Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Gameplan - High Roast Butterflied Turkey with Sausage Dressing and a Pumpkin Pie

Day 2 can be seen here. Results here.

As I've mentioned previously, this will be my third time cooking a turkey for the holidays. Since Anna's father will be the only other person who eats meat in attendance, it's not super high pressure, but I take it pretty seriously nonetheless because... why not? Anyway, in the past I've stuck to turkey, dressing and gravy so I've not had the insanity of trying to have twenty different things all ready at the same time. Most of the work with the turkey happens Wednesday night, so I can just stroll into the kitchen on Thursday, pop the turkey in for a couple hours and relax and watch football or whatever while Anna and her mother run around and do all the hard stuff. This holiday, however, I'm mixing up my routine by trying to make a decidedly non vegan pumpkin pie since it's one of my favorites... and I don't think Anna and her family care much for the vegan version, so why not try to make the regular one? The problem being I have to make that on Wednesday as well, and I don't want to be up until 3 in the morning waiting for a pie to finish... that sort of takes away from the gloating aspect if I'm all bleary eyed and yawning the next day.

There are a few non gloating reasons to do most of the work ahead of time. The main one is obvious... less stress. As an inexperienced cook, my biggest problem is freaking out because I have too many things going on at once, which is big part of why I'm writing up a detailed plan ahead of time. I'll print this out and have it near me as I cook, to (hopefully) save me time and frustration from trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do next. In addition, on the culinary side, letting the turkey air dry over night helps you get a super crisp skin... which is one of the big reasons of doing a "high roast". The dressing also benefits from resting several hours so the flavors blend and the dried cornbread absorbs the liquids... or so they tell me.

We'll leave Boston sometime after lunch, with a 4-5 hour drive and a quick bite when we arrive (and using past history to guesstimate) I should be ready to start cooking by 6 pm. The recipes here are all adapted from Cook's Illustrated, the turkey, dressing, and gravy from The New Best Recipe and the pumpkin pie from the November & December 2008 issue. Note that the turkey recipe is sightly different from the one you can get online if you join their website(they do an 8 hour brine and they don't have the associated gravy recipe from what I can tell).

Wednesday November 26th, 2008
6:00 pm - Butterfly the Turkey
The technique is identical to what I did with the High Roast Chicken (and there is a video link in that post to an America's Test Kitchen video with a chicken). The main difference being that a turkey is much much harder to butterfly than a chicken. I use a cleaver, but theoretically you could do it with a chef's knife. There will be hacking and sawing... which reminds me I should get some disposable rubber gloves so I don't cut my hands on turkey bones like I do every year. You also will have to beat on the breastbone a bit... Cook's says to put plastic wrap over it and beat it with a rolling pin... seriously! Just pushing with the palm of your hand isn't going to work like it does with a chicken.

So why go through all this? Mainly it allows you to cook at a higher temperature, and deals with the problem of the turkey's vaulted bone structure which tends to overcook your breast meat and/or under cook the dark meat... other recipes call for flipping the turkey over in the middle and things like that. Butterflying is a lot like just cutting the turkey into pieces, but with a much prettier presentation that you kind of need for a holiday feast. In addition, in a recent article Harold McGee's main argument against brining was that the pan drippings were too salty to make a good gravy. I hadn't heard that before, but since I don't brine the backbone, neck, and tailpiece that are used in the gravy, maybe that's why I've not noticed a problem. But, regardless, if one of your concerns was overly salty gravy that shouldn't be a issue here... though the turkey juices do end up flavoring the dressing/stuffing, so if you are sensitive to the taste of salt, this might not be the methodology for you.

There are two things you need that you won't see on the ingredient list and are not super common in every kitchen... a 16 x 12 inch disposable aluminum roasting pan and a slotted broiler pan top. If you don't have a broiler pan, you can supposedly use a wire rack that's big enough to span the aluminum pan. Cover the rack with heavy duty foil, spray with cooking spray, and cut some slits with a paring knife for fat drainage.

6:30 pm
Put the turkey(12-14 pounds) in a big stockpot with 1 cup table salt and 1 cup sugar dissolved in about 2 gallons of water for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Now time to make the cornbread for the dressing.


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  1. Oven to 375 degrees, rack to middle. Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish.
  2. Beat eggs(3) in a medium bowl. Whisk in 1 cup buttermilk and 1 cup milk.
  3. In a separate, large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, et al). Make a well and pour in the egg/milk mixture. Stir together until just combined and add in the melted butter
  4. Put into the oven until top is golden brown and edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan: 30-40 minutes.
  5. Put pan on a wire baking dish to let cool for an hour.
While the cornbread is baking, I will need to start chopping up turkey parts and aromatics to roast for the gravy. All of the chopping here can be pretty rough.

Turkey Gravy
  • giblets, neck, tailpiece, and backbone cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 celery rib, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 small onions, chopped coarse
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Put turkey parts, carrot, celery, onions, and garlic in a large flameproof roasting pan (you're going to have to put it on top of burners, so nice heavy metal one is good). In the past I've used a broiler pan and kept the heat down to medium when I put it on the burner, while only using half the broth to scrape up the browned bits (the rest goes in when you transfer it to a saucepan), but this year I might bring up my Le Creuset dutch oven since I know for sure that can take 450 plus work on a burner. A possible problem with that would be insufficient surface area for browning, but the pot is pretty big and that's not a ton of stuff... but that's something for me to consider between now and Wednesday. Regardless, spray everything in the pan lightly with cooking spray and toss to combine. Now you just wait until the cornbread comes out of the oven.

7:10 pm - Roast the turkey parts and aromatics and start the pie crust
Move the oven temperature up from 375 to 450. Once it's preheated, put your roasting pan in the oven for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. You want everything to be very well browned. Now we move on to make the pie crust (though I may wimp out of this and buy one of Pillsbury roll out ones).

Pumpkin Pie Crust
  • 1 1/4 cups(6.25 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening cut into 2 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cold vodka
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  1. Process 3/4 cup flour, salt, and sugar until combined (2 1 second pulses). Add butter and shortening and process for about 10 seconds: homogeneous dough should just start to collect in uneven clumps. According to the magazine it's supposed to look like cottage cheese with small pieces of butter still remaining, but no un-coated flour. Interesting. Scrape the dough down with a spatula so it's evenly around the blade. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse 4 to 6 times until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle water and vodka over mixture. With spatula fold to mix, pressing down on dough until it is "slightly tacky and sticks together". Flatten dough into 4 inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days. The pie will be the last thing in the oven, so that should not be a problem.
8:00 PM - Back to the gravy
  • roasted turkey parts and aromatics from above
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups water
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  1. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a burner at high heat(see above if you are using a non flameproof broiler pan). Add chicken broth and bring to a boil, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits.
  2. Transfer to large saucepan. Add wine, water, and thyme and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce it to a simmer and take note of how high it comes up in the pan, because you want it to reduce by half... which should take about 1.5 hours. So once you've got that simmering happily, it's on to the cornbread dressing.
8:15 PM - Dry out the cornbread, and finish the sausage dressing
Turn the oven down to 250 (you might want to turn it off and open it up depending on whether your oven tells you when it's at the right temperature) and put racks at the upper middle and lower middle position. While the oven is cooling down, break your cornbread (which should be cool by now) into 1 inch pieces (include the crumbs) and put them onto even layers on two rimmed baking sheets. It'll take 50-60 minutes for the crumbs to dry out.

Now to prep the other ingredients for the dressing, and to cook the sausage.

Sausage Dressing

  • dried out cornbread from above
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 large eggs lightly beate
  • 12 oz pork sausage crumbled
  • 3 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons mince fresh sage leaves
  • 3 medium garlic cloves mined or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  1. While the bread is drying out in the oven, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot (1 1/2 minutes). Add the sausage and cook stirring occasionally until it loses its raw color (5-7 minutes). Transfer the sausage with a slotted spoon (leaving the fat in the pan hopefully) to a medium bowl. Cook about half of the celery and onions in the sausage fat, stirring occasionally, until softened and then transfer to the bowl with the cooked sausage. Add the butter into the skillet, and once the foaming subsides, add the rest of the onions and celery and saute until softened, another 5 minutes with some occasional stirring. Stir in the thyme, sage, and garlic and cook until fragrant(30 seconds) and then add in the salt and pepper. Add that all into the bowl with the already cooked sausage, celery, and onion and set aside until the bread is dried out.
  2. Once the bread is dried out, put it in a large bowl. Whisk together the stock, half and half, and eggs in separate medium bowl. Poor it over the bread, and toss very gently, trying not break up the bread into smaller pieces. Add in the sausage and onion mixture, and once again stir very gently to combine.
  3. Spray the bottom of your 16 by 12 disposable aluminum pan with cooking spray and pour the dressing mixture into an even layer. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate it until you're need it again.

9:30 PM - Finish with the gravy for the evening, and back to the pie
The gravy reduction will be the least predictable and variable thing you cook, as it depends quite a bit on how hard you simmer it... but luckily you'll be working near the stove while it's reducing, so it's easy to keep an eye on. For the purposes of this writeup, I'll assume it finishes "on time" in an hour and a half... but even in only two tries I think I've had one take 2 hours and the other take an hour and fifteen minutes to reduce by half... though they were two vastly different stoves, so that might have been a big part of it. Regardless, all you do now is strain it to get the big pieces out and pour it into a measuring cup or container. Let it cool down to room temperature and then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the next day when you cook the turkey. The recipe only calls for an hour to get the fat to congeal, but to me, it makes more sense to refrigerate overnight and finish it with the roux as the turkey rests.

Pumpkin Pie Filling
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 15oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup drained candied yams from 15oz can
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  1. Change the oven temp up to 400 after moving a rack to the lowest position. Remove dough from the fridge and lay it out on a "generously floured"(up to 1/4 cup) work surface. Apparently you want to roll it until it's a 12 inch circle that's an 1/8 of an inch think. I think I'll end up being glad Anna with her baking experience is around to guide me on this.
  2. Roll the dough around the rolling pin, loosely, and transfer to a pie plate... leaving at least an inch around each edge. You're supposed to ease it in by lifting the dough edge with one hand and pressing it into the plate with the other. Then refrigerate it for 15 minutes.
  3. Trim overhang to 1/2 an inch beyond lip of plate. Fold overhang under itself so that it's flush with the edge of the plate... then "flute" it with your thumb and forefinger. Then it goes back into the 'fridge for another 15 minutes to firm up some more.
  4. Line crust with foil and then put in a handful of loose change or some weights. Bake on a rimmed backing sheet for 15 minutes, remove weights and foil, rotate 180 degrees, and bake 5-10 minutes more until crust is golden brown and crisp.
  5. While the crust is baking, it's time to work on the filling. Whisk the cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  6. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, 5-7 minutes. (Does that direction mean it should take 5-7 minutes to get it to a simmer? I think so from watching the video on their website, but am not 100%certain). Simmer for another 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly and smashing the yams with a spoon until it is "thick and shiny".
  7. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream/milk mixture until fully incorporated. Strain it through a find mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing with a spoon or ladle on the solids. Re-whisk it and pour into the warm pre-baked pie shell. Return the shell to the oven on the cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 and bake for another 20-35 minutes when an instant read thermometer put in the center registers 175 degrees. The video revealed that the center will be jiggly and seem underdone, but that it will finish cooking as it cools to room temperature. Interesting.
The recipe says to let it cool for 2-3 hours, but assuming Anna thinks it will be O.K., I plan on just letting it sit out overnight.

11:15 PM - Prep the turkey for roasting
The only thing left to do for the night's cooking is to take the turkey out of the brine and truss it up. If I do end up taking the turkey out of the brine around this time it will be a slightly longer brine than the recipe suggests... near 5 hours instead of 4, but that's about how long I've left it in before and I've not had a problem with saltiness. As I mentioned in the beginning, the original magazine article had it as an 8 hour brine with the same concentrations... but if you're worried about it getting too salty, just take it out whenever your 4 hours is up (ideally, when the pie crust is in the fridge setting). Anyway, on with the recipe...

  1. Take the foil covered aluminum roasting pan containing the dressing out of the refrigerator, and place your slotted broiler pan top on top. Spray the top with cooking spray and place it all on top of a rimmed cookie sheet. 
  2. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse thoroughly, inside and out, so there is no salt or sugar residue left. Place on top of the broiler pan top and pat dry with paper towels. Fold the wings back and underneath so it's all pretty like, and tie the legs together to help protect the breast meat. Refrigerate the bird and dressing together until you're ready to cook them (from 8 to 24 hours). 
And that's it for Wednesday night's cooking! Assuming everything goes at about the right speed (not bloody likely) I hope to be ready for bed by midnight. Whew!

I'll follow up tomorrow with a short post about cooking the actual turkey and finishing the gravy up, but this post seems long enough as it is!

See here for Day 2.

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