Aloha Living Foods Devotees!
All of a sudden that time of the year is bursting onto the scene, as the coolness of the north winds descend on our Island Paradise and necessitate another blanket or two. It was a chilly 62˚ this morning- burrrr….
Pondering the traditional, along with the unusual adaptations of holiday offerings and celebrations, let’s start with the center piece – the protein du jour – our turkey for the main meal. We, at Living Foods, are offering the Diestel Turkey this year. This is the best, tastiest, moistest and organically raised bird available. And never frozen! Available in two sizes, 10-12 lbs. and 14-16 lbs. The quality of the bird is most of the game!
There are many approaches to getting the turkey on the table, all of which have their particular merits and drawbacks:
The traditional and most common turkey preparation is oven roasting. With stuffing in its cavity and all trussed up and seasoned, this seems to be the most user friendly approach while being handsomely presentable. Into the oven, timely basted with its own juices, it allows for a near perfect bird. Smaller turkeys are quicker to roast to completion, whereas the larger ones take longer and are subject to drying out as the time required to finish dries out the white meat of the bird. Look in the bottom of the pan, all that juice and taste, well that goes for gravy, you say. But how to put that lost taste and moisture back into the turkey??? Hmmmm. Some roast the bird on its breasts, with breasts on the bottom forcing those juices into the driest part of the bird. It’s a worth a look anyway.
Roasting in Clay
This age old method of baking chicken, or other small birds, involves an enclosure of ceramic clay. Chinese in origin, the bird is first stuffed, trussed, carefully pan-seared if possible in hot oil to help lock in the natural flavors and valuable juice and browned to make it presentable. It’s then seasoned and covered in parchment and encased in a covering of potters clay, whether it’s low fire terra cotta or a higher clay body such as stoneware. Set it into a pan to catch the inevitable leaking of juices. Roast it off and test the internal temperature, as with all meats with a thermometer, probed into the depths of the turkey, and voila! It actually steams and most of those tasty juices circulate right back into the bird. Depending on the efforts you put into the decoration of the clay, when presented at the table, and ceremoniously and carefully opened, it is quite the show! This is my favorite preparation.
In 1982, Hurricane Iwa saw the local advent of the grill as the popular and storm induced cooking method for day-to-day cooking, as we had no power to cook with. Since the hurricane occurred around Thanksgiving, the grill came into play with much success. It seared and cooked the meat. With the lid closed, and in time, it produced a very tasty and succulent product indeed. Picking up flavor nuances from the wood of choice, this, if watched and tended to, seems to be a step up from oven roasting. With the ability to save the juices by setting it into a pan to capture those essences, this might be the method for you if you have access to forgiving and favorable weather and a grill.
Taking a departure from common turkey cooking methods, steaming is a bit awkward for most cooks to set up, and it requires care and space to do properly. Fashioning an enclosure large enough to cover the bird is problematic for most home cooks, and if done on the stoves’ burner, takes up valuable space for other things. I would first sear the bird, stuff and season, and set the bird in a pan to catch those precious juices, and then into the pan with whatever liquid used to create the steam. Cover tightly with a lid or parchment and foil, adjust the heat and let the steam do the work. Feel free to season the water with whatever fancies you. This is where you can make a vast difference in the taste to your turkey, and tie it in or contrast it to the other dishes you are making, to accompany the bird at the table.
Remember that steaming is quick and hot. Take great care when handling, as steam heat is wickedly dangerous.
Most often cooks do not have the equipment, or ability to accomplish this type of cooking. Without the experience in frying, large cuts of meat should understandably be avoided. It bubbles up with threatening, overflowing hisses and pops as it starts.
Common sense has it that the dangers outweigh the advantages. Oily? Messy? Acceptable method to your guests? These issues rightfully should be considered. But, it has its merits. It quickly sears the entire bird so those juices stay put, inside the meat where it does the most good. I’m told it rises way above the results of the other methods and is the superior bird. But, where’s the gravy, you may ask? That’s a problem and you can’t stuff the bird, either. And as for the safety and the inherent mess to deal with, I’d reserve this for the professionals. Worth ordering, if you see someone doing it.
According to the University of Illinois thawing, the bird safely requires a modicum of common sense.
- Thaw the turkey in its original wrap on a tray placed in the bottom section of the refrigerator.
- Allow about 24 hours of defrost time for every 5 pounds of turkey. Example: a 20-pound turkey will take 4 to 5 days to thaw.
- Do not thaw on the counter. Thawing at room temperature increases the risk of bacteria growth.
- At room temperature, bacteria on the turkey can grow rapidly when the outside portion of the bird begins to thaw. These bacteria can multiply to dangerously high levels producing toxins that cooking may not destroy.
Use a meat thermometer inserted into the innermost part of the thigh. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
See you at Living Foods! — Chef Michael Simpson