Happy Thanksgiving to you! I wanted to take a moment and express my appreciation for you visiting us at Explorers Kitchen. It means a lot to Jill and I and want to say thanks!
We hosted Thanksgiving this year and had my parents as well as my Aunt Colleen and Uncle Joe over for dinner. It was a lovely dinner! Joe and Collen brought us a big bag of popcorn from Twin Cities favorite, Candyland, a delicious treat! They also brought some champagne, which was the perfect way to start the celebration!
We put out a big spread of appetizers like pickles, olives, mint TimTams, Turkish delight, Dot’s Pretzels, cheeses, and summer sausage. However, the star of the show was this simple brie wreath from Delish. Jill didn’t want the bacon, so we skipped that part, but it was a hit! We’d totally make that again. Our batch tended to ooze a bit, but nobody cared. Also, it was going to be impossible to move from the parchment paper to the serving tray without falling apart, so we just moved the whole sheet and trimmed around it. Easy!
I opened up a bottle of tasty Kranbernet wine I brought back from Kog Hill winery in Lancaster County, PA. Seemed fitting to have a cranberry-Cabernet for Thanksgiving dinner.
Our main course consisted of 25 lbs turkey several ways:
This was a lot of turkey, but they were all fantastic. I bought two 12.5 lb pasture-raised conventional turkeys from St. Paul Meat Shop.
Before I dive into just how I made these turkeys, let me take a moment to extol some of the virtues of St. Paul Meat shop. We’re newly moved back to St. Paul within the past 3 months and I had been looking for a good meat market. I tried a few of the old-school options out there and I was not impressed by the practices, quality, or price. But Jill said that I needed to come and check out St. Paul Meat Shop to get our birds.
We were greeted warmly when we entered and got a rundown of how St. Paul Meat Shop is different than the average butcher shop. First is the nose-to-tail butchery in conjunction with their France44 location. The St. Paul Meat Shop is actually the satellite shop of France44 where the majority of breaking down the animals happens. Nose-to-tail means that offal and the cuts that are harder to find can be had with simply a phone call. They also have duck, lamb, etc. Best of all, they partner with local farms that often pasture raise their animals, so it’s more sustainable (local) and humane. I was sold and preordered two turkeys for the reasonable sum of $3.25 per lb.
However, I mentioned that it was my first time in the shop. They said that I must take home one of their delicious pork chops for dinner that night.
They explained that their pork is the red wattle and it is pasture raised locally. One look at the well-marbled slice of pork and couldn’t resist! I took that home and salted it, then wrapped it up so I could come back to it a few days later. I cooked it sous vide at 140 for an hour and then seared it very briefly in bacon fat to give it a nice golden hue. At the risk of coming off too hyperbolic, let me say that this chop was nothing short of perfection. It was the best pork chop I’d ever had in my life. The flavor was rich, savory, and nutty. I did nothing else, but seasoned with salt and then cooked properly, but the results were amazing. What a difference the best ingredients can make! This pork chop was life changing and I don’t think that I’ll be able to shop anywhere else for pork. I can’t wait to try their beef, chicken and duck.
I got started with prep the Monday before Thanksgiving. The Meat Shop let me pick up my turkeys a day early so I could get the prep going and I enjoyed having the extra time so I didn’t have to stress. I wanted as much time as possible so that I could get some semblance of a cure on the pastramied turkey breast.
First thing to do with the birds was to debone them. I pulled off the legs and set them aside. Then I followed with winglets and the flat joint of the wing – those were going into my stock. Following the keel bone, then around the wishbone, I pulled off the breasts leaving the drumettes attached like giant “airline breasts.” Repeat with the second bird
Circling back to the legs, I took a pair and deboned them completely. I was going to be making the same delicious roulade I made last year. (Now would be a great time to check out that video of just how that worked out.) I salted the halves, added some thyme, sprinkled my MooGlue transglutaminase to bond the halves together. I rolled and tied my roulade.
With the remaining pair of legs and one pair of breasts, I treated them to the traditional sous vide turkey prep from ChefSteps. I made a 5 to 2 ratio of salt to sugar and sprinkled the turkey with that. I bagged and vacuum sealed them with some thyme and sage keeping the breasts separate from the legs since they’ll be cooking at different temperatures.
With the final pair of breasts, I gave them the pastrami treatment from Steve Riachlen’s project smoke with just a minor tweak of adding some Prague Powder #1 curing salt. Using this calculator for dry applications, I added 156 ppm of the Cure #1, or about 5 grams, to the spices in Steve’s recipe. If you don’t have it already, Steve’s BBQ Bible is a fantastic resource. I’ve used it many times and gifted it as well. You can pick up a used copy for a song and I’d recommend grabbing a copy.
With all the turkey vacuum sealed and prepped for cooking, I tossed them in the fridge to cure until I was ready. I now turned my attention to the carcasses for stock. Wanting to make a dark gravy, I roasted the parts in a hot oven until they were golden brown (About 40 minutes at 450F). Oh and I included the giblets, but reserved the gizzards for later. Since I had two carcasses, I grabbed two large Dutch ovens and filled them up with the bones, a quartered onion, a handful of peppercorns, and filtered water. I dropped them in a low oven at 225F overnight until 3 in the afternoon on Tuesday. That was about 18 hours of slow and steady flavor (and collagen) extraction.
After straining and pressing the remnants into a large 12 qt glass bowl that came from the TurboOven I converted to a coffee roaster about a decade ago. (While it wasn’t my design, I merged the oven with the Stir Crazy popcorn popper and built a “TurboCrazy” roaster that works fantastic for coffee batches as large as 1 lb. That is actually the very guide I used to build mine so many years ago.) I set the covered bowl outside in the cool MN air to chill until I needed it on Thursday.
On Tuesday evening, I began to sous vide the turkey legs at 150F. This is a day earlier than I have started them before and it made a huge difference! They came out more tender than I’ve ever seen before! Wow! The only downside is that my roulade didn’t seem to stay together this way despite the MooGlue. I suspect that perhaps I didn’t apply enough or I had too many herbs that prevented good adherence. I’ll have to play around with it more to tall for sure.
Wednesday night, I dropped the bath to 131F and added the breasts, weighing them down with some bowls to keep everything submerged in my Rubbermaid 5 gallon cooler. I am consistently impressed with this cooler. It does a great job insulating. The heat holds fantastically well, especially when you cover with plastic wrap to cut down on evaporation.
On Thanksgiving Day, I pulled out all the turkey that was destined to be smoked. That was a pair of legs as a roulade, two pastrami breasts, one traditional breast, and one leg. I plunged the bags into a 50/50 mix of ice and cold water in the sink and left them for an hour to chill fully. The idea is that cool things absorb smoke more readily, so I chilled them just to bring them back up slowly on the smoker later. This Sous-Vide-Que technique is by Meathead Golwyn on his AmazingRibs site (and I’m a huge fan of his book).
An hour before show time, I fired up the smoker (a Masterbuilt with an offset mailbox containing an A-MAZE-N pellet smoker). I tossed all of my turkey that needed some smoke onto the shelves. I started the first 40 minutes slowly at about 225F to give it time to pick up the smoke before cranking the power to about 450F for the last 20 minutes to crisp the skin. For the “traditional”/no smoke breast and leg, I put them on the gas grill to crisp up the skin without adding any extra smoke flavor. Turned out excellent!
I’ve gone on long enough talking about my turkeys! Tomorrow, I’ll be back to talk about the sides and desserts.
Again, thank you for reading Explorers Kitchen. We are thankful for you!
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