"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: thanksgiving

homemade turkey stock . . . our best kept secret for Thanksgiving dinner!

branches with fruit found around the pond with our 19th century "self-portrait" of Rembrandt

branches with fruit found around the pond with our 19th century “self-portrait” of Rembrandt

The day before Thanksgiving is the day that I dedicate to making the turkey stock for gravy. As I’ve learned, gravy and stock are two different things. The gravy is what you serve with the meal – but the stock is what goes into the gravy along with the last minute drippings when you’re almost ready to eat.

I read somewhere that if the gravy for your Thanksgiving dinner is full of robust flavor, whatever you put it on (the roasted turkey, stuffing or mashed potatoes,) will ensure that the entire meal will taste delicious!

Made sense to me so for the past couple of years, I’ve been fine-tuning the stock that I use for gravy. I used to take the neck and giblets out of the fresh turkey, saute them with some vegetables and add water to make the stock on the morning of the big day. But I’ve graduated to making the stock from roasted fresh turkey parts (sometimes wings or this year, drumsticks.) Instead of all water, I use half water and half chicken broth. Plus, I do all this the day before so that the house smells wonderful and the stock has a chance to be de-fatted overnight.

Because I’m also providing roast chestnut dressing and gravy for a second Thanksgiving gathering on Saturday, I decided to make double the amount of stock just to be safe. It’s not a good idea to run out of gravy as there’s little you can do about it at the last minute when that happens – and when it’s tasty, people seem to want more of it than you’d think! Been there, done that (run out, that is.)

turkey drumsticks for stockThis year, I browned and roasted three turkey drumsticks. Cut up a large vidalia onion, five stalks of leafy celery, 5 large carrots and browned them in butter in a pan with Bell’s seasoning and salt in a stockpot until the drumsticks were done. Then cut the turkey meat, placed it with the drippings into the stockpot of sauteed vegetables and added spring water to cover. Skimmed off any foam and then added two cans of Swanson low-sodium chicken broth. stock vegetables

Will now barely simmer the stock for a few hours. Taste for whether it needs salt along the way. When cool, will strain the broth and de-fat it after it’s spent the night in the chilly pantry. Tomorrow, it’ll be ready to go when the drippings from the roasted turkey are available.

When almost ready to eat, I’ll melt a stick of unsalted butter in a large pan, gradually add about 1/2 cup flour (for this double amount of stock/gravy) and whisk together to make a roux, add some stock to thicken, add roast turkey drippings, add more stock little by little until the gravy is the consistency desired. Taste and season with Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper.

This may seem like a LOT of trouble to go to for turkey gravy. But in our family, the gravy is second in importance to the primary one – which is the roast chestnut stuffing (cooked inside the bird!) – and the actual roast turkey almost seems like an afterthought around our table (just kidding, sort of)!

Happy Thanksgiving one and all!

(and many thanks for reading my blog!)



annual crusade for chestnuts . . .

chestnut dressingRoasting chestnuts! Every November the crusade for chestnuts for the Thanksgiving turkey dressing begins. Through the years, these are the most important lessons I have learned the hard way and tweaked this year:

1) the chestnuts need to be fresh (this is not so obvious) because they dry out quickly at room temperature and also start to decay inside. That’s why it’s good to start 2-3 weeks before Thanksgiving week to work on these critters.
2) with a very sharp, strong paring knife, hold the chestnut with your hand cushioned with a folded dishtowel for protection; insert it at the top of the crown and insert the sharp point, draw the blade down to the bottom tip. Repeat on the other side all the way down. You now have slits cut into the flesh from crown to bottom. If your cuts are too shallow, you won’t break through the skin which is what you want to do in order to loosen the meat from the brown fuzzy skin inside the shell.
3) put prepared chestnuts in cold tap water and bring to a rolling boil on the stove
4) when it’s at a rolling boil, turn the heat off and let them sit in the hot water off the heat for 20 minutes
5) preheat the oven to 425 degrees
6) ladle out the boiled/soaked chestnuts onto a cookie sheet (some skins will already have split and you can see the chestnut meats peeping through.
7) bake/roast for about a half hour – the chestnut should be cooked through and creamy when you bite into it. If it’s hard, it’s not cooked enough – OR, you’ve overcooked it!
8) remove the roasted chestnuts from the oven and set on a heatpad; cover with a dish towel for 15 minutes to allow the chestnuts to steam a little longer while they cool.
9) even with this process, there will be about 10-20% spoilage in the chestnuts.DSCN8710

If you wait closer to Thanksgiving, the fresh chestnuts will have been sitting in the grocery store for 2-3 weeks before you cook them, dry out and increase the spoilage rate significantly. (I’ve found that it’s handy to keep the grocery sales slip in case the whole batch turns out to be inedible.)

So, start trying them out early (1st week in Nov.); slit, boil and roast them so that the skins can separate from the meats and there is minimal spoilage. FREEZE the harvested chestnut meats until you actually make the stuffing on Thanksgiving day.

BTW, I sometimes scrape out the chestnuts from skins when they’re stuck but not spoiled so that what’s remaining are powdery bits of roasted chestnuts. I have a batch of these in the freezer already. One year, I discovered that this stuff is like “chestnut golddust” because although you can’t see it, it adds flavor that the whole pieces of chestnuts can’t provide on their own. So, that’s a silver lining with chestnuts that don’t come out of the shell easily!

Now you know everything I have learned about this pesky chore (that’s the only word to describe it) but honestly, on Thanksgiving day, when you hear the quiet moans of delight coming from an otherwise silent table, you’ll know it was worth it. In fact, I feel like It’s worth it every time!

new normal . . .

the naked duck

This is Sunday before Thanksgiving, and usually, I will have done my food shopping for the week’s preparations: fresh turkey, not too big; a couple of pounds of chestnuts to roast, peel and add to a bread stuffing made with Pepperidge Farm herb breadcrumbs, Bell’s seasoning, fresh parsley, vidalia onions, chicken broth; potatoes to boil for mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts with bacon, peas and salad; pumpkin pie or some kind of harvest-like dessert.

So, today, I was in Whole Foods and noticed that beside the very expensive brined organic turkeys, were rows of Bell and Evans fresh duckling. Since it’s the two of us this year, I thought, well, why not have duckling instead? Peking Duck, to be exact. A simple meal with roasted duckling, carved with crispy pieces of golden brown skin, scallions, hoisin sauce smeared on homemade wrappers. When I brought up the idea with G., his face lit up and he nodded in agreement. And Read the rest of this entry »