The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Thanksgiving Rescue Mission

November 25th, 2010 · No Comments · Posted in Recipes

Don’t let this happen to you

We were supposed to drive halfway across the country and spend Thanksgiving with friends this year. Those plans fell through, so I found myself assembling some side dishes this morning and thinking there must be readers across the country who woke up today in a panic, still not knowing exactly what they were going to put on the table this evening. Here are a few words of encouragement.

First, stay calm. You will get through this. And in grand form.

For the turkey, the trick is not in the cooking. That’s the easy part. For the best tasting turkey, buy the best bird you can afford. Get yourself to a Whole Foods or anywhere else that sells pasture-raised turkeys. The flavor is incomparable. Don’t worry about stuffing it. Just make sure to remove the plastic bag from inside containing the neck, heart, liver, gizzard, etc. These–except the liver–you can cook in a pot with water, celery, onion and parsley to make a broth for gravy. Start that now.

Season the bird aggressively with salt and pepper, inside and out. Don’t bother to stuff it or truss it. Place it in a 350-degree oven. If you don’t have a poultry rack, or even a roasting pan, just place the bird directly on the rack in your oven with a pan underneath to catch the drippings. The only tricky part is deciding when the bird is done. For some reason, any bird over 20 pounds or so takes three and a half hours. Even the biggest bird we ever cooked–40 pounds–took three and a half hours. If you have an instant-read thermometer, pull the bird when the temperature in the deepest part of the thigh reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The bird should be golden brown by then, the breast meat thoroughly cooked. The skin will be shrinking away from the ankle at the end of the drumstick.

For sides, choose some easy ones that are guaranteed to dazzle. Make them now, then reheat them before people sit down to the table. About 40 minutes in a 200-degree oven should do it.

For instance, I we love this sweet potato salad with raisins, ginger, toasted pecans and tossed with an organge-maple dressing. It’s easy to make and looks spectacular. (Serve at room temp.)

Same thing for these sweet-and-sour brussels sprouts. They take brussels sprouts to a whole new level–caramelized, then doused with red wine and sugar in a hot skillet.

Thirdly, to the mashed potatoes and gravy. I won’t tell you how to mash your potatoes. That’s too easy. For your gravy, just make a roux with three or four tablespoons of fat from your turkey pan and a like amount of flour. Stir together in a heavy pot and cook gently for a couple of minutes, then add that liquid from the turkey giblets–a ladle-full at a time–until it’s thickened to your liking. Be sure to stir in the cooking juices and any brown bits from your turkey. I like to finish the gravy with a splash of Madeira or Marsala wine.

Finally, to carving the bird. Let it rest 20 minutes after you pull it from the oven. Present it to the crowd. But don’t try to carve it at the table. Take it back to the kitchen, remove the breasts from the carcass and slice those separately. Remove and separate the drumsticks, thighs and wings. Arrange everything on a decorative platter and bring that back to the table to pass around.

Congratulations. You’ve just served an incredible Thanksgiving feast.

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