I’ve made it a tradition of going home to my mother’s house every year for Thanksgiving. Some families fight, and some families dread all the cooking. My family fights over who gets to cook what. We do our feast over the weekend giving us more time to prep and enjoy every minute of the process together.
For my contribution this year I asked to take on two of the most iconic courses; beloved in theory and typically underwhelming in practice – the Turkey, and my nemesis, the Apple Pie.
Turkey – the recipe that will change your mind about white meat
I’ve done a considerable amount of research. A class on roast birds at ICE, conversations in bars with anyone who mentions they like food, Alton Brown… and I’m happy to say this bird proved my efforts have paid off.
My mother bought a 20lb bird for the three of us (mom likes left overs). We invited 5 friends for the the Thanksgiving feast (giving us 8 total) and ate half the bird. By Monday when I returned to NYC, we had about 1 lb left, and I nearly extended my vacation to keep eating.
The main secret – Brine It.
Thaw your Turkey, if its frozen, and using the largest pot you own (or a few clean garbage bags) cover your Turkey in brine and let cure a full 24 hours. I used Tom Mylan’s head cheese brine this year to impart as much flavor as possible. I also added 2 tbsp of smoked paprika and some fresh sage from mom’s garden.
Secret #2 – Season It.
The morning of your feast, take the Turkey out of the brine and rinse. Place the Turkey in a roasting pan and very gently run your hand under the skin of the breast to dislodge from the meat. Take care not to tear the skin (it looks bad). You can also get your hand down the lower sides around the leg and thigh as well with a little maneuvering.
Using room temperate better (no margarine) mix in your favorite aromatics and some salt and pepper to season the bird as it cooks. I wanted a very earthy flavor this year so I made the following compound butter.
4 tbsp room temperature butter
1 tbsp finely diced shallot
1/2 tbsp finely diced fresh sage
1 tsp truffle oil (it’s the holidays!)
Salt and pepper to taste
Spread butter evenly under the Turkey’s skin with hands. Wipe any extra over the outside surface (never waste truffle oil).
Secret #3 – Do Not Stuff.
When you stuff your bird, you have to cook it until the stuffing reaches 165 (meaning your bird is already over-done). Bake your stuffing on the side, or take Alton Brown’s advice. [If you must have a stuffed bird, stuff it after both have baked separately and finish it with a blow torch]
Instead, stuff the cavity with aromatics to help season the bird as it cooks. My brother Will apparently is anti citrus and poultry, so I decided to stuff the bird with classic carrot, celery, and onion. I also added a full head of garlic, cut in half, and a large handful of fresh sage leaves from the garden.
Truss the bird to keep the smaller appendages close to the body (this is key to even cooking) and place in a 450 degree oven, for 20 minutes.
Secret #4 – Low and Slow.
After 20 minutes the heat should have started to brown the outside of the bird. It’s important to then lower the heat, almost to braising temperatures to bring the meat up to temperature slowly and carefully. We got nervous about being ready for our guests (had a bit of a late start) so started at 290 for 2 hours, then 300 for an hour, 325 for 40 minutes and then 350 for the last 20. If you can wait it out, not need to increase from 290.
As soon as the bird’s internal temperature reaches 165 remove from the oven. Cover with foil and let sit at least 20 minutes to allow all the moisture to redistribute.
The result is an incredibly moist bird with an almost stock-like flavor of poultry garlic and onions. The truffle oil comes through as added richness rather than as a strong mushroom flavor, which keeps you tasting the Turkey itself.
Our side dishes, usually the star of Thanksgiving, were hardly touched as the 8 of us continued to devour Turkey until we were uncomfortably full.
Mr. Will pulled a 4-bagger, completing a full plate at 3am to top off the night.
Dessert – A.k.a the first edible Apple Pie I’ve ever made
My last…20 attempts have been bland and under-cooked, and really not worth eating. But after watching Alton Brown make his Apple Pie, I suddenly became overly confidant that I should try just one more time.
~The following recipe is adapted from Alton Brown~
NOTE before you begin. This Pie takes 2 days. It’s worth it, but make sure you have the time to commit.
6 tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 oz vegetable shortening (Crisco), also chilled and cut into cubes
5-7 tbsp brandy, chilled
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3-3 1/2 lbs mixed apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick slices
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar (my own adjustment)
3 tbsp flour (Alton says tapioca flour, I had none so used all-purpose and it was fine)
2 tbsp apple jelly (I used mom’s crab apple from our tree in the back yard)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp Brandy
1/4 tsp kosher salt
I also added some spice (Alton does not)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground clove
Fresh grated nutmeg
To make crust, pulse flour, salt, sugar, butter and shortening in a food processor till it’s the size of little peas. Pour in 3 tbsp chilled Brandy and pulse. Add more brandy as needed until the dough forms a nice ball. Divide in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate over night.
To make the pie
Peel and core apples and toss in a bowl with 1/4 cup white sugar. Move apples to a colander and let drain over a bowl for at least an hour. Reserve liquid.
Pre heat oven to 425
Toss apples with brown sugar, lemon, Brandy, apple jelly, flour, and spices.
Pour reserved liquid into a sauce pan and reduce by half over medium heat.
Take dough from fridge and roll out into two large circles between 2 pieces of wax paper or parchment. Place one round of dough in the bottom of a deep pie plate and set a vent in the center (looks like a ceramic bird. You can just cut vents if you don’t have one, but the bird is a nice touch…). Arrange apples tightly in concentric circles starting at the out side of the plate. Cover with second dough round and crimp the edges to seal, trimming excess dough as needed.
Brush top of crust (avoiding the crimped edges) with the reduced apple liquid and sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar if you like.
Bake for 40-50 minutes until the crust is browned and you can small the apples. Let cool completely before serving.
Mom was spotted stealing bites from the left-over pie the next two mornings. This wouldn’t be strange, except that mom never snacks, especially not on sweets…