Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to Be Your Own Private Chef: Thanksgiving Edition

On my calendar, there is no greater date than Thanksgiving, the one day a year where indulging in four thousand calories in a single sitting earns zero guilt or shame. In fact, it’s a national pastime.

More often than not, I feel my obsessive love affair with food carries a bit of a stigma or is met with bland indifference. It’s incredibly rare for someone to get as excited as I am when I tell them about the amazing taco I had last week or the blissful breakfast sandwich I’ve been fantasizing about for days. But on Thanksgiving, the entirety of the United States joins me in glorious gluttonous revelry as hundreds of millions become fixated on the preparation and consumption of a single meal.

Brined, jerked, BBQed, fried or herb rubbed? Garlic mashed, sweet with bruleed marshmallows or au gratin? Pie or cobbler? Is the stuffing cornbread, oyster or Stove Top? Do we even need a salad? These are the consuming questions that barrage families in the days leading up to the main event.

Let's get ready to ruuuuumble, ya'll! It's Turkey Time once again.

In recent days, I've gotten quite a few queries about how to make the best possible Thanksgiving dinner. Here are a few tips that guarantee a succulent bird and a happy crowd...

Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Flavor-Inject!

Everyone knows that brining your bird before roasting is one of the best ways to get a juicy turkey. Recently salt cures have come into fashion as well, and while both are smart, if messy, my recommendation is that you should also invest in a flavor injector.

Used after you brine and before you roast, a flavor injector, which looks like the needle Travolta used on Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, imparts even deeper flavor and juiciness. But don't stop at a one shot deal. Wash your injector well (you don't want raw turkey ick spreading) and use it multiple times during the roasting process, re-injecting each time you baste.

All you need is a big ass needle (available at places like William Sonoma or Bed Bath and Beyond) and a flavor injection mixture.

Turkey Flavor Injection

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (full of umami goodness)
a dash of hot sauce (optional)
1 spring (about two tablespoons) fresh rosemary
1 spring (about two tablespoons) fresh sage
1 spring (about two tablespoons) fresh thyme

In a small saucepot, bring all ingredients to a boil. Straining mixture and allow to cool slightly. Inject away!

Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Abide Lumpy Gravy

Gravy should not be indiscernible from the mashed potatoes! Lumps be gone!

I've found that the easiest way to create smooth, beautiful gravy is to use Wondra when making my roue. Take 1/2 a cup of the pan juices from the roasting turkey, heat it in a small saucepan along with 3 tablespoons unsalted butter and whisk in 1/2 a cup of Wondra. Cook over medium heat 45 seconds-1 minute, whisking constantly before adding the rest of the turkey drippings in a slow, steady stream. Add 1/4 cup white wine and bring gravy to a boil, whisking constantly, until gravy reaches desired consistency. Serve warm.

Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Honor All Stages of Thy Cranberries

When making your cranberry sauce, along with some orange zest, walnuts and a can of crushed pineapple, try adding both dried and fresh fruit. Dried cranberries give cranberry sauce a more interesting texture and better flavor than fresh cranberries alone. I also like adding some tart dried cherries as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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