November 20, 2018

Dear friends,
Kim, Kim, Kim. Why are you trying to ruin my Thanksgiving?

In the New York Times Food section last week, the otherwise awesome Kim Severson wrote that turkey brining is passe. She quoted a handful of chefs and writers who are “so over it.” Frankly, they all sounded like turkey haters to me.

Kim came too late to food writing to remember this, but turkey brining was not introduced to the public in 1999 by Alton Brown on the Food Network, as she claims. The year was 1996, and the seminal event was a gala pre-Thanksgiving dinner for a group of food writers at the historic Stag’s Leap Winery in California’s Napa Valley. I was there, and was among the many who that year printed winery chef Jeffrey Starr’s recipe for orange marinated brined smoked turkey. That bird was a revelation. It was and remains the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, and I still make a version of it almost every year.

No, the meat does not taste “watery.” No, the texture is not like “lunch meat.” And no, we did not start brining way back then because low-quality frozen turkeys were the only ones available. We had already discovered fresh heirloom turkeys in a big way. We brined for the same reason most of us still do: Brined turkey (and chicken and pork) is juicy and tastes great. Dry brining, I’ll admit, works OK, too. But I love wet brining. I am so not over it.

Kim cites food sleuths who prepared turkey several ways and compared the results. Dry-brining was preferred in a blind taste test. I, too, have prepared turkey several ways and compared results, although dry-brining was not included. My hands-down favorite method is brined turkey smoke-roasted on a covered grill.

No, turkey brining is not dead, no matter what millions of people read in the New York TImes last week. I think the method still produces the juiciest, most flavorful turkey, and I will brine a turkey this week as I always do. My recipe has changed a bit over the years. I don’t use as much salt now — one-half cup per gallon of liquid is plenty, according to the Morton Salt folks. I don’t brine for days, either. Overnight, I’ve found, will do it. I usually don’t add wine, juice and herbs, either. They don’t penetrate the skin enough to flavor the meat, as Kim pointed out in her article. But yes, I will brine.

It’s not too late for you to brine, either. If you have a stock pot big enough to hold your turkey on end and is small enough to fit in your refrigerator, use that. If not, use a leak-proof plastic food bag or even a spanking-clean cooler. Mix two gallons of water with one cup of salt and pour over the bird. Add more water if needed to completely cover the turkey. Chill (add ice if using a cooler) overnight. Rinse the turkey inside and out and pat dry before roasting.

My favorite way to cook turkey is on a covered grill. When I cook it inside, I use the high-heat method. Here are directions:

GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY

Build a large charcoal fire (about 30 briquettes) in the bottom of one side a lidded grill, and place a 9-by-12-inch foil pan in the bottom of the other half. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Rub or spray the unstuffed turkey all over with oil or butter. Place on the grill over the pan. Close lid, leaving vents wide open. Grill for 2 to 3 hours for a 10 to 18-pound turkey. Note that the air temperature and wind can lengthen cooking time.

While roasting, add 6 to 8 charcoal briquettes every 45 minutes, and turn turkey quickly at the same time to rotate the side closest to the coals. Otherwise, do not open lid or heat will escape. Cook turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175 to180 degrees.

Transfer to a platter, wrap tightly with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

QUICK ROAST TURKEY
1 whole turkey, about 18 lbs.
Vegetable oil, such as canola
Water
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Remove giblets and neck from turkey cavities and wash the bird inside and out under cool running water. Pat dry. Or use a brined bird. Remove any pads of fat from the edge of the body cavity. Insert a meat thermometer at an angle into the thickest part of the breast, touching the breast bone. Lightly oil the skin all over.

Place a wire rack in a large, shallow roasting pan. Place the turkey on the rack, breast side up. The turkey must not hang outside the pan. Pour about 1/2 inch of water into the pan. Place on a rack in the lower third of the oven and roast uncovered until the thermometer registers 160 degrees — about 1 3/4 hours for an 18-pound turkey or 2 hours for a 22-pound turkey. If the turkey weighs less than 18 pounds, check the temperature after an hour. If the turkey begins to brown too much, tent loosely with foil.

When done, remove from oven, transfer to a platter and cover tightly with foil. Let rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carving. Serves 12.

CLASSIC ROAST TURKEY
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Stuff or not, as you choose. Place in a shallow pan (no more than 2 or 3 inches deep) and rub the skin all over with butter or margarine.

Do not cover with a lid or foil, which will steam the meat. Roast uncovered at 325 degrees until brown. Then cover loosely with foil and continue roasting until done (see roasting times below). Basting is not necessary because the juices do not penetrate the skin. Transfer to a platter, cover with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

Roasting times at 325 degrees:
10 to 18 lb. turkey — 3 to 3 1/2 hours unstuffed, 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours stuffed
18 to 22 lbs. — 3 1/2 to 4 hours unstuffed, 4 1/2 to 5 hours stuffed
22 to 24 lbs. — 4 to 4 1/2 hours unstuffed, 5 to 5 1/2 hours stuffed

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week;
Pan-grilled filet mignon, fried potato cakes, roasted Brussels sprouts with caramelized apple dressing; ginger cookies with lemon drizzle; potato and greens soup; cubed Spam and black beans in Coney sauce (yuck).

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc., last week:
Yaki soba chicken at Kasai in Wadsworth; chicken pot pie from Giant Eagle’s deli; Korean pork belly taco and an al pastor (chicken and pineapple) taco from Funky Truckeria in Norton; egg and shrimp bites, won ton soup, spicy prawns, Peking duck in pancakes and egg tarts for dim sum at Li Wah in Cleveland.

THANKSGIVING SIDES
The Mailbag will be replaced this week with a couple of recipes that I think would taste good at Thanksgiving dinner, along with directions for killer pie crust. Happy holidays, friends.

QUINOA SALAD WITH DATES AND BLOOD ORANGES
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped dates
2 blood or cara-cara oranges

Dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cumin
2 tsp. honey or Splenda to taste

Rinse quinoa well in cold water. Drain in a sieve. Place in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until grains are al dente. Do not overcook. Drain any excess water.

While quinoa cooks, place onion and dates in a medium-size serving bowl. Make the dressing by combining the vinegar, oil, spices and honey or Splenda in a small jar and shaking well. Place the warm quinoa in the bowl and toss with the dressing, onion and dates.

Cut a thin slice from both the blossom and stem ends of the oranges. Place on a cutting board, one of the cut ends down. With a sharp knife, slice off the skin and white pith all the way around, following the shape of the orange. Then one at a time, slice next to one membrane and flick the bare orange section into the bowl. Do this over the bowl with the quinoa to catch any juices. Continue with second orange. Gently toss to distribute the orange sections.

Cover and chill salad. Toss again before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: Pomegranate arils may be substituted for the blood oranges.
This is my original recipe.

GREEN BEANS WITH GORGONZOLA
2 lbs. fresh green beans
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Salt to taste
1/2 lb. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Rinse and dry the beans and trim off both ends. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in the oil and toss in the garlic. Cook 4 to 5 minutes, until garlic has just lightly colored.

Put beans in the pan and shake to spread them out. Pour in 1/4 cup water. Cover, lower heat and cook for about 15 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until the beans are tender to the bite and lightly caramelized.

Salt beans lightly. Raise the heat and drop bits of cheese into the beans. Cook uncovered, tossing and stirring with a spatula or tongs while the cheese melts, about 1 1/2 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “Lidia’s Family Table” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

MY BEST PIE DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose or 2 cups plus 2 tbsp. pastry flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup (about 10 tbsp.) chilled lard or vegetable shortening
7 to 8 tbsp. cold water

Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add lard in small pieces. With a pastry blender, cut the lard into the flour-salt mixture until the pieces of lard are about the size of peas. Use a knife to clean off the blades of the pastry blender occasionally.
Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork to mix. Do not mix with your hands. After 7 tablespoons, pinch a bit of the mixture to see if it will stick together. If not, add remaining one tablespoon of water.

Working quickly so the heat from your hands does not melt the fat, gather the mixture into a ball. Do not knead. Divide in half and flatten each ball slightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill an hour or more if possible.

Remove from refrigerator and warm to cool room temperature, until dough is pliable enough to roll. Flour each disk and place on a floured surface or between two pieces of plastic wrap. Roll each disk with rolling pin in strokes from the center to the edges to form a 9- or 10-inch circle. After dough is fitted into pie pan and crimped or filled, bake immediately. Unfilled pie shells may be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for baking later. Makes enough for 2 pie shells or 1 double-crust pie.

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