My mother, who I love dearly, is Canadian and had a birthday this past week. The reason I mention that she is Canadian is because this fact definately contributed to the turkey hell I was about to embark on...... but I digress. Anyway, in my family for everyone's birthday we have a birthday dinner, and the birthday girl or boy gets to pick whatever they want to eat. Now most of the time my mother cooks said birthday dinner, but when mom's birthday rolls around of course it is up to myself or my sister to cook. So, silly me, I volunteered this year to cook my mum's b-day dinner and surprise, she picks damn turkey. Now initially I tried to convince her to pick something else but she was insistent, and since Canada's Thanksgiving is coming up, and I think she was feeling a little homesick, I obliged her.
The turkey trauma therefore came from the sheer difficulty of finding a whole turkey (not just the breast) outside the realm of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. I mean come on, is there a turkey strike for the whole year and then miraculously in November all turkey's say "OK, bring it on!" (if I were a turkey I would probably do the same). I started my turkey mission with the idea I would find a nice, free range, organic bird so I hit a nice upper end market (I will leave them nameless) in search of bird Nirvana. Needless to say the only turkey's they had were their dwarf cousins that were at the most horrific price I had ever seen on a turkey that honestly has spent the last few months frozen solid. So after much deliberation I headed out the door.......well after purchasing some good feta, organic greens, local plums, local beer (I would need this desperately later in the evening)......as so on and so on. Now I was on to the next market, which was slightly less pricey but good still, and to no avail, no turkeys. Then to a third market (downgrading as I go) which had turkey's, but specimens that were simply wrapped in white plastic with just "Young Turkey" marked on it.......ya, not so much. Finally, in desperation I hit the last market. Now this market wasn't the bottom of the barrel (a girl's gotta have her standards) but it may have been flirting with it. Wouldn't ya know it, they have turkey's, but the turkey's they have are a name brand that I do not buy, more for ethical reasons than anything (again, leaving them nameless) else, but I am desperate, it's the last market that I am willing to buy a turkey from and well if my mother does not have her damn turkey, I will hear about it. So I give in, but I of course need a particular size, not too big, not too small, but this is my luck in life.......we got turkey's but you only have two sizes, small or gargantuous (how do they get birds that big!..........I don't want to know). After digging and digging in stinky frozen turkey mess for what I swear was a half an hour (I gaged this based on the fact that I may have been developing frost bite on all of my ten digits) I find what appears to be a good size, although there is no weight on the bird. I disregard this, a mistake I will regret later, and plop the frozen mass in my cart and go up to check out with the stink of frozen meat all over my hands.
So there I am, standing at the checkout counter, defrosting my stinky hands, counting the minutes till I can get home and guzzle my delicious frothy drink waiting for me, when I hear the grocery clerk tell me the bird has no bar code, so they will need to check with the meat department for a price. So they take my perfectly sized bird away, and I now realize that a large line is behind me, giving me glares that equate to "why the f#$%& did you get a bird without a bar code you stupid woman!" The clerk comes back with a different bird, a much smaller cousin to my chosen victim and tells me I can't buy the stupid thing because they don't know how big it is, but here's my puny replacement. Now I ask myself, how difficult is it to weigh a bird? Especially in the meat department, where it would kinda make sense that they would have a few scales on them. So I tell the clerk, "this is too small" and she promptly runs back to find another. There is now a frenzy of calls between this clerk and a second clerk at the checkout stand about sizes and what would work and me repeatedly asking where the french my original bird went, until quite frankly I give up and they bring me a small bird. I leave the market feeling defeated and turkey traumatized, I think was even crying to myself, mumbling how much I HATE turkey (I was so out of it that I practically tripped over a little boy selling some popcorn for the Boy Scouts) and promptly headed home to drown my tears in a delicious beer.
So anyway, even though this post is turning into a bitter diatribe I thought that something good should come from it, so I thought I would post a few of my turkey recommendations so when Thanksgiving in the states rolls around you'll have some options in your turkey arsenal. So here they are:
1. It is my experience to never stuff a turkey. The bread takes all the moisture out of the bird. Cook your stuffing separately, adding good chicken or turkey stock to moisten it. I stuff my turkey with some flavor enhancing stuff like onion, celery and some fresh sage. If you like to present a whole bird stuffed to your family, simply spoon the stuffing into the cavity right before serving.
2. Rub the bird down with olive oil and not butter. I know, I know, I love butter too, but olive oil has very little water content, so it helps to lock in the moisture in the turkey (this is the scientist in me, probably is a load of crap, but it sounds logical), but it still enables nice browning of the skin. I have also tried initially rubbing the bird down with olive oil but at the end of the cooking time basted the bird with melted butter. Also, in addition to rubbing the skin down, rub the cavity with down with olive oil and sprinkle the bird inside and out with salt and pepper.
3. Cook your bird breast side down. This is a trick that my Italian grandmother taught me, and well it sounds ridiculous but it works, trust me.
4. Cook your bird on low heat for a long period of time (again, another trick my grandmother taught me), then flip the bird, cook on a higher heat to brown the breast. I start cooking the bird at 275 degrees for several hours, then flip and cook at 400 degrees just until the breast starts to brown. Cooking times will vary depending on the bird. For a big bird you might have an early morning, but who in your family wouldn't love waking up to the smell of turkey roasting.........yum.
5. Good gravy is essential. I have found the best recipe from for a gravy base that Tom Colicchio did for Bon Appetite and quite frankly it makes gravy irresistible, you can find it here http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Tom-Colicchios-Herb-Butter-Turkey-233118. The recipe calls for two pounds of turkey necks/wings but I just used the turkey neck that came with the turkey and it was fine.
6. Do yourself a favor, don't use canned cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce from made from fresh cranberries is delicious and very easy to make, and if you have any left over it goes great over ice cream. Here's a quick recipe that I use:
Orange Scented Cranberry Sauce
1 lb fresh or frozen cranberries
1 orange zested and juiced
1 cup sugar
3 cups diced plums, pears, or apples (I like to use plums but the others work well too)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ginger (powdered)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
It's simple, add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and over medium heat cook until the fruit is broken down and the mixture is starting to thicken, about 20-30 minutes. Let cool and it's ready! You can do this the night before and it will be perfect the next day.
So the take home message from this post is simple; one, hopefully I have added some more tool to use for your own turkey adventures, and two, don't buy a turkey in any month other than November, and if you want to roast a turkey at any other time of the year (outside the month of November here in the states) stock up in November, because the damn turkey's are on strike the rest of the year.