Thursday, December 24, 2009

Roasted Turkey & Stuffing with Pan Gravy

Turkey in my opinion is the epitome of comfort food and a meal that brings people together, and brining people together is what I love about food the most. Every year at this time my husband and I host our annual Turkey Dinner. A time when we can bring new and old friends together to eat and enjoy each others company. This started 4 years ago as a small dinner for 12 and has now evolved to buffet for 30. The nice thing about this dinner is that the entire meal is NOT all on my shoulders, everyone invited brings a dish weather it be an appetizer, a side dish, or dessert. This gives the meal another dimension and variety each year.

My part is the Turkey and all the fixings, I begin by brining the bird. Yes, I brine our bird each time we make it. When I first started roasting turkey's I had no idea what it meant to brine a bird and the thought of soaking it in salt water mix for 24 hours pretty much freaked me out. But someone old me to try it, so I did, and that was the start of the juiciest turkey's I have ever eaten ... even the white meat was juicy and full of flavor.

The key to brining a bird is the water to salt ratio.

1 gallon water : 1 cup of salt

As long as you have that ratio down you cannot go wrong. The best part about this ... is there is not one bit of salt flavor left on the bird, just juicy white and dark meat.

This is the brine we use

2 gallons of cold tap water
2 cups kosher salt
3-5 bay leaves
small container of whole allspice
small container of whole cloves
handful of dried thyme
handful of dried sage
handful of whole peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
small bottle of maple syrup

We have used many vessels to brine our turkey but believe it or not the best way we have found so far is a 5 gallon bucket you can get at Home Depot or your local hardware store with a plastic trash bag. Start by adding the water. After you have 2 gallons of water in the bucket put the thawed, cleaned, gizzards removed turkey in the water to verify the water will not over flow. Remove the turkey and add the salt, mix till dissolved. Some who make brines say you need to heat all this mixture up on you stove top ... we have done it both ways and every time it comes out good, so we take the easy way and add it all at once. Then we add the aromatics, the beer, maple syrup, and the brown sugar. Stir till the liquid is murky, then place the turkey in the brine. Close the bag and put in a cold place for 24 hours. I live in New England and in December the coldest place is usually on the back deck ... that is where it stays till we are ready to roast.

* Julius Echter beer -- is a German wheat ale with hits of cloves and other spices that pair nicely with the aromatics in the brine. This is one of my favorites for cooking with, marinating with and just plain using in the kitchen. The idea here is to find a beer that has rich flavors that can be paired with food. If wheat ale is not your favorite try a micro-brew and use the flavors in that as your aromatics.

Before taking the Turkey out of the brine it is a good idea to make the stuffing.

Now on to the stuffing, or as some call it the dressing to the turkey. This is one of those recipes that has evolved over the years and I believe we have reached our pinnacle this year. Part of reaching our peak is using more and more ingredients that are home made and not so manufactured. You may think I have no time for this ... but when you make turkey it takes nothing but time and since most of us do not leave our ovens on and go out, try a few more "from scratch" stuff and you will find it is just as easy.

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were on vacation in Florida and came upon a spice and tea shop called Spice and Tea Exchange in John's Pass at Madeira Beach. While I was looking around at all the teas I found the spices in jar after jar and found the Herb Turkey ... it smelled so good I had to get it to replace my Bell's Turkey seasoning with it.

Lets make Stuffing

6 Hogie rolls

1 large onion chopped
1/2 bunch celery chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter*
1 tablespoon of Herb Turkey (or Bell's Seasoning for Poultry)
Salt n Pepper to taste
1/2 cup pecans crushed
1/2 cup crasins chopped
1/2 cup apple peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 quart chicken stock/broth

Cut up the bread into 1" or smaller cubes and toast on cookie sheets in 350 degree oven till dry.

Saute onion, celery, in butter over medium high heat. Add seasoning and salt n pepper till soft and brown.

Transfer bread from cookie sheets to large bowl. Pour saute mix over bread. Add pecans, apples and crasins. Toss to combine. Add Chicken stock one cup at a time to make moist. When you get your desired consistency set aside.

If you are going to stuff the bird make sure the stuffing is room temperature so it does not effect the roasting of the turkey. whatever does not fit into the Turkey put in a casserole dosh to cook in the oven after the turkey is finished roasting.

* You will find that in where ever the need for butter is I tend to use unsalted butter, for the reason that folks can add salt but you can NEVER take salt out of something if it is over salted. In time those you cook for will get adjusted to the lack of salt but the addition of other flavors and the need for salt is not there.

Now for the main event ... the Turkey.

Take the Turkey out of the brine and pat it dry with a paper towel. You may have to rinse out the cavity of the turkey for allspice, cloves and peppercorns can get stuck and are not quit so nice to eat in their whole state. Then place the turkey in a roasting pan. It is a good idea to keep the bird off the bottom of the pan either with a wire rack, or my favorite carrots split in half the longways.
The next step is stuff the bird. Who doesn't like juicy turkey flavored stuffing, the bird should be stuffed? After the bird is stuffed melt half a stick of unsalted butter. Brush the butter all over the turkey, and sprinkle with seasonings. This is something you can decide to do for yourself. I usually use fresh ground pepper and herb turkey (or Bells Seasoning), what it comes down to is the seasonings I use in the brine they are sprinkled over the turkey.
Before the Turkey goes in the oven it is a good idea to take the liver and the neck and place that at the bottom of the turkey pan ... not many of us eat the liver or the neck but it will aide in the flavor for the gravy. You may also want to add a cup to 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock. Last of all cover the Turkey either with foil or if your roasting pan has a lid use that.
Now your Turkey is ready for roasting. Please consult of how long to roast your turkey. Please also DO NOT use those "pop-up" indicators, they are not as accurate as a simple meat thermometer. Poultry should be 180 degrees at its thickest part.
Now that's a Yummy Turkey!!!

After it rests for half hour to hour it can be carved. Keep in mind the carcase can be used for more meals (to be discussed later) and the pan drippings can make some of the best gravy you have ever tasted.

Pour the drippings in a sauce pan, and add 1/2 cup of white wine (preferably a white you are serving with dinner so it is easily accessible and most likely already open) over medium/high heat. In a small cup whisk together 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water, when cornstarch is dissolved add to the gravy and wine. Continue to whisk till gravy thickens.

Now sit down with your family and eat Turkey!!! Yum!!!

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