I recently read a blog post by Darya Pino of Summer Tomato on How to Become a Great Cook Without Being a Chef. She’s right! You don’t need to be a chef to cook really good food. But, (and this is a big BUT sticking out) you do need a few of Chef’s techniques.
When I studied at the California Culinary Academy the focus was on learning technique, not so much on recipes. The philosophy is simple: If you understand how and when to incorporate each ingredient into a dish you can create your own recipes. And it is true!! By learning HOW to cook, not only was I able to create my own dishes, it became much easier to follow a recipe. Sounds silly I know, most recipes are well research and clearly written. Yet, when I incorporated my knowledge of cooking with say – Betty Crocker – goodness, the dish took on new textures and flavors.
It is this nuanced change that I am referring to when I say Upside Down and Backwards. Because that is exactly what I did. I roasted my turkey upside down and backwards. Follow me here, this is where it starts to get good.
The challenge for every cook on Thanksgiving is to cook the turkey making sure that the legs & thighs are cooked while keeping the breast meat from drying out and becoming stringy. Americas Test Kitchen performed a definitive study last year on turkey roasting trying all of the different roasting techniques and endorsed a good, albeit cumbersome, technique for preparing your bird: they cut the turkey into pieces and roasted the legs and thighs separately from the breast. Boo, I say. That takes away all of the fun of carving for dad!
I acknowledge the reasoning behind this approach but promise you one better. Actually FOUR better!! Now Darya Pino, this is where being a chef does make a difference. Chef Suzanne and I put our heads together determined to roast a turkey whole while keeping it moist and giving it great flavor . . . and we nailed it the first time out. Here’s what we did.
BRINING: Brining is a technique where the turkey is submerged in a saturated water mixture containing salt, sometimes sugar and oftentimes spices. It is a fun technique but takes time and refrigerator space. Sometime in the future I will share a recipe with you but for now I give you this short cut: Butterball. Yep, we bought a Butterball turkey simply because it was already brined. Butterball has been in business since before I gnawed on my first turkey leg and I trust their technique. I was not wrong then and I am not wrong now. Their birds are flavorful. But alas, I have had dry Butterballs before. So . . .
HERBED BUTTER: Here is a technique I just love. Suzanne and I took a half pound of soft butter and mixed in about 6 cloves of chopped garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and a small bunch each of Sage, Marjoram and Thyme chopped fine. We then loosened the skin covering the breast of the turkey and rubbed the Herbed Butter directly on to the meat. A lot of people will season the skin leaving the meat unadorned. I use this technique nearly every time I roast fowl. It always amazes!! I suggest that you thaw the bird the night before, pat it dry, rub in the herbed butter and leave it covered with plastic in the refrigerator overnight. Then it is all ready to pop in the oven on Thursday with a little extra flavor-infusing time.
UPSIDE DOWN: I like this technique a lot especially with turkeys because of their size. Bigger is better may be the American motto but it can play hell when roasting. Three factors come in to play when roasting: Time, Temperature and Gravity. With gravity being the only constant. Since I cannot change the effect of gravity I decided to use it to my advantage. I roasted my bird Up Side Down!! The effect was simple, all of the juices collected in the breast meat instead of the back of the bird. Yum!!
TIME & TEMPERATURE: Here’s the secret sword thrust of roasting. Start your turkey at 450° F. That’s right, low and slow works for BBQ meats that are full of collagen and you want to fall apart. Starting hot and fast . . . well . . . it’s better, that’s all. Actually this is how I understand what is happening. Collagen, the ‘moisture’ in the bird, is water soluble. In a slow oven, low temperature, the water temperature in the meat rises slowly and begins to drain from the meat carrying the collagen away with it, essentially drying out the meat. The longer the meat temperature stays at or near the boiling point of water the dryer the meat will become. Starting in a hot oven will push the meat temperature passed this mark more quickly leaving less time for the collagen to dissolve into the water.
Here’s the trick behind the technique. Start your turkey, upside down in a rack, in a 450° F oven. Leave it there until the bird ‘starts talking to you.’ That is, until you can here the turkey snap, crackle and pop. About one half hour. Then turn the oven down to 325° F. About 2 hours in to the roasting process check the thigh meat with a meat thermometer. Your goal is 175 -180° F for the leg and thigh and 170° F for the breast. My 13 lb. bird took about 3 hours to cook completely through and MAN was it good.
After the turkey reaches the desired internal remove it from the oven and let stand about 20 minutes before carving. Suzanne and I had great success with this bird. Both the white meat and dark meat were moist and flavorful.
I hope that your bird turns out as great as mine did. Stay tuned this week for Pan Gravy and Side Dish recipes.
Eat Well and Smile Often!!
p.s. I get two turkeys this year ;-)
This Saturday I stuck my head out the back door into what has become a unchecked cacophony of free growth. Imagine that, Free Growth in my back yard. It is like the hippies are back . . . and they are growing things . . . I am not sure if I should call my Democrat or Republican representative. I mean there must be a law against free growth!! We just can not have things growing willy-nilly anywhere they decide to put down roots. Why, that is just un-natural!!
What? You say it is natural? Well I do not like it! I do not like it because . . . well . . . it is just messy, that is why! All the mess and silliness aside, it was good to be back in my garden. It always makes me feel like I have control over something (Ha!). The best part of it all is that I got to see one of my favorite actors again, in a fantastic movie, all in preparation for this year’s planting season. (So I tell myself.)
Now mark my words, I have it from a very reliable source that there will be Growth in the Spring. This clip is one of my all time favorite scenes with Peter Sellers in the film Being There. Heck I believe him every time I watch it. It is the one thing that gets me off of my duff each winter. This time especially, he has given me real inspiration with his refreshing and optimistic statements. So much inspiration that I attacked my back yard madness with brute force and began beating back the madness.
The back half of my yard has always been covered with grass. For the first few years of living here I diligently watered, fertilized, weeded and mowed my little portion suburbia. It was lush, it was green and it soon became the place where the dogs went first thing in the morning. After learning that lawn fertilizer might cause cancer in dog paws and watching my water bill skyrocket every summer I took a hands off approach to lawn maintenance. In the ensuing years the pretty little Kentucky Bluegrass blades gave way to the hearty survivor species . . . Crabgrass. In truth, after a good rain and a trim, it looked pretty back there. Nice enough to sit by an open fire, enjoy a bottle of Malbec with some pan-fried brussel sprouts garnished with proscuitto and figs and pan deglazed with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup.
So out it came, but not without a fight. I used a cool tool called a sod cutter to cut the grass right off of the soil. With the help of some handy men we removed all of the grass in a 50′ x 25′ section of the yard and set the cuttings aside to compost. Composting old lawn is not easy. It requires time and plastic. I am not optimistic but in for a penny . . .
After the easy job of cutting and removing the sod I tucked into soil preparation with a vengeance and a roto-tiller. As you can see by the accompanying video I was a little unprepared for just how hard the clay soil is here where I live. Now, I did wait a month after the last rain so the soil would not be soggy reasoning that it would be soft enough but not sticky. I guess I underestimated the drainage potential of my crabgrass stricken acreage. None-the-less I persevered, learned how to properly operate the roto-tiller and was able to sufficiently chew up the remaining square feet needed to place my new planting beds.
Ten yards of Clodbuster soil, 24 – 2″ x 10″ x 8′ boards and a box of galvanized 16 penny nails later my new planting beds were taking shape. With the addition of six 8′ x 8′ beds I have increased my planting are by 75%. I am not sure if I am crazy, excited or a little bit of both but I am looking forward to planting rows and rows of onions, carrots and celery. Mire poix vegetables for those of you in the know. As well as garlic, strawberries (not in the same planter), and four different types of potatoes.
There will be growth in the spring I can promise you that . . . and a little more work but I am so looking forward to the fruits of my labor. Tomatoes are my favorite of all vegetables (technically a fruit but go with me here) with at least one bed will be dedicated to those magnificent Romas, and a sprinkling of heirlooms mixed in just for fun.
Now is a fantastic time to get out in your yard or on to your porch and get your garden started. Even if all you have is a 3′ x 3′ spot just outside your door that gets great sunlight I encourage you to start a tomato plant or two. Pair that with another pot sprouting basil and you will have some amazing eats in just a few months. Go ahead I say, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Eat Well and Smile Often,
p.s. Ah basil, how I just love basil! and tomatoes, how I just love tomatoes! and mozzarella, how I just love mozzarella!
But at least my shoes are not still warm!!
With the holidays over, the sun still in hiding and my garden overgrown I am experiencing some S.A.D.-ness. Seasonal Affect Disorder. Yep, I am a bit sad.
I should not be. I have a great girlfriend, plenty of work and a full head of hair. For which I am Thankful (girlfriend), Thankful (work), Thankful (vainly so.) By all measures in life (my big 3) I am comfortable and happy and yet this last 2 weeks I have felt . . . ho – hum. I am not whining mind you but to be honest this feeling is leaving me a little uncomfortable.
Now local DJs Sarah & Vinnie on Alice Radio 97.3 here in San Francisco, recently had a show where they described the worst week of the year. The holidays are over, your credit card bill comes in the mail, it is dark outside when you leave the house and dark when you get home, and the car is covered with ice every morning. No wonder I am feeling off my mark. It is the worst time of the year!
Funny aside: When I was catering on Motion Picture sets, shortly after I graduated culinary school, I commented to one of the teamsters how depressing it was working long hours, leaving the house before sunrise and returning after dark. He replied, “That’s nothing. The worst is going to bed and waking up to find that your shoes are still warm.” Point made!
I share this because this S.A.D.-ness comes to me the same time every year and every year I have to do something big to shake it. Take for example this picture of my prized garden. Looking at this every day is not helping.
All dark and overgrown, like nobody loves it. (You may insert your own sad face emoticon here if you like.)
So! There is only one thing to do:Tear it all out and start again.
Please stay tuned for my next post coming the first week of February. I will be tearing up the garden, building new raised beds and making a fun little hanging-out-space. Until then I hope you too are beating back the S.A.D.-ness.
Eat Well and Smile Often,
p.s. You could never in a million years have convinced me that putting on cold shoes is a good thing. I guess you really do need to walk a mile . . .