Sunday, November 15, 2009

Early Thanksgiving

The other day while reading food magazines at the gym (I know it's perverse but I do it all the time) I saw an article for roasting a butterflied (it's really called spatchcocked for whatever reason I am not sure) turkey. Even though I have done this in the past (usually it's the second turkey on a big Thanksgiving) I suddenly could think of nothing else but roast turkey for dinner. I was probably pushed on a little by a pair of articles in last week's New York Times debating if turkey or the side were the stars of the Thanksgiving table --
"“If roast turkey is so good . . . I wonder why we don’t we make it at other times?” You’d think people would serve it at dinner parties," Julia Moskin snidely wrote as she lovingly described her host of admittedly tasty-sounding, “show-off” side dishes.
There on the elliptical machine I decided to make my vote for the bird.
As the instructions detailed, and I've managed with chickens and turkeys before, I cut out the backbone (a good strong pair of poultry scissors is handy for that) and opened the bird up. Then I cracked the breastbone so the turkey (12 lb) would lay down flat, tucked the wings under, and my weekday bird was ready to roast. As Martha suggested I went simple and rubbed the bird with olive oil, salt, and pepper and popped it into a 450º oven for an hour and 10 minutes (rotating once while cooking), and out came a glistening brown, crispy- skinned, decidedly not Norman Rockwell early Thanksgiving hero.

But then, as the turkey cooked, I thought maybe Moskin didn’t have it all wrong. While the bird roasted I cut some peeled sweet potatoes into cubes, popped them in a pot of cool water and boiled gently until tender. I mashed those with some cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, butter, vanilla extract and cream. The flavored mashed sweet potatoes went into a small casserole dish and I topped the puree with a mixture of chopped pecans, brown sugar, and butter. I let the

potatoes cook through in the oven at 375º for about half an hour (I would have let it go maybe 15 minutes more but we were hungry and the bird was ready to serve).

While the turkey rested I made a quick gravy with pan drippings, flour and white wine instead of the stock or water. I let the gravy, which, dare I say it, James called “exceptional” cook until nicely thick while I put green beans over a pot of boiling water to steam.

Super easy mid-week turkey. Hmm, why don’t people roast turkey more often?

PS: One trick Martha didn’t give her readers was a great way for a quick cooking bird and tasty stuffing. Years ago Cooks Illustrated published a recipe for a butterflied turkey roasted over a pan of stuffing. Prepare the bird as described above, put your favorite stuffing recipe into an oiled roasting pan big enough to support the turkey (CI suggested 12” x 16”) – lay a cooking rack or slotted broiler pan top (I’ve used a wire cooling rack that I use for baked goods) across the pan and place the turkey (skin side up) on the wire rack so he is supported above the stuffing. Brush the turkey with melted butter, S&P, and whatever seasonings you fancy. As your bird roasts the drippings fall down and flavor the stuffing. While the bird rests you pop the stuffing back in to the oven for the crispy edges fans of baked-outside-the-bird stuffing love. The best of both worlds in about an hour and a half.

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