A Latin-Style Thanksgiving is possible, even when you choose a turkey as the main dish! The perfect roast turkey is tender, juicy and flavorful. From selecting the right bird to letting it rest, here are a few tips to achieve all of the above:
• Pick a big bird! Especially if you’re feeding a big clan. Choose a fresh or frozen turkey in the 18-pound range (it will feed about 12 people; some of us eat more than the 1 pound per person.) If you don’t have time to brine it, buy a kosher one which has already spent some time in salt. Brine ratio: half a gallon of hot tap water, 2/3 cup sugar, a pound of salt, 8 pounds of ice, 16 cups vegetable broth.
• Brining is for the birds. Brine time: 8-12 hours, turning the bird a few times if possible. Brine temperature: 40ºF or right below.
• Some like it hot. Preheat oven to 500ºF. Yes, you want it that high to brown the fat under the turkey.
• Don’t stuff yourself—or the bird! Stuffing adds mass, so it slows the cooking process. And since the cavity is the perfect environment for bacteria, you need to be absolutely certain that the cavity is heated to 165ºF which translates to overcooking parts of the bird. If you really love stuffing (like I do), wait until the bird is out of the oven, add some of the pan drippings to the stuffing, and bake it in a dish. (That’s what I do.)
• Use fresh herbs. Loosely pack your bird with thyme, sage and rosemary. Add 1 onion, 1 celery stack and 2 carrots—all roughly chopped.
• Give your bird a full-butter-massage. It is too icky for you, use disposable gloves.
• Brown is beautiful. Since the first segment of cooking the bird is all about browning it, set your timer to half an hour. If it doesn’t do it, leave it for another 10 minutes.
• Watch the heat. Reduce the oven to 350ºF. Set your probe thermometer to go off at 161ºF. (Yes, we’ve learned that the the temperature to kill salmonella is 165ºF, but the temperature will continue to rise inside the bird for several minutes after you take it out of the oven.)
• Do NOT open the oven door! If you don’t open the oven door, an 18-pound bird will be done in 2 to 21/2 hours after you have reduced the temperature. That means no basting! Since the skin is designed to keep it all away from the bird, basting doesn’t do anything else but prolong the cooking time.
• Give your bird a rest! Once you hit the 161ºF mark, cover the bird with aluminum foil and let it rest for half an hour. Do not skip this step. Yes, leave him alone or you will lose forever all those juices you have worked so hard for.
• Hold the salt please! Bear in mind that if you roasted a brined bird, your gravy might be too salty. Yet you can get around it by mixing the drippings with 1 cup of water, 1 cup low-salt chicken broth and a cornstarch slurry. Besides, the bird will be so tender and delicious that you won’t need any gravy. However, some fresh cranberry sauce or cranberry-beet relish would make an excellent accompaniment.
WALNUT-SAGE BREAD Super easy to make ahead. This quick, savory bread is great with dinner or for sandwiches the day after. (Serves 10)
Ingredients 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour 2 tsp. sea salt 2 tsp. yeast 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 1/4 cups warm water (110ºF) 1 cup walnuts, chopped 1/3 cup fresh sage, finely chopped 1/3 cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped (optional)
Directions Preheat oven to 400ºF.
In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients. Whisk in olive oil and water and add to the dry mixture. Mix until dough comes together. Add walnuts and sage. Knead in mixer or by hand for 7-9 minutes until sticky. If it is too wet, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time.
Place dough on floured surface. Shape it into a log. Cover with a wet towel and let rest for about 30 minutes.
Roll dough into a rectangle; shape again into a log and place in an oiled 9×5-inch bread pan. Cover again with towel or plastic wrap and let rest for an hour—or until doubled.
Place bread on middle rack. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the temperature inside (the bread) reaches 200ºF.
Let it cool completely on a rack before slicing or freezing.
*To create an outstanding crust, you need some steam. For that, place a baking pan with ice cubes in the lowest oven rack.
FROSTED GRAPES According to an old Roman tradition, eating grapes at the end of a festive meal seals your new year with abundance and prosperity. Based on that, my family would always serve fresh grapes with Gruyere or Emmentaler cheese at the end of any holiday feast.
The following recipe was inspired by that tradition. Serve it with dessert wine, Moscato, champagne or Ouzo. (Serves 20)
Ingredients 4 large egg whites 20 small clusters seedless grapes, washed, dry, at room temperature Granulated sugar
Directions Prepare a large rack on a sheet of foil.
In a clean, dry, medium bowl whisk whites until frothy. Dip grapes into whites to coat. Place grapes on rack. Sift sugar over grapes, turning to coat all sides. Place grapes on rack and turn to coat all sides. Let grapes stand until dry.