Halloween over, the flurry of planning for Thanksgiving begins.
In our family where the Thanksgiving meal is always "pot luck", we usually end up with a mish-mash of foods from different countries and cultures. One sister is vegetarian....so there's always Tofurkey and vegetarian side dishes on the menu. Another loves to experiment....so there's always the mysterious dish or two with the aroma of exotic spices.
In contrast (perhaps from watching too many "Leave it to Beaver" re-runs while they were growing up), the kids are strictly 50's era traditional when it comes to the Thanksgiving meal. They bring Fruit Ambrosia (sigh, made with mini marshmallows and canned fruit), Green Bean Casserole (made with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, of course), Stouffer's stuffing, and insist on a plain Pumpkin Pie (my French style, light as a feather Pumpkin Praline Mousse Charlotte Pie bombed last year).
On top of all that, we have the annual duelling Turkeys. I love a kosher deli style turkey with a moist, juicy breast that you can slice perfectly. My sister Lily does a flavourful Chinese style turkey that's cooked until the meat falls from the bones.
After years of experimenting, I finally found the perfect Turkey recipe in "The New Best Recipe" cookbook (from Cook's Illustrated Magazine). The secret, it turns out, is brining the turkey before roasting. They recommend "soaking" the turkey for 4 hours in a briny solution consisting of 2 cups of table salt dissolved in 2 gallons of cold water. Additionally, after rinsing the turkey, it should be "air dried" in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or overnight before roasting....a process which produces a nice, crispy skin. The recipe can be found at the Cook's Magazine website which, unfortunately, requires membership to view (but they're offering a free 14 day trial membership). I've found, however, that once you brine it, you can follow any recipe for roasting turkey...it'll just taste better.
I remember one year when my Dad tried to make a Peking Turkey. He lassoed the poor, uncooked turkey and hung it from the roof out in the backyard for a couple of days to air dry before deep frying it, Peking Duck style. Not many of us dared to try the turkey that year. Lily's Chinese Roast Turkey, however, is a big hit every year....even with the American traditional kids. She finally agreed to share her secret recipe....
Lily's Chinese Style Roast Turkey:
1. Rinse turkey in cold water, then pat dry with paper towels.
2. Place turkey in a large bowl, then rub cooking sherry (about 1/4 cup), salt and pepper (to taste), chopped garlic (about 3 cloves, to taste) and dark soy sauce (approximately 1 cup, substitute light if you have trouble finding the dark soy) all over the turkey.
3. Place in refrigerator to marinate for 2-4 hours, turning often to make sure all sides are marinated.
4. Roast at 450 degrees for 1 hour (depending on size...leave in for up to 2 hours if you're cooking a large turkey), basting every 20 minutes.
5. Turn heat down to 250 degrees and roast for an additional 5-6 hours, breast down and covered with tinfoil. Baste every hour while roasting.
6. In the last 45 min, uncover, and turn over to brown the breast, continuing the basting.
The long cooking time in a slow oven and the basting creates the very juicy, very tasty, fall off the bone meat. My only complaint is that you can't carve it into nice, neat slices of breast meat as you can a traditionally roasted turkey.
She also makes a Sticky Rice (a short grained rice also known as sweet, or glutinous rice) "stuffing" that's especially good with the turkey. Here's a recipe from Epicurious.com. Lily always adds cooked chestnuts (the ones with the hard brown shells, not water chestnuts) to the mix as well, for a more festive taste. You can make the rice ahead of time, and stuff it in the turkey before roasting, or make it while the turkey is roasting to serve as a side dish.
Which turkey recipe wins the duel?
Hmmm....no-one in the family's dared to vote.
This past year has been a difficult one for many in our country, in our world. The Thanksgiving ritual reminds us that no matter what, there is much to give thanks for in our lives. From its Pilgrim roots, it is a celebration of a spirit we all share as humans; the spirit that keeps us struggling for that which is right and that which is good. Together, we shall overcome.
A Happy Thanksgiving to all....from our family to yours.