For the foodie/home cook, Thanksgiving is our SuperBowl. This is the day when the foodie gets their moment in the sun. The kitchen lights shine a little brighter, the stage is bigger and the food critics are even more demanding. The foodie spends hours on menu selection, pours over recipes in Food and Wine and Bon Appetit magazines. Like a football player who has memorized a playbook and strategized a game plan, the foodie knows the final recipes inside and out. Watching Food Network shows is like watching game film. You search for tips and secrets to give yourself a competitive edge. The stakes are high. Perform and execute well on this day and you’re the MVP. One costly mistake and you’re staring at a room full of questioning reporters.
For me, Thanksgiving is a much needed a day off. I will be cooking for myself again this year so the pressure is minimal but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t given it much thought. Quite the contrary! I’ve compiled a few recipes for you that will spice up the often bland, traditional recipes of Thanksgiving.
Bacon Wrapped Roasted Cajun Turkey
with Andouille Sausage Stuffing
13# Turkey, thawed
2 cups Cajun seasoning
1# Andouille sausage, diced
8 cups brioche bread cubes, toasted
1 yellow onion, small dice
4 stalks of celery, medium dice
8 parsnips, small dice
3 Portabella mushrooms, diced
2 Granny smith apples, diced
12 cloves garlic
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup Dijon mustard
1 bunch Kale rough chop
After doing all of the knife work, add the above components to a large mixing bowl and fold in. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Prep the bird.
I’m assuming you’ve properly and effectively thawed your bird, ensuring that you and your guests are safe from foodborne illness. I contemplated going over the process of thawing the bird but that’s a complete article in and of itself. If you have any questions, inquire in the comment section at the bottom of the article and I’ll get back to you right away.
Moving on. Preheat your conventional oven to 375 degrees. Rest the bird in a large roasting pan and remove the neck bone and bag of “things”. Take your favorite brand of low sodium or sodium free Cajun seasoning and crust the entire bird. Take one pound of sliced bacon and weave it over the breasts of the bird. There’s no right or wrong way here. The most important aspect is to completely cover the breasts.
Next, take as much of the stuffing as you possibly can and stuff the bird. Take the remaining portion of stuffing and spread over a large casserole dish or shallow hotel pan along with a quart of water and set aside.
Place the bacon wrapped bird in the piping hot oven. Set your timer for one hour. The first portion of the cooking process is to set the crust of the bird. The high heat of the oven along with the bacon will crisp the skin while the fat of the bacon renders away.
Cranberry Chipotle Sauce
While the bird is roasting away in its bacon steam bath, place the neck bone of the turkey in a small saucepot with a chopped onion, two chopped stalks of celery and two diced carrots. Add enough cold water to cover the components along with a bay leaf and bring the water to a slow simmer. Allow the turkey stock to simmer for the same amount of time that your turkey is in the oven. When you remove the turkey from the oven, strain the neck bone and mire poix from the turkey stock making sure to keep the stock. Add the now strained stock back to a small saucepot along with two cups of dried cranberries and one chipotle. Bring the mix to a slow simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. When the once dried cranberries become hydrated, remove from the heat and puree the mixture using an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
Ok, it’s been an hour and your bird has been roasting on high heat. The house is beginning to smell of sweet, sweet bacon and the Packers and Lions are tangling away. It’s at this point where you begin to take the crucial steps to the perfect turkey. First, drop your heat down to 325-degrees and add 2 quarts of water to the roasting pan. There, that wasn’t that hard was it?
Set your timer for another hour and begin the process of blanching the brussel sprouts.
Brussel Sprouts with Crispy Bacon and Parmesan cheese
2# Fresh brussel sprouts
2 shallots, julienned
6 strips of bacon, sliced crosswise
1-cup sherry wine
2 tbsp bacon fat or butter
2 oz. Parmesan cheese
Bring a large stockpot of water to a rolling boil. While the water is heating up, snip off the bottom of the sprouts to begin removing and discarding the dirty and worn out leaves. Drop two handfuls of salt into the boiling water and add the cleaned up sprouts. Let the sprouts boil in the water for about 8 minutes or until fork tender. The tricky part here is that the sprouts come in all sizes so there will be some inconsistency in cooking but fill your guests up on wine and they’ll never say a thing. At the 8-minute mark, begin fishing out the smaller sprouts and set in an ice bath. Once all the smaller sprouts are removed, use a spider and transfer the larger sprouts to the ice bath as well. The point of the ice bath is to stop the cooking process. If you skip this procedure, your sprouts will overcook and that’s not a good thing. This is probably the main reason most people hate brussel sprouts. More than likely, you ate once frozen or overcooked sprouts and that’s just not pleasant. Ok, now that all the sprouts are removed from the boiling cauldron and chillin’ in the polar bear ice club, it is time to transfer them to a clean mixing bowl. Don’t refrigerate!!! You will be working with them soon so after the ice bath, let them return to room temperature. FYI, you’re not done yet. I’m telling you to do this now so you can quickly finish the sprouts at the last minute. Scroll down to the end of the article to catch the brussel sprout finishing move!
When the clock strikes zero for the second time, slide the roasting pan out of the oven and add another quart of water. Using a large ladle, ladle the water over the bird and mainly into the stuffing cavity of the bird. You want to really make sure the bird gets a good dousing of water. Slide the bird back in the oven and set your timer for another hour.
Goat cheese and Chipotle smashed Sweet Potatoes
6 Sweet Potatoes medium to large sized, peeled and small dice
8 oz. Goat Cheese, room temperature
3 Chipotles, chopped
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
2 Tsp Nutmeg
3 Tbsp butter
½ Cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp Salt
Place the chopped sweet potatoes in a medium sized stockpot and cover with water. Bring this water to a rapid boil. Cook the potatoes until they are fork tender. About 15 minutes of boiling. When the potatoes are soft, strain the potatoes from the water and add the potatoes back to the stockpot on low heat. Add in the butter, the heavy cream, the chipotles, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and smash away. When the sweet potatoes are completely smooth and consistent, transfer to a heat resistant bowl and cover with plastic wrap and set in a microwave. Trust me on this one. The microwave and the plastic wrap will prevent the potatoes from losing much heat. Right before serving and I mean right before serving, fold in the softened goat cheese and transfer to an appropriate serving vessel.
Ok, you’re at the three hour mark and your turkey is looking good, smelling good, you’ve got a few side dishes prepped, and you’re a half a bottle of wine into things and therefore you’re feeling good as well!
Pull the roasting pan from the oven and repeat the ladling process from earlier. Add in another quart of water if necessary. Tear off a few sheets of aluminum foil and cover the entire roasting pan. The idea here is to slow down the crisping on the bacon and trap in the moisture. The moisture is now in control of the cooking process. Continue to cook the bird until you reach an internal temperature of 155-160-degrees.
(I know, I know the bag and all the television experts tell you to cook past 165-degrees and trust me, they know what they are talking about. They are talking about not getting sued. They will tell you to cook the thing to oblivion to ensure killing all the bacteria, moisture, flavor and everything else from the bird. I cooked my bird to 155-160 degrees, removed it from the oven and allowed carry over heat to cook the thing to just past 165-degrees. If you cook it to 165-degrees and remove it from the oven, carry over heat will cook the bird to well past 175 degrees. Translation, dry bird. But chef, chef???? What about the stuffing??? Is the stuffing properly cooked??? Jab your thermometer in the heart of the stuffing cavity and tell me what it reads. Over 165-degrees??? Should be! If, for some reason, the stuffing didn’t reach over 165-degrees, remove it from the cavity and add it to the hotel pan of stuffing and place in the oven and cook, uncovered for an hour.)
To summarize, we’ve removed the thoroughly cooked bird. The stuffing is in a roasting pan in the oven at 375-degrees. You’ve used your immersion blender to puree the cranberry chipotle sauce. You’re goat cheese sweet potatoes are hangin’ out in the microwave and your brussel sprouts are in a mixing bowl at room temperature. Check? Check!
Let’s finish. The last move is to sauté the brussel sprouts. Over medium heat, render the fat from the bacon along with the shallots. When the bacon is crispy and the shallots are caramelized, remove the sauté pan from the heat and add in the sherry wine. Deglaze the pan and add the room temperature brussel sprouts. Sauté the sprouts to heat through, caramelize the outsides but most importantly do not overcook the sprouts. When the sprouts are piping hot, transfer to a serving platter of choice and dust them with grated, shaved or shredded Parmesan cheese. (Little side note, if you have truffle oil, and I did, this is a really nice addition. Go ahead, it’s Thanksgiving. It’s ok to show off a little.)
To plate. There’s no real strategy here. Just keep the platters as clean and tidy as possible. You’ve read all my past articles and by now you should be a pro at plating and plate presentation. You’ve tasted everything along the way today so you’re good with all the flavors, textures and spice, right? Right???
Well go ahead chef you did it! You’ve got a house of hungry guests, your plates look great, your flavors are spot on and you’ve got plenty of food. Pour yourself another glass of wine; it’s victory formation time!