Monday, November 12, 2012

Chef's Stuffing Rant & Turkey Tips

By our Chefs

The classic conundrum at Thanksgiving time is whether to stuff the turkey or cook your stuffing separately. Many people stuff their turkeys out of tradition, but it’s the worst thing in the world you can do to your Thanksgiving dinner. In order to cook the stuffing to a temperature that kills any potential pathogens, you have to overcook your turkey. If you cook the turkey perfectly, the stuffing poses a food safety risk. So, Salmonella stuffing or a dry turkey - which would you prefer? Stuffing the turkey is an antiquated cooking method. In the old days, people didn’t have much space in the oven or many pans in the kitchen to make all the Thanksgiving dishes separately.

It’s time to ditch tradition in favor of a better meal. I recommend cooking your stuffing separately, and of course as a Chef, I don’t use the boxed stuff.

Chef Mike’s Homemade Stuffing

Bread: The first secret to delicious homemade stuffing is good bread. Opt for raisin, onion, and/or olive bread, bagels, etc. Feel free to mix them up. Cube the bread (crusts on).

Chicken Broth:
Soak the bread cubes in good chicken broth. You can make the broth from scratch, but I also like Better than Bullion chicken broth base for flavor and convenience.

Vegetables: Add whatever vegetables you like, and cook them in the broth: carrots, celery, onions, kale, apples, etc. Don’t worry about peeling the apples and carrots; I don’t.

Herbs: Sage is a classic herb to season stuffing, but you have to be careful not to overdo it. I use about 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage (or 1/2 tablespoon dry sage) per quart of stuffing. Of course, you can opt for different herbs such as thyme, parsley, rosemary, and/or chives.

Fat: I also like to add fat for flavor. Some people use butter, but I prefer to cook up hot Italian pork sausage and/or bacon, and then add it to the soup.

Putting it All Together: For every 1/2 cup of bread, add about 1 cup of broth, and let it soak into the bread. You can serve it as is or bake it in a casserole dish at 375°F until the stuffing reaches 142°F and has the moisture level  you like.

Relax: Don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own stuffing? You can buy our homemade apple sausage stuffing in the deli!

Chef’s Turkey Tips

Get It Fresh: There’s a definite difference between fresh and frozen turkeys when it comes to your Thanksgiving roast. Freezing a turkey squeezes a lot of moisture from the meat. A fresh turkey will be inherently more moist and delicious.

To Brine or Not to Brine? This is an optional step, but I do like to brine my turkey at home. The final turkey won’t brown as nicely as an unbrined turkey, but it will be more moist and flavorful. Combine two gallons of water, three cups of sugar, and three cups of salt in a cooler, and let the turkey sit in this solution in a cooler overnight.

Salt & Pepper: Before you put your bird in the oven, rub the outside and inside with ample salt and pepper. This is all I do to the outside of the bird, but sometimes I like to add a few flavorful ingredients to the cavity. Sliced lemons, garlic, apples, butter, and/or herbs will flavor the finished turkey nicely. Because they’re not as dense as stuffing, they’ll be safe to eat when the turkey is cooked to perfection. This is optional, but the salt and pepper is not.  Salt and pepper help encourage browning of the meat, also known as the Maillard reaction. Proteins and sugars react with the heat to brown the food, creating hundreds of different flavor compounds that make the food significantly more delicious to the human taste buds than it would without the browning. Seasoning the inside and outside of the bird helps the flavor permeate all of the meat.

Bake: I prefer to bake my turkey in a hot oven at 450°F for just about 2.5 hours, or until the outside has browned nicely and the meat reaches a temperature of at least 160°F. I don’t put any foil on top, nor do I baste the turkey.

Rest: Let the bird sit for at least a half hour under foil to let the meat rest so the juices redistribute throughout the bird. This is a good time to make the gravy.

Gravy: Remove the turkey from the pan, and put the pan on the stove. Turn it on high and add a half of a bottle of white wine, using it to deglaze the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Make a slurry of equal parts cornstarch and water, whisk it into the pan a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency.

Leftovers! Definitely make soup with the carcass. I don’t get much past turkey sandwiches with mayonnaise and sharp cheddar cheese on good bread with hot sauce. But you can also use the leftovers in turkey enchiladas and all sorts of other dishes.

Call 603-225-6840 to place your Thanksgiving turkey, fresh-baked pies and roll orders, or to order fully cooked meals. Stop by the Deli case for all sorts of delicious sides made by our Chefs. Vegan Tofurky is available in our freezer case.

1 comment:

  1. Chef Mike, Your stuffing recipe sounds wonderful! My family likes the crispy stuffing edges, so I bake mine in muffin tins so that everyone gets those yummy crunchy bits. Yum!