Thanksgiving was our busiest day all the years we had our Restaurant, Levana. I suspect the reason was, beside bringing many families together and offering complete and delicious Thanksgiving meals with bells and whistles, quite simply, some people are afraid of turkey. Big Bird can really look imposing!
And who could blame them? I often see in food magazines instructions for getting a tender turkey and priming it for roasting. One of those articles made me chuckle. It went something like, “Remove 2 shelves from your refrigerator, fill a very large square tub with very cold water, add 2 pounds kosher salt, leave the turkey in this brine 2 days, turning it over twice a day, etc.” Is it any wonder the public consumes turkey so rarely, if at all, besides during the compulsory Thanksgiving Day? My own comment about this utterly impractical little adventure is, simply, get a kosher turkey—end of story! My non-kosher food spies assure me: The difference in flavor and texture is like the difference between night and day. And the main reason is the salting process that follows the slaughtering.
If only you would follow these very simple rules, you would enjoy turkey all year round, without any trepidation or wariness whatsoever—and as importantly, without thinking about it as a day-long project:
1. Start with a very tender (meaning, Kosher) turkey: It is my solemn duty to tell you that no turkey (or any poultry for that matter) will come anywhere close to a kosher turkey, as the salting step in the koshering process makes it ideally tender. Dear non-kosher readers, let me allay any fears that any danger of getting inducted into some mysterious order might be lurking just from buying a kosher turkey! The greatest danger it might get you into is a fabulous dinner!
2. Get yourself a real, not disposable, pan. There is no possible comparison between the two. Food made in disposable containers tastes and looks hopelessly, well, disposable: Need I say more?
3. Bake the turkey breast side down so as to keep it very moist throughout the baking time, and turn it over only in the last hour of baking, to give the breast a deep amber color.
4. Bake the turkey in a liquid: No baking rack. In one fell swoop, the bird is super moist, and your gravy is all there. Reduce the cooking liquid on a high flame until it is the consistency of maple syrup, then strain it over the sliced bird. No thickeners or starches, heaven forbid! What could be better than a sauce reduction? That’s the whole story!
5. Turkey Leftovers: I have listed several leftovers menu ideas here, but let’s start with the obvious: Did you know turkey bones make the best chicken soup? Don’t lose your head on a busy Thanksgiving Day and throw all those scrumptious turkey bones as you are slicing, thinking you are all maxed out: Throw them all in a zipper bag and freeze—they will make you the best chicken soup! If I might even push my luck a drop further, I would recommend that you put a large pot of water to boil and right there and then, even as you slice your turkey, throw all your bones and scraps into the pot, with some onions, carrots, celery, dill, parsnips ( just peel and throw in whole), and a couple teaspoons turmeric. Before you know it, you will have yourself a gallon of delicious chicken (all right, turkey: the best) soup, and strain the soup, pressing hard on the solids to extract all the good flavors. Or make a chicken vegetable soup: Throw all the bones and scraps in one of those fabulous Wrap’n’Boil Cheesecloth Bags (in this case no chicken necessary for the recipe: This will get you covered!
Turkey Salad, Turkey burgers, using my Mock Crab Cake Recipe, coarsely grinding the meat; Pasta or Lasagna; throw the minced scraps in a Pad Thai or Risotto; dice it in a salad; throw it in soup; grind it with some shallot, Herbes de Provence and a little brandy for a delicious spread
I must tell you I don’t like stuffing turkey, but you will pleased to see I suggest plenty of side dishes that will go beautifully with the turkey: Pour a little turkey gravy over your side dish and you got yourself “stuffing”.
Now that we had this little talk, I have a major treat for you: My Thanksgiving Menu with Recipes Consider this whole chapter your induction into Thanksgiving Cooking! Plus: My New Cookbook is chock-full of turkey-based recipes: I hope you order it!
Just a thought on parting: It’s interesting: We observant Jews prepare sumptuous weekly Shabbos meals for family, friends and perfect strangers, without any fuss or any complaints. Every week is Thanksgiving week, with much much more than turkey. I confess I get quite impatient with the Thanksgiving frenzy that sets in weeks before the Big Turkey Day, an goes on practically until the following New Year. So come on people, get in that kitchen and roast that turkey, OK?