Thanksgiving is one of my favorites because it is a holiday that all Americans can enjoy no matter what their religious background or where they are from.
I used to get together with my family every Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house back in the old country, Staten Island. We usually gather around 1 pm and the grazing starts around 2:30 after a few glasses of wine and some appetizers, such as stuffed mushrooms and perhaps a salad.
At my Aunt Fran’s, the turkey is the main attraction, surrounded by a plethora of side dishes like stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole with the canned onions on the top, corn on the cob, and so on (and who could forget her tube of cranberry “sauce”?).
After the feast, my uncles usually fall asleep on the couch from a tryptophan overdose. Three hours later, my aunt serves the stuffed artichokes and we devour them. They are a real treat because this is the only time of year she makes them.
And, of course, there’s turkey and stuffing sandwiches the next day.
Now that I am older and have a beautiful family of my own, I do the cooking at my mother-in-law’s house. There are not as many of us, but the company is just as good and the food (sorry Aunt Franny) is better because I am now in charge of the dinner.
Want to live like I do? Follow these recipes for the juiciest turkey and most-delicious stuffing you have ever (and cranberry sauce that doesn’t come from a can). Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Herb Roasted Turkey with Smoked Chicken and Apple Cornbread Stuffing
Yields: eight servings
For the turkey
Table salt for the brine
Water for the brine
6 bay leaves
1 12-14 pound turkey fresh or defrosted.
12 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbls. fresh sage leaves chopped, save the stems
2 tbls. Italian parsley leaves, chopped, save the stems
2 tbls. fresh thyme, chopped, save the stems
2 tbls. fresh rosemary, save the stems
1 tbls. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
1 orange, quartered
Two days before Thanksgiving, rinse the turkey thoroughly and pull out any undesirable parts such as the neck and anything else the butcher thought you may have wanted. I like to cut off the wing tips as well. Pat dry and put back in the fridge. In a large pot, put two gallons of water, five tablespoons of table salt and the bay leaves and bring it to a boil. Then put than in the fridge till it’s cool.
Now place the turkey in a large pot or bucket and add the liquid to the turkey just enough to cover it, put it back in the fridge. Voila! You are brining! The salt in the mixture is going to break down the proteins in the turkey and make it very tender. It also seasons it at the same time.
One day before Thanksgiving, take your turkey out of the brine and pat it dry. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the butter, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. With a small knife, make a one-inch hole in the inside of both the thighs, next to the breast. Then use your hands to separate the skin from the breast as far back as you can. Work the butter mixture between the skin and the meat, getting as much as you can under the skin. Use any leftover butter inside the cavity and over the top of the turkey. Use the stems from the fresh herbs and stuff them inside the cavity of the turkey as well as the orange.
Using butchers twine, tie the turkey legs close to the body. Refrigerate overnight.
On Thanksgiving Day, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and remove the turkey from the fridge. Roast the turkey on a wire rack in a large roasting pan for three-and-a-half hours, basting it every 20 minutes. Then, turn the oven up to 500 degrees and roast for another 30 minutes without basting.
Remove and place the turkey on the table to rest for about an hour before you carve. Take the juice from the pan and put it in a container and cool it (and don’t wash the pan!). We will use both the pan and the juices for the gravy.
For the stuffing
1-1/2 cups celery, medium dice
1-1/2 cups white onion, medium dice
1-1/2 cups white mushrooms, quartered
1 cup carrots, small dice
1 pound smoked chicken and apple sausage, medium dice
2 tbls. canola oil
1 tbls. fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbls. fresh sage, chopped
2 tbls. Italian parsley, chopped
3 pounds cornbread, diced
3 cups quality chicken stock
6 ounces unsalted butter
Sauté the first four ingredients over medium heat with about a tablespoon of oil until soft but not mushy. In a separate sauté pan, brown the chicken sausage over medium-high heat. In a big bowl, add the cornbread, fresh herbs chicken stock, sausage, and vegetables. Very gently fold everything together (it’s OK if the cornbread falls apart). Melt the butter and add it to the mixture. If it looks dry, you can add more stock. Put the mixture in a greased pan and refrigerate overnight.
Take the stuffing out of the fridge an hour before baking in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes. Finish by uncovering and baking for another 15 minutes.
For the cranberry sauce
12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 bay leaves
2 whole star anise
3 ounces brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
In a medium sauce pan, add all the ingredients together. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the cranberries start to become soft. That’s it! Simple!
For the gravy
4 tbls. flour
2 tbls. turkey fat
1 cup turkey “jelly”
3 sups of water
Take the turkey dripping out of the fridge. By this time, the fat should have solidified on the top of the container. Take about two tablespoons of it and add it to the roasting pan. Throw the rest of the fat out. What you should have left is this intensified, thick, turkey “jelly.” Put the roasting pan directly over a burner on medium heat and add the flour to the pan with the grease. Let that cook about a minute then add the turkey jelly and about two cups of water. This should become nice and thick after it comes up to a simmer. Check the seasoning add more water or salt if you thing it needs it. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer and serve!
For the brussel sprouts
3 pounds brussel sprouts
6 ounces bacon, one-inch pieces
4 ounces butter
6 ounces shallots, sliced thin
Cut the bottoms off the sprouts and boil them in water. Remove from heat when you can put a tip of a small knife through them with little resistance. Shock in cold water. Brown the bacon in a large sauté pan, add the shallots, sprouts and butter. Cook until sprouts are hot all the way through. Season them with salt and white pepper.
For Aunt Fran’s apple pie
For the dough
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and medium dice
1 cup ice water
For the filling
10 cups of apples of your choice, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
one lemon, juiced
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg, beaten
The pie dough has to be made a day early. In a food processor, add the flour, salt, and butter then pulse it until it looks like coarse bread crumbs. Slowly add the water about a tablespoon at a time. Divide the dough into two equal parts wrap it in plastic and put it in to the fridge. This dough has to sit at last four hours before you roll it out.
The beauty of my Aunts apple pie filling is that there is no real recipe! You can season it however you want. Perhaps add some walnuts or some raisins to the mix. I like my pie not too sweet, but very “cinnamony.” I like to use a mix of Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples, but it is up to you.
On Thanksgiving Day, mix all ingredients except the egg until you get the flavor you like. Then set aside. On a floured table, roll one of the dough balls so it is about one-quarter-inch wider than the eight-inch pie tin.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease the tin and press the dough into it. Generously fill the pie shell (it will settle as it cooks). Next, roll out the second dough ball, make a one-inch hole in the center, and lay it over the filling. Brush the top with the egg. Bake for about 45 minutes. Let the pie cool before cutting. Have your favorite ice cream available. This is Thanksgiving, after all.
Joe Raiola is the executive chef at Morton’s The Steakhouse [339 Adams St. between Willoughby and Tillary streets in Downtown, (718) 596-2700].