Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to make the perfect feast

After availing my friends and colleagues with the tales of my wonderful turkey and stuffing this past Sunday for Easter, I received numerous requests for the recipes I used.  I will outline below the recipes I based my process on and any important modifications I used.  You follow this exactly and I promise you you'll receive accolades and gratitude at your next holiday feast.

1.  Stuffing Bread
This stuffing is a long process.  Mostly because for it to be over the top brilliant, you need homemade bread and, specifically, you need Wild Rice and Onion Bread by Peter Reinhart.  Just make it in loaf pans.  Don't worry about trying freestanding.  Once the recipe is complete and the bread has cooled to a comfortable temperature, cut it into small cubes.  Spread the cubes sparsely over a counter top.  Leave them out overnight so they really dry out and become a bit crusty.  The texture in the final stuffing is better.  Without drying them they almost become a bit soggy.

Wild Rice and Onion Bread from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day

6 cups (27 oz / 765 g) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons (0.6 oz / 17 g) salt, or 3 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons (0.66 oz / 19 g) instant yeast
1 cup (6 oz / 170 g) cooked wild rice or another cooked grain
1/4 cup (2 oz / 56.5 g) brown sugar
11/2 cups (12 oz / 340 g) lukewarm water (about 95°F or 35°C)
1/2 cup (4 oz / 113 g) lukewarm buttermilk or any other milk (about 95°F or 35°C)
1/4 cup (1 oz / 28.5 g) minced or chopped dried onions, or 2 cups (8 oz / 227 g) diced fresh onion (about 1 large onion)
1 egg white, for egg wash (optional)
1 tablespoon water, for egg wash (optional)


Do Ahead
Combine all of the ingredients, except the egg wash, in a mixing bowl. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute. If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for 1 minute. The dough should be sticky, coarse, and shaggy. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. 
Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, or continue mixing by hand, for 4 minutes, adjusting with flour or water as needed to keep the dough ball together. The dough should be soft, supple, and slightly sticky. 
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for 2 to 3 minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will still be soft and slightly sticky but will hold together to form a soft, supple ball. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and immediately refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days. (If you plan to bake the dough in batches over different days, you can portion the dough and place it into two or more oiled bowls at this stage.)
On Baking Day
Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you plan to bake. Shape the dough into one or more sandwich loaves (see page 23), using 28 ounces (794 g) of dough for 4 1/2 by 8-inch loaf pans and 36 ounces (1.02 kg) of dough for 5 by 9-inch pans; into freestanding loaves of any size, which you can shape as b√Ętards (see page 21), baguettes (see page 22), or boules (see page 20); or into rolls (see page 25), using 2 ounces (56.5 g) of dough per roll. When shaping, use only as much flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. For sandwich loaves, proof the dough in greased loaf pans. For freestanding loaves and rolls, line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat and proof the dough on the pan. 
Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until increased to about 1 1/2 times its original size. In loaf pans, the dough should dome at least 1 inch above the rim. If you’d like to make the rolls more shiny, whisk the egg white and water together, brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash (see page 135) just before they’re ready to bake.  
About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C), or 300°F (149°C) for a convection oven. 
Bake the loaves for 10 to 15 minutes, then rotate the pan; rotate rolls after 8 minutes. The total baking time is 45 to 55 minutes for loaves, and only 20 to 25 minutes for rolls. The bread is done when it has a rich golden color, the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and the internal temperature is above 185°F (85°C) in the center. 
Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes for rolls or 1 hour for loaves before slicing.
2.  Stuffing
My Favorite Bread Stuffing
By Mark Bittman from the How to Cook Everything iPad app
230 g butter
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped pecans (my modification; original calls for pine nuts or walnuts; pecans are delightful)
1 loaf of wild rice and onion bread cut into cubes and dried
1 tablespoon minced sage leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

(don’t skimp on the parsley and sage; find and buy fresh; DON’T use dried)
One recipe here is good for stuffing a fairly large turkey, around 17 lbs.  For anything over 10 people, cook one recipe inside the bird and one recipe in a Pyrex dish in the oven.

  1. Put the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it softens, about 5 minutes.  Add the nuts and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they begin to brown, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the bread cubes and the herb and toss to mix.  Turn the heat down to low.  Add the salt, pepper, and green onion.  Toss again, taste, and adjust the seasoning.  Add the parsley and stir.  Turn off the heat.
  3. Pack into the bird and roast with it according to roasting recipe for particular bird.  Can also bake in an ovenproof glass or enamel baking dish for about 45 minutes at 350-400F.
3.  The Bird

From her outstanding book Feast.

Ingredients
For the turkey:
10 pints 11 fluid ounces (6 liters) water
4 1/4-ounces (125 grams) table salt
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
4 cloves
2 tablespoons allspice berries
4 star anise
2 tablespoons white mustard seeds
7 ounces (200 grams) caster sugar
2 onions, quartered
1 (3-inch) piece ginger, cut into 6 slices
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons clear honey
Handful fresh parsley leaves, optional (only if you've got some parsley hanging around)
1 orange, quartered
1 (9 to 11 1/4-pound) (4 to 5-kg) turkey
For the basting glaze:
2 3/4 ounces (75 grams) butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
(DO NOT skimp on any of the seasonings.  FIND THEM in your grocery store.  Don't substitute.  All I ever substitute is I just use regular granulated sugar and instead of star anise I use about 2 teaspoons of anise seed.
Use only the highest quality maple syrup.  Aunt Jemima is NOT maple syrup.)

Place the water into your largest cooking pot or bucket/plastic bin and add all the turkey ingredients, stirring to dissolve the salt, sugar, syrup and honey. (Squeeze the juice of the orange quarters into the brine before you chuck in the pieces.)

Untie and remove any string or trussing attached to the turkey, shake it free and add it to the liquid. Add more water if the turkey is not completely submerged. Keep the mixture in a cold place, even outside overnight or for up 1 or 2 days (DO 2 DAYS) before you cook it, remembering to take it out of its liquid (and wiping it dry with kitchen-towel) a good 40 or 50 minutes before it has to go into the oven. Turkeys - indeed this is the case for all meat - should be at room temperature before being put in the preheated oven. If you're at all concerned - the cold water in the brine will really chill this bird - then just cook the turkey for longer than its actual weight requires. (IF YOUR BIRD IS BIG, I RECOMMEND TAKING IT OUT IMMEDIATELY UPON WAKING IN THE MORNING)

For the basting glaze:
Place the butter and syrup into a saucepan and cook over a low heat, while stirring, until the ingredients have melted and combined.

Brush the turkey with the glaze before roasting, and baste periodically throughout the roasting time.

(This is where I stepped in and added my own personal flare that put this turkey over the top.  Obviously, stuff the bird with the delicious stuffing above.  Then put your hands under the skin above the breast and break the tissue connecting the skin to the meat so that you open up a space under the skin.  Put 1 stick of garlic butter under the skin over each breast.  Yes, 1 stick per breast.  Make sure it is at room temperature.  Should be easily squishable.  Squish it under the skin and massage it in well so it is spread out and completely covering the space under the skin.  Then take a package of bacon.  Good stuff.  Not crap like turkey bacon.  The fattier the better.  Lay 1 strip over the top of the turkey and continue laying strips side by side until the top portion of the turkey is covered.  I put one layer going left to right and one layer pointing front to back.  Ended up using all but 6 strips of bacon in the package.  Then toss that puppy in the oven.  I leave mine uncovered until the final high temperature burst at the end.  I uncover it at that point to give it a final browning.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cook the turkey for 30 minutes at this relatively high temperature, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and continue cooking, turning the oven back up to 425 degrees F for the final15 minutes or so if you want to give a browning boost to the skin. For a 9 to 11-pound turkey, allow 2 1/2 to 3-hours in total. But remember that ovens vary enormously, so just check by piercing the flesh between leg and body with a small sharp knife: when the juices run clear, the turkey is cooked.

Just as it's crucial to let the turkey come to room temperature before it goes in to the oven, so it's important to let it stand out of the oven for a good 20 minutes before you actually carve it.

(Some amendments here.  Aside from the initial baste, I don't rebaste the turkey.  You have a cup of butter and 3/4 of a pack of bacon doing that for you.  You will notice that her cooking times seem short for most people accustomed to the rules of their mothers and grandmothers.  But we all know those people made dry turkeys :-)  Although this turkey is almost impossible to dry out, there is no point in overcooking it.  Nigella's cooking time guidance is below and I rely it almost religiously.  It is perfect almost every time.  You start with the high temp 1/2 hour, down to 350, and then last 15-20 minutes back at the 425.  To check doneness, you can pierce the bird near the thigh and hope its juices run clear. However, if you fear bacteria as much as I do, you should measure the temperature.  I rely on the temperature at both breast and thigh.  Meat thermometers lie.  They will make you dry out your turkey. If the temperature at breast AND thigh is 165F, you are good to go, as long as you have a good probe thermometer.  By which I mean you need a good probe thermometer.  Buy one.  I did and I'm as cheap as they come.  

When you hit the 165 mark take the bird out and put it on a cutting board or counter top or something.  Tent it with foil completely.  It should rest for 30-60 minutes in foil.  Although this cools it slightly, the juices get drawn back into the turkey and it adds such a perfect finishing touch you don't want to miss this step.  

Now, onto the gravy!  (Oh, yeah, you have to carve the turkey too.  Figure it out.  You use a large knife and the mitts God gave you.  After cutting nice orderly pieces off the breast which, just a warning, will squirt butter at you testifying to their uber-juiciness, start tearing away at the rest of the beast like a savage with your fingers.  An hour under the foil tent will leave it warm enough to use your fingers and not scald them.  Leave no piece of turkey on the bone.  It's so good if you leave any on the carcass, your guests will sneak into your kitchen later to scavenge for remains.)

Weight of bird     Cooking Time
2/25kg/5lb            1 ½ hours
3.5kg/8lb              1 ¾ hours
4.5kg/10lb            2 hours
5.5kg/12lb            2 ½ hours
6.75kg/15lb          2 ¾ hours
7.5kg/17lb            3 hours
9kg/20lb               3 ½ hours
11.5kg/25lb          4 ½ hours


4.  The Gravy

I've always been horrible at making gravy.  Horrible.  Finally, I decided that my wife might be smart so took some advice from her as her gravy is always perfect.  She taught me the roux method of making gravy.  And now anyone who has mocked my water thin gravy in the past will roux the day they did so.  (Groan....)

Again, I rely on the genius of Nigella Lawson.  

Allspice Gravy
Also in Feast.


Ingredients
Giblets from turkey (not including the liver)
2 pints water
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 fresh bay leaves
1 (1/2-inch) cinnamon stick
1 stick celery, halved
2 carrots, peeled and halved
1 onion, halved, but not peeled
3 teaspoons salt
1 orange, zested and juiced (dig the pulp out and throw that in there too)

Place the turkey giblets, water, allspice berries, black peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, celery, carrots, onion, salt and clementine zest and juice into a large saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the saucepan with a lid and reduce the heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook for 2 hours.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the gravy stock through a sieve into a clean large measuring jug. This should give you about 1 liter of stock.

(The first time you do this, you will realize how juicy this turkey is.  When you open that roasting pan at the end, the bird will be damn near drowning in its own juices.  I had a 17 lb turkey and it gave me EIGHT CUPS of drippings.  Now, this is where I differ from Nigella, and to my advantage.  This is my wife's process.  

You've got your stock from above set aside.  Once turkey is out, scrape everything off the bottom of the roasting pan.  Pour it all into a large measuring Pyrex to determine how much you have.  Make sure to strain through a large-holed sieve just to pull out some of the larger chunks.  

Add the flavor stock from above.  This will give you your final volume.  

Now, for every 4 cups of drippings/stock, measure 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of butter.  Please don't use margarine.  If you use margarine I will find you.  You just roasted a turkey with a cup of butter and a pack of bacon.  You think the butter in the gravy will put you over the daily fat limit?  Newsflash.  You're already there, and it's a great place to be.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter.  Slowly add in the flour, whisking vigorously so it remains a smooth consistency.  As you get to the last addition it will be quite thick and almost pasty.  Now the key part.  Over medium heat, SLOWLY add the dripping/stock mixture.  SLOWLY.  Especially at first.  I was adding like maybe a tablespoon at a time until about the first 1/4 of liquid was added.  The whole time you have to whisk like a madman.  NO LUMPS I TELL YOU.  Keep adding.  As you get near the end, suddenly your gravy will emulsify and you will get this wonderfully thick, creamy looking gravy that tastes positively divine.  Taste and add a bit of salt and pepper if needed.  

Of course, since you are not an industrial food producer, you don't have an emulsion stabilizer to add to your gravy.  And that's okay.  As the gravy sits, the parts will somewhat separate and you'll see oil on top of the other components.  That's normal.  A quick stir fixes that.  Or you can be a jerk and slowly pour off the buttery goodness onto your plate and leave everything else for the rest of the table.  Your choice.)


There you have it.  Is this easy?  Nope.  Is it quick?  Not even a little bit.  You have to start preparing like 3 days in advance of the meal.  Is this turkey healthy?  Hell-to-the-NO.  Is it the most delicious and moist turkey you will ever eat?  You bet.  The gravy is like nothing you've ever tasted and the stuffing is so good blood relations will come to blows over the last scraps.  

Besides, a feast is a feast.  It is meant to be glorious.  It is meant to be memorable.  It should be something your children dream about when they are older.  Something they tell their friends about when they talk about holidays.  Something they long to carry on when they are parents and hosting their own feasts.  Who gives a flying buttress whether it's healthy?  Anything that takes this much work and time to produce has to be enjoyed guilt free.

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