Sunday, July 1, 2007

Catching up, pt 3 (Thanksgiving 06)

This year Abby and I hosted our second Thanksgiving together in Cambridge. We moved in together in September, got engaged in October, and this was one of the first big dinners we hosted at our new place. It was very exciting, and as I already waxed on about how much I love Thanksgiving below, I'll leave it at that.

Fitting together various tables, we were able to make one massive table that could hold all 16 people in attendance. The previous year, we just set up two tables and served the food in the kitchen. I didn't really like that format, and this year's arrangement with everyone gathered round a table piled high with all of the dishes was much more fitting for a Thanksgiving feast.
While I wouldn't have minded preparing everything myself, we had several great cooks in attendance, so it was only fitting to divide up that tasks. Stephanie, one of Abby's law school classmates and a former restaurant cook, outdid herself, bringing several kinds of stuffing and a butternut squash gratin. Melissa, my cousin, brought two different desserts, and many other guests contributed more food and wine, and a lot of people helped with the preparation. Here' are Dino, Melissa, and Aiden helping out in the kitchen.
I think that this was the year that I finally perfected the Thanksgiving turkey. Everyone said it was good, and this time I actually believe them. So, while I don't feel like writing out a full recipe, here are the main steps. First, I should note that I spent some time debating whether to go to Savenor's and get an 'artisanal' turkey raised with loving care at a local farm or go with a frozen bird from the Market Basket. I'm a graduate student and I was trying to feed 16 people, so economy won out over any concern for the humane treatment of poultry. I went to Market Basket and got an 18 pound bird for around $20.
Now, frozen supermarket birds have more in common with cardboard than actual turkeys, so you have to keep that in mind when you decide how to approach the dish. If I had gone with Savenor's, I probably would just sprinkle some salt, pepper, and butter on the turkey and let the ingredient speak for itself. With a factory bird, I think the best approach is to make it into a medium for all sorts of other flavors. So, I start by brining the bird in a solution that includes oranges, onions, thyme, rosemary, garlic, peppercorns, brown sugar and a lot of kosher salt. I put the turkey in the brine on Tuesday night and took it out on Wednesday evening so it could air dry in the fridge overnight. Air drying is an important step that ensures crispy skin. The brine infuses the turkey with all sorts of nice flavors, but I wanted to throw all subtlety out the window with this turkey, so a slathered it with a garlic herb butter and stuffed the cavity with more garlic, more herbs, and apple slices. To flavor the gravy, put the turkey neck, roughly chopped carrots, onion, and celery, a few crushed cloves of garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme in the roasting pan along with some chicken stock. Roast the bird at a really high heat (~450) for a half hour or so, then cover the breast with foil and continue roasting at ~350 until the temperature gets to about 160. I use a digital thermometer to tell when its done. When it's finished, let the bird rest for a while and make the gravy. Here's Abby draining the broth into a fat separator. This little tool is really nice because it allows you to make a gravy that isn't half fat. Most gravy recipes use a roux as a thickener, and instead of using butter and flour to make mine, I used the pan drippings, a nice mix of butter and turkey fat.
I think that this Thanksgiving was a huge success, and I hope everyone had a great time eating
and drinking
and being entertained by Aiden.

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