Saturday, December 20, 2008

For the Birds, Part 2: Turkey

At Hemingway's we've spent years trying to perfect roasting local organic turkeys that we serve at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. After many roasting theories, with failure as well as success, we realize the answer is not to roast, no matter how blasphemous it appears to our cultural consciousness. I mean not roasting a turkey questions grandma, tradition, ambient smells carried over a day, seeping in and out of what a family is or is supposed to be ... not to mention guilt associated with a famous Rockwell painting, where all the smiles and warmth on the faces of those present are due to the crackling brown turkey emerging from the oven, whole and glistening, a trophy not to be tampered with.

Oh well... on to taste, deconstructing the bird, and its method of cooking--without ripping apart the culture--forgetting that a large amount of angst over the years has been derived from determining whose method of roasting is best. It’s a sort of Hatfield and McCoy standoff with an implacable perspective where every division of the family ceases to give throughout their small window of life on this planet. (Sorry, says L, he can’t help himself.)

Blast it with heat the night before and leave in an oven, turned off, until the next morning; roast it slowly for so many hours at such and such heat; baste every half hour; don't baste; deep fry it; poach it and use a blow torch to crisp the skin...on and on....Generally what we all seem to agree upon is that somehow the bird should emerge from an oven whole and shimmering, then dutifully carved by one of the males present who has more skill with a knife than beers in his stomach.

As I discussed with quail and birds in general, in order to give the best flavor experience, my preference is to view the bird as two entities to be considered uniquely in their cooking methods. So, before any roasting happens I prefer to remove the legs, thighs, and breasts from the bird and keep them separate.

Take the carcass and wings along with aromatics such as celery, carrot, and onion, and roast these in a 400 degree oven until golden. Remove all from the roasting pan and place into a stockpot—the size of which depends on the size of the bird. Add water and simmer for a good four or five hours. This will be the base for our sauce. This could be done the day before, as could a good portion of the remaining preparation, which would allow the cook to watch TV, or actually communicate with the rest of the family.

Strain the stock, skim the fat, and begin reducing the remaining liquid to the point where you feel comfortable with the viscosity of the jus, or sauce, or gravy, or whatever pleases you and your family.

I like to confit the leg and thighs a few days before--that is to cure and then braise them in duck fat, giving the meat a wonderfully dense aromatic flavor, along with moisture, all while fooling the mouth into believing it's been roasted.

There are many recipes for the cure, but basically it's salt, sugar, and whatever spices you choose. Place ingredients in a bowl and dredge the legs and thighs, patting them down a bit as you go. Place them on a rack and leave them overnight in the refrigerator, making sure you have a pan underneath to catch residual liquid. The next day rinse them well with cold water, taking care to get as much of the cure off as possible. Pat with paper towels to dry, and place them in a pot. Cover with duck fat, which can be purchased at a gourmet or butcher shop—or try olive oil. Heat slowly until the fat just begins to bubble. Ideally you should cover them with a lid made of parchment paper, but some aluminum foil with a few holes in it will work. Place over a whisper of heat for about 2-3 hours, or until the meat is completely tender shredding from the bone. You can also place the pot into a low oven for the same amount of time, so as to not have it staring at you, questioning your ability to maintain the proper temperature.

Before removing the meat from the bone, allow to cool a bit, or overnight, in the fat. As an added act of culinary insanity, you can crisp them in a frying pan before serving, to give a sense of tradition to the dish.

Onto the breasts! Make a simple brine of sugar, salt, orange peel, herbs, and chopped olives. Place the breasts in the cure for about 4 hours (depending on the size). Remove and pat dry. Sear skin side down in a hot pan. Once golden, transfer to a moderate oven and roast until perfect. This also can be done a day or two before, so you have complete control over the moisture in the breasts, as they are not drying out while waiting around for the legs to cook.

Stuffing can be made on the Stove Top :) or in the oven, using some of the juices from the above preparations.

All that is left is for you to enjoy the compliments.