Wednesday, December 3, 2008

{T-giving} Turkey, Dressing and Gravy: a Hit, a Miss and a Stalwart [also: TFF]

It may be the Christmas season everywhere else, but on this blog it's perennially Thanksgiving! Or at least it will be that way for a while longer.

This year, for the second year in a row, everything, from soup to nuts, came from my kitchen. The fact that just three of us were there to eat the feast simplified the menu only slightly - there are a good many things that are practically required for Thanksgiving, and others that are really nice to have. I was very thankful for the able assistance of my talented daughter A.L.E.!

In contrast to last year’s focus on our old favorites, this year we cooked almost everything from new recipes. After all was said and done, this was the best dinner I've ever put on our table, and now we have some new favorites! I’ve already posted the pumpkin soup, brown butter sage sweet potatoes, and two pies (chocolate pecan and Twofer). This post will be the centerpiece of the meal: turkey, stuffing, and gravy. Still to come: two more pies, green beans, cranberry sauce, and cider jelly.


Most everyone would agree that Thanksgiving = Turkey. After all, the holiday's second name is "Turkey Day". (That doesn't mean that everyone likes or eats turkey. Vegetarians and vegans, for example can partake of a special tofu-rkey, which I'm told is a reasonably tasty alternative -and of course a million fabulous non-meat-based recipes. The cashier I spoke with in the supermarket on Thanksgiving Eve was going with a ham only. And we had friends who were cattle ranchers in Oklahoma who never ate "bird".)

I am nothing if I'm not traditional on this question. I really like turkey, and I have a list of Requirements For Thanksgiving Turkey. According to my standards, a turkey must:
1. Be large enough for lots of leftovers - slices for another dinner and/or turkey sandwiches, scraps for soups, casseroles, and tamales - and have sufficient bones for 2-3 quarts of stock. [This only applies if I cook the turkey, although most people will be happy to hand over the bones, I've found]

2. Be well-cooked, tender, and especially not dry (because that puts a pall over the meal).

3. Taste great covered in gravy

4. Be a good complement to dressing/stuffing
Essentially, turkey is a necessary vehicle for two of my three favorite Thanksgiving foods: gravy and dressing (the third is pumpkin pie.) And an ideal source of several future meals.

Over the years we've prepared or consumed turkey in a variety of cooking methods. The bird is usually a fresh one, and we've had it: smoked, brined with Alton Brown's brine and smoked, brined with Alton Brown's brine and roasted, brined with a simple salt brine and smoked, brined with a simple salt brine and roasted, herbed and roasted, pre-basted. And, thankfully, the turkey has usually lived up to its obligations.

Since I've been on a sage kick lately, Tyler Florence's Oven Roasted Turkey with Sage Butter spoke to me. What did it say? "Cook me!" Who was I to argue with an insistent recipe?

cook's notes:

- Our turkey came from the farm box folks, who have a wonderful organic poultry supplier. The bird weighed in at 14.5 pounds; just enough for the three of us(!)

- I decided to make half the sage butter. I couldn't imagine putting 2 sticks' worth of butter under the skin of the turkey, especially since. . .

- . . . I wasn't sure exactly how to put the butter under the skin. I ended up buttering the turkey breast part only. (Was I supposed to put butter under the other skin? That would have been difficult.) I slid a sharp knife between the skin and the breast, and gently pulled skin loose with my fingers. Then I smooshed the butter all over the top of the turkey, under the skin. However, I think I should have left the skin attached at the breastbone, as the skin pulled back as the turkey cooked, and the breast meat was partly uncovered by any skin. After a while I figured that I could fashion a bard for that part of the turkey breast out of cheesecloth soaked in olive oil. It didn't hit me later that I could have barded the turkey breast with Benton's bacon!

the verdict:

I must say that this turkey stole the show, and relegated all of the side dishes to, well, the side. In fact, all three of us agreed that the turkey was the single best thing on the Thanksgiving menu (I've never even thought that was possible). The white meat was not dry and the dark meat was buttery soft. The simple flavors of butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, and sage combined magically.

No longer will I think of turkey as the necessary-but-not-exciting part of Thanksgiving. It has returned to front and center. This was, bar none, the best turkey I've ever eaten. I'm sure a huge part of it was that it was that fresh organic turkey straight from the farm. With due credit to Tyler Florence, for the perfect preparation.

The best part: Even the leftovers were tender and delicious.

This is my submission to a new group, Tyler Florence Fridays. Every Friday, you can go here to see a roundup of the Tyler Florence recipes that group members have individually chosen and cooked.


I grew up calling it stuffing, and it was, indeed, stuffed in our bird every year. Now that I’ve lived in the South for over half my life, I’ve taken to calling it dressing, and cooking it outside the turkey, in casserole dishes. At any rate, I usually go with a bread cube type rather than a cornbread type.

I love my usual dressing, which is the Onion Dressing from the 1974 Joy of Cooking. But A.L.E. is not a fan of onions, so I thought I'd try something different. In addition to lots of onions, the Joy of Cooking dressing has a good dose of butter, stock, and eggs. I've lightened it up over the years, and it's always tasted great. But I was excited to try something new. I wanted a recipe that uses fresh sage, and bread cubes. I'd taken the cheater's way out and bought a bag of mixed dry bread cubes from the bakery department at Whole Foods. This dressing recipe from Saveur looked like it would fit the bill.

cook's notes:

- I neglected to read the part where the recipe specifies fresh bread crumbs.

- I like cubes of bread in my dressing, so I only made some into fine bread crumbs.

- There was not nearly enough stock, since my crumbs were dry not fresh. I just added stock until it was moist enough to put inside the turkey. For the leftover dressing, I added more stock and turned it into an oiled baking dish.

- I added some paprika and ground savory.

The verdict:

This was too dry and bland for me. It may have been completely different if I had used fresh bread crumbs rather than dried. I think it needed a few eggs, if not more butter and even more stock than I added.

I'll go back to my usual recipe or keep looking!


This is my mother's gravy recipe, and I wouldn't think of messing with perfection! You can use this recipe with the drippings for any roast meat or poultry.

Drippings Gravy

3 T. drippings
2 c. stock or broth
3 T. flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp dry sage
1/4 c. water

1. Remove the roast from the pan and keep warm. Pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a measuring cup. Let the fat rise to the top, and spoon it off. (Depending on the quantity of drippings you have, you can double or even triple this recipe for turkey gravy. For a roast chicken, pork roast, or roast beef, a single recipe is usually appropriate.)

2. Deglaze the roasting pan with the stock.

3. In small glass jar (like a jelly jar or mustard jar) combine all dry ingredients. Add the water and shake vigorously until there are no lumps. Pour slowly into the pan, stirring with whisk.

4. Cook gravy, stirring, until thickened.


Lisa magicsprinkles said...

How is it possible that I still want turkey? Looking at this post makes my mouth water. Nicely done!

Debbie said...

Makes me want Thanksgiving dinner all over your house. Looks great!
PS I have the 1974 Joy of Cooking.

Di said...

Mmm, lots of yummy stuff. I've never tried herbs in my gravy. And for me, it isn't gravy without onion, but your daughter might not go for that. =)

The Blonde Duck said...

I love turkey and dressing. I can't get enough.

Cathy said...

"Alton Brown's brine" -- try to say that 10 times fast. And I've finally moved completely to the "dressing" side of the dressing/stuffing debate -- I think it takes about 10 years ("dressing" IS a nicer word than "stuffing," you've got to admit). I had been thinking about going with beef tenderloin for Christmas, but your review of your turkey has convinced me that this turkey recipe may really be the way to go. I love turkey as well, and it sounds like you knocked it out of the park with this one. Oh, and your mother's gravy looks fabulous! Sorry the dressing wasn't your favorite, but I guess there always has to be one dish at the Thanksgiving feast that doesn't knock your socks off, or it wouldn't be Thanksgiving. I look foward to reading about the rest of your feast!

NKP said...

The turkey does indeed look like a star. The colouring is perfect.
I am so happy that it turned out so well for you. Now I am craving turkey again.... Canadian Thanksgiving was so long ago...

Annette said...

It looks delicious! I'm thinking about making another turkey since we didn't have much leftovers. I wish I had thought to take pictures of our meal. I got caught up in preparation and completely forgot. Great post!

Audrey said...

I didn't get to have any leftovers this year (none!) so I'm having them virtually with you. Everything looks delicious!

Deb in Hawaii said...

I did Alton Brown's turkey this year which was very good but you made me want to try Tyler's now. It sounds wonderful as does your whole dinner!

Welcome to Tyler Florence Fridays and thanks for joining us this week!



Reeni said...

What a beautiful spread of food! The turkey sounds so delicious!