My friend Judy the evil squirrel feeder (also Judy of the BBQ sauce recipe) had a birthday recently (same day as Joni Mitchell) and since Judy and I often had had Thanksgiving together but won’t this year, I made her a mini Thanksgiving meal. Chicken thighs, stuffing, honey/dill carrots, mashed potatoes. Making things I’m accustomed to making for large crowds in a small format is a challenge. I love a challenge.
And who doesn’t love stuffing and mashed potatoes?
Coincidentally I am making her BBQ sauce tomorrow for my nephew who requested it for his birthday.
So I deboned a turkey. Again, despite the trepidation even the thought of it causes me. For some reason, though, it went considerably better this year than it has in the past. Although not as well as when the mounted police do it instead of me. This time I followed Jacques Pepin’s directions more closely and watched someone named Caveman Keto do it on YouTube. You can watch it there and it is far more informational than Jacques’ whose video isn’t really a tutorial as much as a fund raising video for PBS. I’m sure my friend Jean has already downloaded it and has her turkey out, boning knife in hand.
The thing is that in order to do this properly you need more intestinal fortitude than I possess. You have to grab and tear, crack and snap, yank, pull, cut and stick your finger into places that you’d just really rather not so you can know where the hell the joints are. This is all fine and dandy but then stabbing a sharp knife into the ball joint of a slippery, slimy, ice-cold turkey leg with fingers numbed from the cold requires a whole hell of a lot more than I got.
But of course, obviously, I did do it. But I did it so timidly it was almost laughable. When I had to snap the wing out of the joint I realized I had my eyes closed. I know that this flies in the face of the he-man perception everyone seems to have of me but it’s true. But I did finish it. I also got the bones in the oven to roast and made exquisite gelatinous stock for the stuffing and gravy. And then I dry brined it and 2 days later stuffed and filled it.
There won’t be more discussion of the turkey because in the seething anxiety of roasting it, carving it and making gravy, and then getting it all on the table I did not take even one picture. I also neglected to add the sage branch garnishes I’d cut from my sage bush for the occasion. I plan to make them into one of those sage smudging sticks and cleanse my house of the forgetting-the-garnish demon that seems to inhabit my domicile.
Being the optimistic kinda guy I am I have high hopes for Thanksgiving. I went whole hog, so to speak, and bought a heritage breed (Bronze, I think it’s called). It cost $132 (the label says $107 but I had to put a $25 deposit on it. I know. Insane. But, well, free range, organic blah blah blah. Walkin’ the walk.) with the intention of deboning it and stuffing it as I have done a few times in the past.
I deboned it watching the Jacques Pepin/Julia Child video on PBS (which I have bookmarked). This is not as easy as you’d imagine. I had to keep washing my hands to back the video up and watch him effortlessly snap the freakin’ thigh or some goddam thing—I was completely unable to accomplish this by any stretch of the imagination. He just rips the meat and skin off of the carcass like he’s taking off his socks. This is not how it works. Plus he did this in less than 5 minutes. Over hour later I was still trying to locate the yadditti-yah joint or whatever (“eet ees jusht below dee shouldah—do turkey have shoulders?). It was hell. And just an absolute mess. The place was an abattoir.
In the end, I managed to arrive at the same destination, we were just on different conveyances. He was in a car, possibly a Maserati, I was on foot with only one shoe and there was a pebble in it. It took me an hour and a half.
I rationalize making this much effort because the cooking time without bones is dramatically reduced, carving it is miraculously easy, the presented turkey carved with the stuffing in it is beautiful, and I can use the carcass to make stock in advance. Which I did.
Now, on to grasping the mysteries of the butcher’s knot. (YouTube video) I was never good with knots.
Oh sure it was California, and I don’t think you’d be far off in imaging a tofu turkey with wheat grass stuffing and kombucha gravy, with a side of seitan. But not in this house. This is my mother’s recipe for stuffing and roasting and it was PERFECT.
It’s a far cry from the Thanksgivings of my youth when both sides of my family would descend on my parents’ home, grandparents, aunts, uncles, complete strangers, priests, nuns, and we’d somehow fit around the dining room table. I had the hated task of getting all the chairs. Sometimes we had to sit on the radiator it was so crowded. My mother would be up at 5 in the morning making the dinner. Her back to us at the stove as we came down for breakfast, making stock, peeling potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, chopping the gizzard. I don’t recall that anyone every brought anything. Maybe pies. I don’t know how she did it. It was hard enough for 3.
All of my sisters were otherwise engaged this year so it was just me and mom. I invited my friend Judy, recently relocated from Portland. Making just enough for 3 is a lot harder than you’d think. Everything was pretty much right off my mom’s playbook. Green beans and mushroom casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy and pecan/pumpkin pie. The latter was not anything my mother ever made. In fact, until I had the idea to make it and googled it, I didn’t realize it existed. The weak link was the turkey. I don’t know how you ruin turkey but I did. It was just plain nothing. The green bean casserole made up for it.
Probably a blog about Thanksgiving after the fact is pointless. But the point is more about quantity than quality. Although the quality was excellent. Thanksgiving was a small affair. Just my mother and me, and my friend Judy (of the World Renown BBQ sauce recipe) recently returned to Milwaukee. A full-on Thanksgiving dinner for 3 seems like it would be impossible. But it’s not.
OK, there was a little too much mashed potato and I had left over turkey and stuffing, but you want that. I used boneless turkey thighs and one half of a breast, trussed and buttered. I thought everything was excellent. I can’t take too much credit because the stuffing recipe was my mother’s and the turkey, Julia Child’s. The pumpkin bread pudding, though, was my own and it was better than any pumpkin pie I ever had.
In the end, despite the clogged sink, even with the deboning of the turkey, the last minute mashing of the potatoes (full disclosure, they were lumpy), the anxiety over the donedness of the turkey and the getting of it all on to the table still hot, it was all pretty easy.
The use of the thermometer was good. The YouTube Jacques Pepin helped. My OCD tendencies were a bonus, and the organic free range turkey was a major plus. I don’t think I’ve ever heard people compliment turkey as much and it was definitely better than a frozen Butterball. My mother’s stuffing recipe, which I am sure is not hers at all but perhaps off of the Brownberry stuffing bag, is always really really good. And once you get to that point, everything else is coasting.
Not really, it only seems like it is when you’re deboning it. In reality it takes about 20 minutes to take the carcass out and doing that reduces the roasting time by half and carving is a breeze. Plus you can roast the carcass in advance and make the most fab stock for gravy and stuffing and soup if you’re lucky. And I was.
Once the bones are out you fill the cavity with stuffing and tie it all up with string like a rolled roast. I watched Jacques Pepin do it about 60 times before I attempted it on my own, even then I had to rewatch and stop and reverse and rewatch again repeatedly.
The deboning wasn’t such a production, cleaning up was a little sketchy.
Some of the crowd is vegetarian and I can respect that. Besides, it’s a challenge. Anything to complicate things as much as possible. Fortunately I made this the night before so it only needed to be hotted up on Thanksgiving Day. I made this up for my restaurant and it was popular. I used to make a half pan (restaurant term, tooth sucking noise) on Sundays. (and Rum cakes, cheese cake, BBQ sauce and I don’t recall what else. We were closed Sundays, I just cooked). I don’t even recall what we called it anymore. In my recipe list it says squash lasagna I don’t think that’s what we would have called it. Everything had more glamorous restaurant-y names.
This whatever-it-is is a pain in the butt to make I now realize. The noodle part was tortillas then layers of butternut squash, mushrooms, corn and roasted red peppers each layer drizzled with bechamel (talk about making things difficult for yourself) and swiss cheese. Topped off with more bechamel and a lot more cheese.
Somehow I didn’t manage to get a picture of the final hot casserole. Just the cold leftover the next morning. There was a lot leftover. I hope that was only because there was so much other good food. I’m usually pretty confident about what tastes good but I did have someone in the restaurant once complain that it had library paste inside. When I told them it was bechamel sauce they looked at me like I was insane. So much for those Sundays spent making sauces.