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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Monday, February 27, 2012

Roast Turkey

Living in a 2 person household doesn’t usually hold me back much in terms of my cooking. To be brutally and embarrassingly honest, most recipes for 4 serve the two of us just fine, with leftovers for my lunch the next day – maybe.
So instead of doing math, I often just make a full box of pasta or an 8 person serving of stew and freeze or reuse the leftovers somehow.  I don’t mind eating the same thing twice in a row.
But sometimes you make one meal and it serves you for a whole week!  That’s what happens when I cook a turkey.

I do this every couple of months or so. I see a good deal on turkey and cook one up for just the two of us. Sometimes I can get one that’s just the size of a large chicken, but this time it was about 11 pounds and it literally fed us for a week!

I really like turkey and I like that it is easy, flavourful and healthy. But the caveat is that the side dishes I like with turkey are so bad for you, so the opposite of what is healthy to eat, that it ends up cancelling out the healthy lean protein. I might as well be eating brisket. 

I come by this honestly. I come from a family that takes Thanksgiving (and Christmas) very seriously. I’m 3rd generation Canadian with distant roots in Scotland and Ireland, but my eldest aunt married a Ukrainian man over 40 years ago and brought his food traditions into our family. I love having an inherited food tradition, even if it has nothing to do with my actual heritage. At Thanksgiving we have turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, rolls... and pierogies, cabbage rolls and meat sticks (fried pork skewers which I hope to explain another time).

So all this turkey and starch makes for a mighty white plate at Thanksgiving (and Christmas). Honestly, I can take or leave mashed potatoes, but turkey without pierogies seems like sacrilege to me. And I’m finally starting to warm up to gravy after years of avoiding it. And the rolls of choice at Thanksgiving (and Christmas) (and my turkey dinners) are brown-n-serve white gluten bombs that I would normally avoid like the plague but taste so good with turkey dinner and even better as turkey sandwich lunch.

All this is a very long-winded introduction and explanation to why I love roasting a turkey. I’ve tried many, many different methods – brining, low & slow, high heat roasting, and I always love the results.  Plus, turkey can be had so cheaply most of the time and makes so much, it is easy to experiment.  The only thing I haven’t tried is a heritage or organic bird, which I’m sure would be tasty, but if I’m spending $60 to $120 for a turkey instead of $8 to $18, I’ll probably be a little less relaxed about the prep and serving and have more than one guest at the table. 

This roast turkey dinner was high heat roasting. My 11lb turkey roasted for 2 hours at 450 degrees and rested for 30 minutes while I made the gravy, potatoes and Brussels sprouts. It didn’t take much more prep than a small roast beef or a roast chicken. The difference is, I got lunch and dinner for a week out of the leftovers.

The only thing that does take some planning is thawing the turkey. If you can thaw it in the fridge for 4 to 6 days, that’s ideal. I decided to do this somewhat last minute so had to put the turkey in a cold water bath to thaw for several hours. After that, I just rinsed the turkey and removed the innards. Honestly I don’t know what comes in the little sack (kidney & liver?) and I usually just throw it out, but I do use the neck.

Once the turkey is rinsed, put it on a rack in a large roasting pan. With this method, limited seasoning seems to be the trend. 

I added salt and pepper and some dry sage and thyme and no oil. I did put a cup of water into the bottom of the pan and toss the neck in as well. You can throw a cut onion or lemon inside the turkey but I used nothing this time. 

If I don’t have any leftover turkey stock in the freezer to make gravy, I might use the neck, an onion, carrot and celery stalk to boil a quick turkey stock on the stove while the turkey roasts. But this time I had lots of stock so I just threw the neck into the roasting pan to flavour the drippings.

To my husband’s eternal chagrin I am an enemy of stuffing and dressing. I think wet bread is disgusting. So he only gets stuffing at Thanksgiving (and Christmas) and I don’t have to deal with the hassle. That lets me rest and relax while the turkey roasts and just prep the potatoes and veggies to start cooking once the turkey comes out of the oven.

This time I boiled about 6 medium, peeled, Yukon gold potatoes and sliced Brussels sprouts, tossing them with oil, garlic powder and salt and pepper.

For the gravy I warmed turkey stock, then added it with a bit of wine to the pan drippings. I strained it and then added a flour & water slurry to thicken it then let it boil for 20 minutes or so to thicken up.

Meanwhile I drained the potatoes and added them back to the heat to dry out, then poured in warm milk and butter and salt and pepper into the pot and had my husband use a hand beater to whip the potatoes.

The turkey was sitting under foil all this time. Once the potatoes were ready and the gravy was done, I started to carve it with an electric knife that is a miracle for carving beef and poultry into nice thin slices. I sliced the breast but kinda tore the thighs apart and gave us each a little white and dark meat, potatoes, gravy and Brussels sprouts.

Leftover creations:
Meal two – turkey, pierogies, gravy, rolls, broccoli
Meal  three – lunchtime turkey sandwiches
Meal four – turkey pot pie
Meal five – turkey soup

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