by John Charlton
(Eve of Thanksgiving, 2009) — There is nothing fonder tha memories of family get-togethers long past; and a wonderful way to revive these memories are the recipes our Mothers cooked for us as children. Being that it is the eve of Thanksgiving, I share with all the readers of The Post & Email some of my mother’s own recipes. If you would like to share some recipies, post them in the comments below.
Of course Thanksgiving has to have a turkey — it just does not seem to be Thanksgiving without one. And to enjoy a Turkey cooked right, you need to purchase one which is at least 12-13 lbs. If that is too much for your family, then invite over some relatives or friends, for the more the merrier.
The safe way to de-thaw a frozen turkey is to put it in your refrigerator several days before. Otherwise take it out the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day, and put a plate or pan under it to catch the condensing water. Leave it in the wrapper, until the morning of Thanksgiving, and put it in the refrigerator the night before, just so that it stays fresh.
As for fresh turkeys, if you buy one slaughtered-to-order, make sure you get a hen, and count on cooking it longer.
If your fresh turkey is from the market, you do not need to do that. I recommend a Butterball, the brand my mother always bought; and don’t buy a turkey on sale, since often you get a very inferior bird. For a holiday splurge a little.
RECIPE FOR TURKEY STUFFING
You must make the stuffing’s ingredients before the bird needs to go in the oven. Most large birds will take 3-5 hours, so prepare accordingly. Making the stuffing takes less than 1 hour. Plan to stuff the bird, because stuffing that cooks inside the turkey is always the tastiest.
Turkey’s innards (liver, gizzard, & heart)
1 bag of Bread Croutons (2 if your bird is very large, in which case double this recipe)
1/2 cup of minced celery leaves or minced stalks.
1/2 cup of minced onions
1 1/2 sticks of real butter
2-4 cups Chicken or Turkey Stock
Thyme & Sage (powdered or fresh) — 1/2 table-spoon powdered or minced
salt & pepper to taste
3-4 large metal or wooden skewers
12-18 inches of cotton cord (butcher’s string)
1 sheet of aluminum foil
1 roasting pan with rack
Preparation of Stuffing ingredients
Mince the innards coarsely, and fry them in a 1/3 stick of butter in a frying pan on a gentle flame or medium setting. When cooked (after 5 minutes) remove from pan and place in a bowl. In the same pan with another 1/3 of a stick of butter saute the minced celery leaves and onions. Try to use some of the leaves, since they are the tastiest part of the celery. Saute both for about 3 minutes, as you don’t want to actually cook them.
In a sauce pan bring your stock to a boil. If you want to make you own stock, use the turkey’s neck and a piece of fat from inside the central cavity of the bird, and bring these to boil for about 30 minutes in a stock pot with about 2 quarts of water. As much will evaporate off, you should have the 4 cups necessary for the recipe. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place your dried bread croutons in a large bowl and stir in the fried innards and vegetables. Add the herbs, salt and pepper.
Stuffing the Turkey & Cooking it
This should be done immediately prior to putting the Turkey into the oven. Never let the stuffing sit in the bird outside of the oven uncooked.
First wash your bird entirely on the outside and inside and pat it dry with paper towels. Light sprinkle some salt, if you want, on the outside of the bird (no more than 1 teaspoon on each side).
Take you bowl of dried stuffing and pour in your hot broth in which you should have melted your remaining butter minutes before this. The stuffing should be more moist than dry, as it will dry out during the cooking. You have to judge how much broth to pour into the stuffing. Use what is not needed to bastes the turkey every half-hour, after the initial browning of the bird (see below).
Stir well, but gently.
Get several metal or wooden skewers and a piece of aluminum foil big enough to enclose the opening of the bird, and a large serving spoon.
With the bird placed in its rack right-side up, use the spoon to fill it with the hot stuffing mixture; and pack very tightly. If the skin of the bird is not sufficient to close the cavity by itself, insert a piece of aluminum foil inside, and tuck it under the skin.
Use the skewers thus: pierce one side of the turkey’s skin near the top of the opening; entering the cavity with the skewer, then move the skewer to the opposite side and exit the cavity by piercing the skin on that side. Do with with another skewer, further down. And a third near the bottom if your bird is larger. With the final skewer pierce the tail of the bird and drive the skewer to pierce the skin from the inside of the to of the opening.
Then with the butcher’s string or cotton cord, tie one end to one skewer on the outside of the skin, and pull the other end over to the opposite end of the same skewer, rapping it half-way around it; as you pull it should pull the two side of the skin together — be gentle and don’t attempt to fully close the cavity if it does not seem likely to succeed without ripping the bird. Then wrap the string fulling round the skewer a coup of times and thread it to the next skewer until you seal the entire cavity as tightly as possible.
When done put your bird in a very hot oven (425°-450°) for at least 30 minutes (larger birds, 45 minutes). This is to brown your bird, which is necessary to seal in the juices. Then lower the temperature. 350° is a good temperature to cook a large bird like this thoroughly. Some cook their birds at 325°, but add at least 2 hours to the cooking time if you do that. As for exact time in the oven, follow the instructions that come with the turkey.
During the cooking baste the bird every 30 minutes, with the remaining stock. If the bird is not too big, turn it over half-way through the cooking time.
Carving the Turkey
The trick to carving the turkey is to take it out of the oven and let it cool at least 15-20 minutes. Then place it gently on a large serving platter, removing the skewers, foil, and excavating all the stuffing, which should be put in a warm bowl, and dressed with gravy, if available.
Use a very sharp and large knife and cut across the brest, cutting upwards from plate. A well-cooked bird should gently come apart. If it is tought to cut, then you should probably have left it another 1-2 hours in the oven.
RECIPE FOR HOMEMADE CRANBERRY SAUCE
There is no better fixing with Thanksgiving Turkey than homemade cranberry sauce. This is my mother’s secret recipe, which is so good, I nominate it for a national treasure:
1 bag of fresh cranberries, washed and culled (remove any bad berry which does not bounce)
1 cup white sugar
1/3 of a rind of fresh orange, cut in Julien strips
1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves
1/8 teaspoon powdered nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
Take the washed cranberries and handful by hand full place them in a large measuring cup, squashing them partially with a wooden spoon or meat pounder.
Place cranberries in a sauce pan, add all the sugar and orange rind, and 2-3 teaspoons of water. Heat on a medium flame and as the temperature rises the juice will mix with the sugar; at that point add the spices and bring to a full boil. As soon as it boils, pour the contents into a deep bowl (preferable glass) and let cool uncovered. Then cover with Saran wrap and place in the refrigerator. It is best to make this a day or two beforehand, as the flavor improves with age. Serve chilled. This is a tart but utterly delicious cranberry sauce.