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Making turkey the star

I'm a well-known turkey skeptic, but this reader's Thanksgiving menu is enough to convert me:

For the last three years, turkey has gone from the least interesting part of our meal to the star.

We get a heritage bird from a local farm – red bourbon, I think. About 10 pounds. We use a Weber Grill recipe, of all things – we brine the turkey overnight in apple juice, salt, thyme and sage. Then we roast it on the grill over applewood, breast down in seasoned chicken broth for an hour so that the breast essentially braises, then right side up for an hour. It keeps the white meat amazingly juicy and the broth makes the best gravy I have ever had in my life – rich and appley (I add some cider and mushrooms), with a slight hint of smokiness. It’s sensational.

Along with it we have the usual – stuffing (this year we are catering to a newly gluten-intolerant person – me -- with cornbread stuffing, but still rich with butter, herbs, onion, and mushrooms) mashed potatoes, loaded with butter and whole milk and the right amount of salt and pepper (why are mashed potatoes chronically underseasoned??), braised endives in broth with prosciutto, and finished it with cream; cranberry confit (pearl onions, sugar, balsamic vinegar, red wine, garlic, thyme and cranberries cooked til they pop), and candied sweets – simple and old fashioned (farmers market sweet potatoes boiled, peeled and bathed in caramelized brown sugar and butter.)

No dessert – it would be redundant (and hardly fair to the dessert.)

Can I come?

By Ezra Klein  |  November 25, 2009; 5:31 PM ET
Categories:  Food  
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We got a heritage turkey one year - a Narragansett, I think, and we got it for cheap because someone cancelled their turkey order at the last minute at the market where my partner worked. AMAZING. I would pay for a heritage bird now, and happily. We brined it in apple cider with aromatics (the Bon Appetit recipe, from the November 2005 issue, though we didn't glaze it), put butter and herbs under the skin, and roasted it on a bed of vegetables in a standard oven, basting periodically with beer.

The meat was cidery and juicy, but also had this depth of flavor that I think just came from the breed. The only thing I didn't like is that the vegetable rack meant I didn't have caramelized drippings for pan gravy.

This year I don't get to host, so I'm confining myself to two pies (pecan and sweet potato buttermilk) with barbados cream spiked with citron and bourbon. The citron is mostly because we have a buddha's hand citron sitting around and ought to use it. I may also make the mashed potatoes, for which I recommend buttermilk instead of milk (and easy on the liquid anyway - too much makes them gluey), lots of butter and salt, and a bit of olive oil at the end.

Posted by: NomadHomebody | November 25, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

whoa whoa whoa, a gentle warning that heritage birds can be very inconsistent from farm to farm. The heritage label does not delicious make.

And that recipe would be baller if you threw in some Calvados sonnn.

And, you know, excuse to buy a bottle of Calvados.

Posted by: ThomasEN | November 25, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Heritage turkeys are enough trouble to raise - and slow enough to fatten - that it's a decent first cut if you're looking for a good farm. And I've had free-range/whatever non-heritage turkeys, and the meat's different - broad-breasted whites just grow fluffier dryer meat, even when they get to run around.

Posted by: NomadHomebody | November 25, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Sweet potatoes are already plenty sweet. Added sugar makes them nearly inedible. I go savory when I make them -- several cloves of roasted garlic and a little cayenne.

Posted by: pj_camp | November 26, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

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