Perfectly Roasted Turkey (How to)

Roasting a turkey for the holidays seems to be a point of confusion for many people. How do you keep it from drying out? How long do you cook it? What temperature? What about stuffing? For some reason, cooking a turkey for the holidays tends to be more stressful than anything else when it can literally be the easiest part of the big dinner. Hopefully this post will help to shed light on making the best possible turkey to really steal the show.

Step 1; Buy a good quality turkey.

Purchase a good quality turkey that ideally hasn’t been previously frozen, not because fresh is necessarily better quality, but it gets rid of the hassle of having to thaw it. Supporting your local farmer would be best, but if unable and you have to go to the market, take some time to see what’s available and don’t just buy the cheapest one you find. In looking at the packaging, try to find one that does not contain the standard 3% extra retained water/ fluid from injected flavoring or broth. I personally don’t feel that they come out as well.

Step 2; Brine. –Essential!

Thaw over the course of a day or two (if frozen), and then submerge in a flavorful brine for 8-12 hours and refrigerate. Click here for a great brine recipe!

Step 3; Temper and dry.

After 8-12 hours in the brine, remove, pat dry, and let sit out on the counter at room temperature for about 90 minutes so that the turkey approaches room temperature.

Step 4; Cook.

Set the oven to 500 degrees. Tie the ends of the legs together with butchers string, and fold the tips of the wings back behind the turkey. Using a shallow roasting pan, set the turkey preferably on a roasting rack inside the pan to allow the heat to circulate under the bird.  Once the oven has reached 500 degrees, put the turkey in. If not using a convection oven, be sure to turn the turkey around every half hour or so.  After 30 minutes, drop the oven temperature down to 450 degrees. Depending on the size of the bird, cooking should only take 90 minutes to two hours. Using a meat thermometer, insert probe between the breast and the thigh aiming for the thickest point of the thigh, close to the bone. Remove from oven when the internal temperature reads 155 degrees. Once out of the oven, let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. During this time, the internal temperature will carryover to at least 165 degrees.

I know what you’re thinking; “What about the stuffing?!”

I prefer to make a dressing rather than a stuffing mostly because the stuffing will increase the cooking time, and create a lot of extra moisture in the oven in a case where we prefer dry heat. Dressing is the same thing as stuffing, just that it’s not cooked inside of the bird.

“But, that’s where all the flavor comes from!”

Sure, you may lose a little bit of turkey flavor in your stuffing but you should be including the turkey giblets, trimmings and such in your dressing anyway. Remember, the dressing is to compliment the turkey, so do an awesome job on the turkey!

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Whole Roasted Scup (Porgy)

Scup, or porgy is a small, saltwater “panfish”. It’s not necessarily sought after like the famous striped bass here in the northeast, and most people I know don’t particularly go fishing for scup as their primary focus. Having spent so much time dedicating my life to cooking years ago, restaurant menus often contain the recognizable fish such as swordfish, tuna, halibut, etc. Yet, you’d be hard pressed to find scup on a menu unless you go to a restaurant worth going to, in my humble opinion. I tend to gravitate toward more of a rustic style of cooking, as I am more interested in the history of cultural cuisine and it doesn’t get much more rustic than whole roasted fish! Preparation is generally easy and relatively quick.

A good friend of mine called me up a few weekends ago and asked if I wanted four scup that were caught that day…absolutely! Preparation consisted of drawing and removing the guts and gills, scaling, and clipping the fins. After a quick rinse and dry, I seasoned the cavity and outside of the fish with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and a few thin slices of fresh garlic. I picked some fresh herbs from the garden; oregano, basil, thyme, parsley and cilantro. I have to say I’m not normally a big fan of cilantro, but two of which I put only cilantro and parsley in, were my favorite. Not that the others weren’t delicious (which were stuffed with fresh oregano, basil and thyme) but the ones with cilantro were particularly good!

Once seasoned, I laid them flat on a sheet pan and roasted them at 425 degrees. When the skin starts to turn golden-brown and a fork won’t meet resistance when inserted into the filet, the fish is done. This will take roughly 20 minutes.

 

Beet Risotto

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups Arborio Rice
  • 3-4 Beets (medium-large) roasted, peeled, diced, warmed
  • 1.5 Cups Dry white wine
  • Roughly 1 Cup (by volume) Parmesan Cheese finely grated
  • 3.5 TBSP Butter cold
  • 1 White Onion very small dice
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil use good quality 
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • Finely shaved fennel, and fennel frawns to garnish
  • Chives chopped small
  • Parsley chopped fine
  • 2.5 qts. (hot) Chicken Stock or other flavorful meat or vegetable stock as needed

Method of Prep

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, add a TBSP of butter and drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. When the pan gets hot, add the diced onion. Sweat until the onions soften and become translucent.

2. Add rice and continuously stir being careful not to burn. The point of this is to “toast” the rice, while coating and flavoring each grain with butter/ oil and onion. Be careful not to burn or add color to the rice. After roughly 10-15 minutes, add the white wine. Continuously, stir until wine has mostly absorbed and evaporated. At this point remove from heat if you want to reserve for later use, or continue the recipe and begin adding the stock.

3. When adding the stock, it really should only take about three additions of a couple ladle fulls of hot stock. It is important to keep the rice moving as it cooks and absorbs the stock to insure that the grains cook evenly. After a few minutes of cooking and the rice starts to thicken, add some more stock and continue stirring.

4. When the risotto has come to more of a creamy consistency (this will usually take roughly 15-20 minutes) remove from heat. If too thick, add a bit of stock to loosen. Now add the diced beets, butter, olive oil and cheese. Vigorously stir to incorporate. The proper consistency is achieved when a ladle full of risotto is put on a plate and is able to slowly spread across the surface of the plate when tilted. Sprinkle on fennel, chives, and parsley to each serving. Be sure to serve right away.

*For another risotto recipe, check out this mushroom risotto!

Pasta…

The origin of pasta as we know it today, most think is Italian. However, history suggests a couple different ways that it came to be in Italy, most notably when the Arabs conquered Sicily in the 9th century.

As a very cheap and quick source of carbohydrate, dishes made with pasta can easily be manipulated to fit really any dietary need, and produce a well balanced meal. Every region in Italy has their ‘own’ pasta. A type of noodle that they invented that is best suited to ‘carry’ the ingredients or style of sauce from their region. Longer, thinner noodles like linguine or tagliatelle are better meant for thinner, lighter and/ or more ‘oily’ sauces whereas the shorter, heartier noodles like gargati, or rigatoni are meant usually for heartier, chunky sauces.

Pasta has got a bad rap because it apparently makes you fat. It’s unhealthy because it’s processed. It contains gluten which is the downfall of humanity! However, the nutritional breakdown of one ounce (about 1/2 cup, cooked) of pasta is;

100 calories

20.5 grams of carbohydrate

3.5 grams of protein

1 gram of fat

*relatively good source of iron and B-vitamins

I’m not really sure how that appears to be bad for you. If you don’t have a diagnosed gluten allergy, what’s the issue? Pasta is a source of low-glycemic carbohydrate. And, this “processed food” appears to be rather healthy based on the list above. If you’re an active individual who eats pasta in moderation (just as everything else in your diet) there really is no reason to suggest that it is ‘bad’ for you. If all you eat is pasta, and pounds of it at a time, then yes it would be bad for you. If all you eat is kale (the latest super-food craze, and one of the “healthiest” foods on the planet) you will likely become malnourished and die of starvation. Funny how that works…

Eating healthy is about practicing moderation and knowing what foods provide you with the appropriate nutrition for your needs. Over-consuming anything, whether it is considered healthy or not, will turn out to be unhealthy.

 

Polenta

I hadn’t had real polenta before I went to Italy to learn how to cook. It was on the menu at La Locanda di Piero where I was completing my internship. I had maybe had it once or twice there, not really thinking much of it. But, when I had Easter dinner at the home of one of the chef’s parents, only then did I grow to love it! It was served as a side to a large pan of roasted goat (first time with that too). It was plain, made with water and probably a touch of salt and olive oil. However, when topped with roasted goat and the juices from the pan, it was something that I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if it was the ambiance of being at a traditional Italian dinner as really the only one who spoke English, and NOT Italian. Or, if it was the few glasses of wine. Regardless, that was one of the most unforgettable meals of my life, and it was amazing in it’s simplicity.

The polenta was dumped from it’s pot out onto what I think was a large cutting board set behind the table, where we spooned our servings from. This method of serving porridge, as if it was the highlight of the meal, was what really stuck out to me.

Polenta is a traditional staple ‘peasant dish’ of Northern Italy who’s origins pre-date ancient Rome. It has become quite popular in the culinary world and can even be found in some of the worlds best restaurants. Throughout my time cooking, I had always been intrigued by traditional cuisine, mostly regional Italian, and the history behind food preparation and the ingredients. The focus on quality and simplicity is why it’s so interesting to me.

Most people would overlook this as a source of starch/ carbohydrate for meals. However, it is extremely versatile as it can be cut and grilled, sauteed, fried, roasted or broiled after it has cooled from it’s creamy porridge consistency. A half cup serving provides roughly 15-20 grams of carbs (depending on the ratio of liquid used) and pairs really well with meat and fish, or even as a stand-alone side. Some recipes call for boiling the coarse cornmeal in a mixture of water and milk (my favorite) with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt. Typically, you’d use a 3:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal for a soft consistency. Top with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, and good quality olive oil for a tasty side dish.

Pork Loin Braised in Milk

This is a classic Italian recipe that results in a very flavorful, tender and juicy roast. Typically, a braise takes hours and no real attention is paid to the meat until it is “fork tender” or, almost falling apart. This is a bit different. Here, we want the internal temp of the pork roast to reach 145 degrees. Longer than that, the meat will end up dry and chewy.

Ingredients:

Boneless Pork loin Roast with a layer of fat about 1/4 in. thick, 5 lbs
3 small Onions, rough chop
6 stalks of celery, rough chop
8 cloves of garlic, skinned, halved
8 oz. Pancetta or bacon, rough chop
2 Cups White wine
4 sprigs of Rosemary with needles removed and chopped
6 Sage leaves, rough chop
4 Bay Leaves
4 Cups Whole Milk
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh Parsley and/or chive, chopped fine, to taste

Method of Prep:

  1. Set oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Using a Dutch oven, or heavy bottomed pot on high heat, season and sear pork loin on all sides with olive oil. Once nicely browned, remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add bacon to render. Once rendered, pour off excess fat and then immediately add onions, garlic and celery to the pan, season vegetables with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium- high and stir frequently until the onions just start to caramelize.
  4. Add white wine and simmer until it reduces by half. Then add the milk, and bring to a simmer.
  5. Place the pork loin back in the pot and add the rosemary, sage and bay leaf. Cover, and finish cooking in the oven until the internal temperature comes to 145F. (roughly 90 minutes to two hours)
  6. When the pork has come to temperature, remove from pot and place on a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes. During this resting period the roast will carry over to about 155F, as you reduce the sauce at a simmer, by half. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  7. Slice and serve with sauce spooned over top and fresh herbs.

**Note; this classic recipe is not the most elegant looking meal! It’s rather bland in color. However, it does turn out pretty amazing in it’s depth of flavor.

Roasted Broccoli with Kalamata Olives, Garlic and Lemon

Here is a hearty vegetable recipe from the other night, with a little spice to it. I’ve been a big fan lately, of roasting vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, etc. as opposed to steaming, or blanching. In developing a much heartier character for the cold weather, it makes for a much more interesting flavor in many cases, and saves some time.

Ingredients;
3 Heads of broccoli, washed, cut into spears
8 cloves of garlic, peeled, minced
1 cup of Kalamata olives, chopped
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 Cup (+ some extra) of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon
Parmesan Cheese
Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper

Method of Prep;

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat with garlic and pepper flakes. Careful not to let garlic brown. When the oil starts to bubble around garlic, cook for roughly two to three minutes and then remove from burner.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, drizzle garlic and pepper oil evenly over broccoli. Use a spoon, or your hands to toss the broccoli spears with oil, making sure that each spear is lightly coated. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Lay broccoli spears flat on a sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper.
  5. Roast until broccoli spears are tender and (only very slightly) start to turn golden- brown on the edges. Then, remove from the oven.
  6. To serve, dress a serving with a very light drizzle of olive oil, a squirt of lemon juice, a small handful of chopped olives, a light sprinkle of nutmeg, and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.