Let's see what kind of hits that title gets, shall we?
In a recent exchange with Asthmagirl out on the left coast, we considered various and sundry ways to prepare a turkey for the table. She brines hers the day before. I never have, but do not rule out trying it some time. It didn't happen this year, though.
What did happen is that turkey dropped to 40 cents a pound at the local supermarket, so we splurged on a 22.7 pound buzzard. The thing was monstrous! It weighed more than our cat and dog combined! It was damned big!
I was so excited about the turkey, I fairly danced it home.
Then I sat down and did the math. Experts say you should cook a stuffed turkey 20 minutes for each pound (that is: what it weighs before you stuff it). hum. That means an hour for each three pounds. 21 pounds means 7 hours. 1.7 pounds extra means about a half-hour to forty more minutes. Dinner is supposed to be on the table at 1, bird's gotta rest a half hour before I carve it, so that means it should come OUT of the oven at 12:30 , so counting backwards that means... oh shit. The bird has to go INTO the oven at approximately 4:45 a.m.
Suddenly, this was not as much fun as it had seemed.
I am not now nor have I ever really been a morning person.
Mornings are reserved for slow movement, generous application of coffee and slow perusal of online newspapers, not wrestling with a naked, wet bird at O-Dark-Thirty.
I set the alarm for 4 a.m. and rolled out at the second ring. It was indeed quite dark. I stumbled to the kitchen, trying to be quiet so as not to wake Laura (our bedroom is right off the kitchen).
I started the wild rice mixture boiling in two cans of vegetable broth plus a can of water. It looked like this:
Then I got out the vegetables I had prepared the night before. I use chopped onions, celery, carrots and baby bella mushrooms.
When the rice was about HALF COOKED - and still a little sloppy, I poured it into a large bowl and added the veggies and some seasonings - this morning it was just over 1/2 a box of Bell's poultry seasoning, some black pepper, some sea salt, and 1/4 cup dried savory. I know, savory is not a typical poultry seasoning, but I like the way it works. When I stirred it all around, it looked like this:
When I took Tom out of his wrapper, I have to say I was a little disappointed. I mean all his parts were there - giblets and neck and all, but it seemed that our buzzard might have been banged around a bit in his travels from farm to slaughterhouse to grocery to our home. There were a few small tears in his skin on his wings and a large one near the big cavity (you'll see in a minute). In short, Tom looked as though he might have been mugged at some point in his travels. He was in one piece, but a little battered. Oh well, at o-dark-thirty on Thanksgiving morning, there really isn't anyone to call and complain to, so I made the best of it and kept going.
Now to stuff a turkey can be a difficult thing. Stuffing it solo, without the benefit of coffee, well, that's just hazardous. I dug out my grandmother's beef stew pan and stuck Tom in it with his neck end up and proceeded to pack as much of the sloppy wet rice and vegetable mixture as I could into that orifice. It looked like this:
Then I stitched the opening closed using a single skewer and a sewing kind of method. It looked vaguely Frankenstein-ish, but it kept the rice from falling out, so I call it good. It looked like this:
Then I turned Tom ass-over-end and found a problem. He had a tear. Not a tear in his beer, but a tear - a badass rip if the truth be known - in his skin from the opening where the stuffing goes to about the spot directly over the knee of his drumstick. The hole looked like this:
Hmmm. Tricky business. I stuffed him as much as I could in that position, but then tipped him on end again and stuck him in the stew pot so he didn't flop over. Then I stitched up the tear with another skewer like I did his backside (or neckside, actually) and it looked like this:
I finished stuffing him and then closed the skin flap opening in the normal manner, with skewers and string lacing. I forgot to get a picture of the lacing, but I bet you can figure out what it looked like.
Next, I prepared the paint for the outside of the bird. I used about a half to three-fourths cup of mayonnaise, the rest of the Bell's, some paprika, cayenne and garlic powder. It looked like this:
That's the pot with the neck and giblets in it that I simmered on the stove for hours to make stock for the gravy. Mixed together, the mayo paint looks like this:
I painted the underside of the bird with a two-inch pastry brush. It goes on like this:
Once I got the bottom painted, I flipped him over and placed him in the rack in the roasting pan. Then he looked like this:
So I painted the top, then tucked his wings underneath and he looked like this:
The stitched up end where the stuffing went in now looks like this:
Then we endured cooking-turkey smells for 7+hours. When Tom came out of the oven, the mayo had crisped up on the skin and was mostly ready to flake off. It doesn't always look good, but the result is delicious. Here's is "after" shot:
Then we served lunch/dinner buffet-style:
The back row, from left to right in a kind of jagged line are: mashed turnip, peas, carrots, white turkey meat, dark turkey meat. Next row down: rice stuffing from inside the bird, mashed potatoes, mashed buttercup squash with brown sugar, mashed sweet potatoes Last: boiled onions over there on the left. Not pictured: bread stuffing (from a box) and a bowl of the rice stuffing that was NOT in the bird (for our vegetarian), pitcher of gravy (not boat; pitcher - we don't mess around!), plus smooth and whole berry varieties of cranberry jelly.
After the bird was in the oven this morning, I went back to bed for three hours. It was utterly divine. Last night while doing prep work, I made as much of today's stuff ahead as I could. I cooked four pies: custard, (vegetarian) mince, apple, pecan. (A pumpkin pie came with the basket from the food pantry.) I cooked all my mashed stuff and put them in casseroles for reheating today: potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, turnip, and the bread stuffing. But because the refrigerator was filled with a 22.7 pound turkey, we had to stash all of that food in the trunk of Laura's car in the yard. The night air kept it cool and the car kept the raccoons out. Today when I began cooking, all I had to do was cook the carrots, peas and onions, and make the gravy. One of our guests wanted to help, so I set her to stirring the gravy, and it came out the best of any gravy I think I have ever made. It was delicious. And smooth. Not a single lump. Yay!
Now for the explanation of the rice stuffing. First, I like the rice mixture better than the wet bread variety. I don't much care for wet bread, although sometimes I will succumb to its call. I like to put the rice in half-cooked so it can continue to steam the bird from the inside, and so the bird can flavor the rice. At least that's my theory. And the best part is when I make soup from the carcass. I boil down the carcass like you do to make soup, I fish out the bones and nasty bits, pick the meat off the bones and put it into the soup, dump in the leftover vegetables, and then I put the leftover rice stuffing into the soup. Oh, man. It adds so much flavor and texture - it's wonderful! Oh, I also pour in the leftover gravy, too, so that makes the soup even more wonderful. I think I'll make soup on Friday or maybe Saturday - and freeze some for later in the winter. There is nothing like hearty turkey and wild rice soup on a snowy nasty day in February.
Dinner and pies have been consumed. Dishes and pans and more silverware than I knew we owned have been washed and stacked to dry. A turkey sandwich - toasted Canadian White bread with mayo, ground black pepper, turkey, cranberry sauce and bacon - has been eaten. The dog got bacon grease and some turkey liver in her kibble this evening. All is well here. We have virtually no money, but we have plenty of leftovers to hold us for a while, good company in the person of my aunt, who is up for the weekend from Massachusetts, and the memory of a wonderful dinner spent with friends. Oh, and we sent out a couple TV-dinners for a friend who is nursing a sick partner. With a whole plate of slices of pie. Because caregivers need pampering too. Now I am off to find my bed and hibernate until morning, when my alarm goes off at a much more reasonable time than 4.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!