Hope you all are slowly coming out of a nice Thanksgiving food coma (and just in time to enjoy the last of the leftovers!). Obviously, this post is too late for this year, but be sure to flag it for next year if your turkey-cooking skills could use a little work.
As some of you may know, we have crowded, rowdy Thanksgiving every year at my parents’ house in Tucson—complete with tequila shots and sports gambling. The food is always amazing, but the birds don’t get as much love as they should.
The 50 or so lbs of turkey are my dad’s job, and suffice to say he’s more of a set-it-forget-it-and-go-have-a-bloody-mary kind of guy than a doting tender of the turkey. Plus he never thinks the bird is cooked enough, so it’s inevitably a liiiitle on the dry side.
When it comes to the dirty work, though, he’s your man.
Sorry, love you daddy, but I thought we could step our game up this year. And did we ever.
We did the usual turkey trio: one in the oven, one in the fryer, and one on an ancient charcoal grill that’s been around since Tucson was dirt roads and cowboys.
The ultimate consensus was that the brined, butter-slathered, oven-roasted turkey was the clear winner, but the others held their own.
So we’ll start with the star of the show—a massive, fresh (no frozen birds at our party) 22-pounder which I lovingly brined, slathered in a buttery marinade and monitored with a trusty digital probe thermometer. All that—and a little help from my friend Alton Brown—gave us one of the best birds to date.
The perfect roast turkey
One turkey, thawed (recipe is for a 14-16 lb. bird)
2 sticks butter
1 tablespoon pepper
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 gallon heavily iced water
A container large enough for the bird and the brine
For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced in half
1 half onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
4 sprigs rosemary
6 sage leaves
The night before Thanksgiving, slightly tipsy off Ra’s dangerously strong whiskey and diets, I brined my bird. First, mix all the brining ingredients together—minus the ice water—in a large stock pot (I upped the ingredient amounts for our big bird).
Yes, that is a bottle of Jack Daniels in the background. No harm in maintaining my pre-thanksgiving buzz … besides, how else does one find the stamina to pull off Thanksgiving dinner for 50?? By the way, I had nothing to do with the Belvedere bottle reflection you see in the brine pot.
When the brown sugar and salt have dissolved, remove the mixture from the heat and let cool to room temp.
Add the mixture to your ice water and put the bird in. I have a last minute Ace Hardware run to thank for my brining bin. Technically it was plastic file folder container, but who’s counting? Worked like a charm.
Brine the turkey overnight in the fridge.
Here’s where it gets tricky; timing the bird perfectly is next to impossible, but follow Alton’s loose guidelines: About 2-2 1/2 hours for a 14-16 pound bird (temps to follow). I estimated that our monstrosity would take about 4-5 hours, plus 30-45 minutes to rest, so I put it in at 11 a.m. to be ready at 5ish.
First, heat the oven to 500 degrees. Yes, that’s right. Alton says it crisps the skin and gives you a nice golden brown color. Mine didn’t look as good as his, but since it was delicious anyway, I’m sticking to the plan.
Then, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it off and pat it dry. Place it in a roasting pan and set it aside.
Heat your aromatic ingredients in the microwave in a small bowl of water for a few minutes.
Once they have cooled stuff them in the turkey cavity. If the giblets are still there when you go in, you missed a step.
Now get to work on the butter mixture. Mix softened butter with your seasonings.
Now comes the fun part: The trick is to loosen up the skin enough that you can stick your hand in between the skin and the breast and massage the butter in.
Lovely, I know.
Then give the entire outside of the turkey a generous slathering for good measure.
Now comes a special Alton Brown trick: form a aluminum foil triangle to the breast like so:
Now remove it—you’ll use it in a minute.
If you don’t have a digital probe thermometer, I highly recommend it—either way, place your thermometer in the deepest part of the breast, sideways (see Alton’s video to get a visual). Now, put the turkey in the oven and put the timer on the outside of the oven. Start the time so you can keep track and set it to go off when the temperature reaches 161 degrees.
Let the turkey cook at 500 degrees for about 30 minutes to brown the skin. Then lower the temp to 350 and put the foil on the breast. This will keep the breast from drying out to much. Mine was cooking a little faster then I would have liked, so I lowered it to 325 about halfway through and then to 300 for the last hour. When the breast temp reached 161, pull that baby out and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Recruit your best carver (Dave in our case) and get to work!
As I mentioned, the turkey didn’t brown as I would have liked, but just look at that juicy breast meat. MMMMMMMMmmmmmmm. Plus, the gravy we made from the roasting pan juices had a depth of flavor like I’ve never tasted, thanks to the aromatics. And to think … we almost went sauce-less after my mother and Q’s near throwdown over gravy-gate 2009: the previous year’s baked-on stovetop gravy mess.
The fryer and BBQ turkeys were a little less time- and labor-intensive. I skipped brining, although if I’d had more time, I would have used the same brining process for the BBQ turkey (the fryer turkey doesn’t need it since frying locks the juices in.)
One turkey, thawed
Dry rub of your choice
Fryer and oil of your choice (we used Canola oil)
First and foremost, read the directions on your fryer to avoid third-degree burns and house fires. The oil usually takes about an hour to heat (you’ll want it absolutely no higher than 350), so plan accordingly.
Rub your turkey generously with the dry rub of your choice (I used a cajun rub) and stick it on the turkey fryer hook thingy. Yup, that’s the technical term. (Your fryer should come with instructions for this).
Slowly and very carefully lower the turkey into the fryer like so:
Bronco Billy is our fearless fryer.
Give the turkey about 4 minutes of cooking time per pound. Pull it out, let it rest and carve it up.
One turkey, thawed
Butter marinade (same as above with spices of your choice)
Charcoal grill with charcoal and a brick
Rub your turkey down with the butter mix, as I described with the roast turkey. I added a BBQ spices to mix things up.
To prepare our grill, we put a brick in the middle, surrounded by coals.
This keeps the heat evenly distributed and the temperature low and steady to avoid overcooking.
Heat your coals. When they’re ready, place the turkey directly on the grill rack.
Our 15 lb. turkey took about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Cook until the breast meat is about 161 degrees. And by the way, don’t leave a digital thermometer in the turkey while it cooks as my dad did … it doesn’t end well.
Let it rest and carve.
And there you have it.
After all that, 4 lbs of stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn cassarole and appetizers, you’ll understand why I kept good ole Jack Daniels close by.
I’m still recovering from the 48-hour cooking marathon, gluttonous spread and absolute debauchery that is our misfit-full, southwestern Thanksgiving celebration.
Let me paint the scene: Colorful characters mingling over excessive amounts of tequila, criminal quantities of turkey (2, 15-pounders and a 20-pounder to be exact), all the trimmings with a southwestern flair, ridiculously perfect, sun-shiny, 75-degree weather, football broadcast on a backyard pool-side cabana bar TV…
… and me slaving away in a hot kitchen. I kid, I kid. I have to admit I enjoy it. Besides, if I didn’t cook, we’d be eating pies from Costco (no offense Don) and canned cranberry sauce. OK, so we ate those things (and LOVED it) anyway, but I digress.
Anyway, back to my food. You simply can’t mess up Paula’s corn and potato casseroles, so I surrendered those to my sister. I made Rick Bayless’ Chocolate pecan pie, which I first attempted for me and Dave’s anniversary dinner, acorn squash and goat cheese tamales, chorizo stuffing, fiesta salad with avocado jalapeño ranch dressing, Mexican five-layer dip and chorizo bean dip. Let’s not forget the tequila: our poison came in the form of three different tequila cocktails.
My mother, who taught me the fine art of microwaving, muttered “my poor baby,” and looked on pityingly the entire time, as if all this cooking was some sort of cruel and unusual punishment.
Everything was a big hit, especially the chocolate pecan pie with Kahlua whipped cream, which my mom hid from our guests to save it all for herself. You think I’m kidding—I had to sneak inquiring party-goers out to the garage fridge to smuggle a slice behind her back. You already have that recipe, and here are the others:
Acorn squash, corn and goat cheese tamales
1 1/2 cups masa harina
1/2 cup shortening
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 roasted acorn squash
2 cups corn
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 cup water
20-25 dried or fresh corn husks
about 6 oz. goat cheese
about 3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 jalapeño minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
First, brush the squash, cut in 3-4 pieces, with a mixture of half butter, half olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the squash is soft. Meanwhile, soak the corn husks (if dried) in water for 1-2 hours. Once the squash has cooled, mash and mix in thoroughly with the shortening, butter, masa, corn, baking soda, salt and cumin. Slowly whip in the water with a mixer, and beat the mixture for about 5 minutes.
The mixture should be light a fluffy. To test it, drop a marble sized chunk in water—if it floats it’s ready. If not, continue to beat the mixture and add a little more shortening if necessary.
Make the filling by mixing the goat cheese, cream cheese, minced garlic and jalapeño. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pat each corn husk dry and cut 3-4 into long strips that can be used to tie the tamales. Spread a 1/2-inch layer of the masa mixture in a 4-5-inch square on a corn husk, spread a teaspoon-sized portion of the goat cheese mixture on top of the masa. Roll the corn husk so that the masa encompasses the goat cheese, twist each end of the husk and tie off with a strip of husk.
You can cook these several different ways, and if you’re like most normal people and don’t have a tamale steamer, this is as good a way as any: lay your tamales on a sheet of foil (you can stack them), add 3 tablespoons of water for every ten tamales, lay another sheet of tin foil on top and roll up each side tightly to create a foil packet. Cook at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes. These freeze well too.
2 packages of jiffy cornbread, prepared
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper
1 stick of butter, divided
1/2 pound chorizo
3 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 each chopped green pepper and red pepper
1/2 minced jalapeño
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cups chicken broth
Cut the cornbread into 1 inch cubes and spread on a sheet pan. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and brush on the cornbread, then season with thyme, salt and pepper and toast under the broiler. Watch carefully—they burn easily. Set aside. Cook the chorizo in a stock pot until browned and set aside. Pour out excess grease and cook the vegetables in the same pot with the remaining butter for 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and heat until the broth is hot but not boiling. Stir in the chorizo and cornbread croutons and mix thoroughly. Use to stuff your turkey, or pour into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes before ready to eat.
Fiesta salad and avocado jalapeño ranch dressing
1 bag romaine lettuce
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 large red onion, chopped
one cucumber, chopped
2 avocados, chopped
shredded mexican cheese
tortilla strips for garnish
1/2 bottle of ranch dressing
1 teaspoon cumin
Mix all salad ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Blend dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and toss on salad or serve on the side.
For the longest time, we called this seven-layer dip. Alas, it’s really only five. We’ve been know to add a sixth layer in the form of seasoned cream cheese (cumin, garlic powder and chili powder), green onions or diced tomatoes, but I’m not really sure where this mythical seventh layer comes from. Anyway, this is an easy, fool-proof crowd pleaser at any party and it always makes an appearance at ours.
1 can refried beans
shredded cheese (Mexican blend, pepper jack or colby jack)
Layer the ingredients in a dish in the following order: refried beans, guac, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese. I like about a 1-2 inch layer of beans, an inch layer of guac, a half-inch of sour cream, a thin layer of salsa and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese. Serve with tortilla chips.
Chorizo bean dip
1/4 pound cooked chorizo
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup shredded mexican cheese
16 oz. Velveeta
1 teaspoon cumin
Mix all ingredients, minus 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Spread in a oven-safe dish. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top of the mixture. Heat in a 375-degree oven until the mixture is bubbly and golden brown on the top. Serve with tortilla chips.
Phew. That’s a lot of food. Now onto the cocktails. You may remember the description of the different varieties (plata or silver, reposado and anejo) from my tequila tasting post. As a refresher, silver lends itself to typical vodka mixers, reposado: rum and anejo: whiskey.
I got a list of recipes from our gracious Tres Generaciones tequila ambassador, Mando, and I tweaked a couple to make my own recipes. As far as my personal brand recommendations go: Tres Generaciones, Don Julio, and 1800.
Silver/Plata: El Cosmopolitano
2 parts plata tequila
1 part triple sec
1 part cranberry juice
½ part fresh lime juice
Mix all ingredients together in a shaker over ice and strain into a glass. This was my sister’s favorite
Reposado: Mojitarita and Pina reposado
2 parts reposado tequila
8 mint leaves per cocktail
1 part simple syrup
1 part club soda
½ part fresh lime juice
Muddle mint leaves and mix all ingredients over ice. This is a refreshing and less sweet version of a mojito—my dad couldn’t get enough of this one.
1 1/2 parts reposado tequila
2 1/2 parts pineapple juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar per cocktails
Mix all ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Strain into a glass. My mom, who rarely drinks, was guzzling these like a drunken sorority girl. They’re my favorite too.
Anejo: Prickly ginger
1 part anejo tequila
1 1/2 parts ginger ale
½ part prickly pear syrup
Mix the tequila and prickly pear syrup together in a shaker with ice and add the ginger ale. Strain into a glass.