house, I can count - not quite on ten fingers, but almost - the number of Thanksgiving turkeys I've actually cooked.

My favorite Thanksgiving dinner was in 2004, the year I made Shrimp Creole.

My right hand was in a cast that year because I had broken my wrist mountain biking. There was no way I could have carried a turkey home, let alone gotten one in and out of the oven. But I could stir roux and peel shrimp, and with the one exception of having to find a store that was open on Thanksgiving morning so I could buy an electric can opener (since I hadn't figured out that you can't use a regular can opener with a broken wrist - duh), the meal went off without a hitch.

But last year I won a free-range turkey from my market and decided to try my luck with it. Since it was delicious, I decided I would do it again.

Except this year I would make my turkey the same way I make my chicken. The Zuni way.

As it turned out, I wasn't the only one. Kate over at Savour-Fare had the same idea. I always enjoy reading her posts, but when she posted about making cannoli cream as a topping for fruit from Richard Sax's book, Classic Home Desserts, and pointed out that she had never liked cannolis until she had one at Rocco's on Bleecker Street, my Rocco's on Bleecker Street, I knew she was a girl after my own heart.  And it turns out Russ Parsons had the idea before I did, and it's now a Genius Recipe at FOOD52 called The Judy Bird.

I got a 13 pound free-range turkey, washed it, dried it, and salted it all over with Kosher salt. I put it breast-side down on a rack in the refrigerator, turning it over, breast side up, after a day and a half, for a total resting time of 3 days.

We left the City early Wednesday morning with the dry-brining turkey in a cooler and stopped at Fairway to get everything else, which included clams to make pasta for dinner that night.

Thanksgiving morning dawned warm and sunny. It was the first Thanksgiving that I woke up in the country to green grass with no frost on the ground.

There was still parsley in the garden.

Good news for cooks; bad news for Jiminy Peak skiers.

Late that morning I put fresh sage and thyme under the turkey's skin since those are the herbs I use in my dressing and let the bird come to room temperature. I don't have a cast-iron skillet large enough to hold a 13-pound bird, so I used the bottom of my All-Clad 13-inch braiser.

I heated the pan on top of the stove, then rubbed a little canola oil on the bottom of the pan with a paper towel, and let that heat up too. I put the turkey in the pan breast-side up and slipped it into a preheated 450-degree oven and cooked it for 55 minutes. Then I took the pan out of the oven and flipped the turkey over, breast-side down, cooking it that way for 35 minutes. Finally I flipped it right side up again and cooked it for 20 minutes more. Using Kate's suggested cooking time of 8 minutes per pound, the total cooking time was 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The turkey was beautiful, fragrant, and brown. I let it rest for 30 minutes before I carved it into slices. I wasn't planning on making gravy, but the unexpected bonus was that there were abundant juices from the turkey in the pan. I heated them on top of the stove and whisked in a slurry made from Wondra flour, a little water, and some of the juices to temper it. It didn't need any salt, and the color was rich even after the slurry was added. I talked Walter into continuing to whisk it with this,

which I got at E.Dehillerin when I was in Paris, while I got the rest of the meal together.

Side dishes were cold broccoli dressed with a lemon/olive oil dressing, sweet potatoes pureed with maple syrup, Brussels sprouts braised with heavy cream from Molly at Orangette, and dressing made with country bread, sausage, fennel, leeks, shallots, carrots, celery, mushrooms, golden raisins, sage, and thyme, which I call Tom's Dressing because Walter's brother-in-law Tom makes it, but it's really  a recipe from Tom Colicchio that the NYTimes published on November 19, 2003.

Dessert was a Marion Cunningham recipe for spicy gingerbread and vanilla ice cream,

the perfect ending to this meal - better than pumpkin or pecan pie in my book any day.

I was so busy getting my meal on the table that I didn't snap pictures as I went along. But you can see my leftovers.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

P.S. I'm making Shrimp Creole for dinner tonight.

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Michaela at The Gardener's Eden said...

Hi there, nice to see you Cooking Zuni again.
My favorite New Year's feast is Shrimp Creole. And, well, I am obsessed with Marion Cunningham... she is the Goddess of Breakfast, (my favorite meal).


Victoria said...


I LOVE shrimp creole. It's one of my favorite things to eat, maybe even my number one favorite. I always make it on my birthday because I would rather eat what I know I will love than go out and eat someone else's cooking!

Great idea for New Year's. Do you mean New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.

We'll have to compare recipes.


EB said...

I could bathe in that stuffing.