Tag Archives: Heritage Turkeys

Stuffing vs. Dressing

Turkey Day Tip # 3- “When it comes to Turkey, stuffing is evil.” – Alton Brown

Although not likely on the menu of the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving Day feast in 1621, stuffing has become as ubiquitous as Tom Turkey himself.  Although a staple of Thanksgiving Day Dinner, it seems that no two families can agree on what goes into proper stuffing.  Even the name differs depending on where you are from.  Traditionally, the word “stuffing” was used when it was cooked inside the bird, whereas the word “dressing” was used when cooked outside of the bird.  Today, the terms “stuffing” and “dressing” are used interchangeably.  Although “stuffing” seems to be used more in the North and “dressing” in the South.

These regional differences, as well as one’s nationality, usually dictates what is in the stuffing on your Thanksgiving Day table.  For the traditionalist there is oyster stuffing.  Southerners often prefer cornbread stuffing while Italians like sausage in their stuffing. Dried fruit, potatoes, and apples make up stuffing traditionally prepared by Germans.

Whether you call it stuffing, dressing or even filling (as I have heard it referred to) or wether you include seafood, cornbread, sausage or fruit, nothing is more important than where you cook this concoction – inside or outside of the turkey.

I prefer to cook the stuffing in a casserole outside of the bird — no junk in the trunk here.  Then when the bird is done, drizzle the drippings of the turkey over the stuffing to give it added flavor and also help keep it nice and juicy.  My preference is not just based on taste but safety concerns as well.

Food safety requirements dictate that you should cook a turkey until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  If the bird is filled with stuffing, it will take much longer to reach the recommended temperature.  Longer cooking time equals a greater chance that you will overcook the other parts of the bird.  More often than not, cooking the stuffing inside the bird results in either soggy, sticky, luke warm stuffing or an overcooked breast.  Not to mention, the possibility of samonila poisoning if the bird is not cooked through.

Rather than filling your turkey with stuffing try filling the cavity with something that will give it additional flavor such as fresh herbs, garlic or lemon.

Although my taste in stuffing (or dressing as I cook it outside the bird) is pretty diverse (cornbread, sausage, oyster, etc), this year I have decided to pay homage to my Italian roots and make my favorite – a sausage, apple and walnut stuffing.  Here is my recipe.

Sausage, Apple, and Walnut Stuffing

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 ribs celery, finely diced
Kosher salt
3 small cloves garlic, smashed and finely diced
1 Lb. Berkshire pork sausage,  casing removed, broken up into bite-size chunks – I prefer a “The Roman sausage” from our friends at Proper Sausages
3 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch dice ( I prefer Granny Smith Apples)
1 cup apple cider
1/2 bunch sage, leaves finely chopped
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
10 cups rustic bread, crusts discarded, cut into 1-inch cubes; or fresh bread slices toasted until crispy but no color, cut into 1-inch cubes (go see my friends at Acme Bakery for a variety of fresh baked bread) 
3 cups chicken stock

Directions

Coat a large saute pan, over medium heat, with olive oil and add the onions and celery. Season with salt and cook until the veggies start to become soft and are very aromatic. Add the garlic and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until the sausage browns. Stir in the apples and apple cider and cook until the apples start to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the sage leaves and the walnuts and turn off the heat.

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the diced bread and toss together. Pour in the chicken stock and knead with your hands until the bread is very moist, actually wet. Taste to check for seasoning and season with salt, if needed, (it does). Transfer to a large deep ovenproof dish (roughly 9 by 11 inches) and bake until it is hot all the way through and crusty on top.

Not Your Grandma’s Thanksgiving Menu

Turkey Day Tip # 2: Have some fun with the menu – add a twist to the traditional.

Of course the star of the show at Thanksgiving is the turkey.  I would never suggest replacing this staple of Thanksgiving Day dinner with some obscure centerpiece like a Tofurkey, Turducken or any other type of protein or obscure combination thereof.  However, the trimmings are where you can have some fun.  Even I have sat through many a Thanksgiving dinner where I was presented with the “standard” side dishes of mashed potatoes, some sort of green bean casserole, wonder bread stuffing, overly sweet pumpkin pie and, who can forget, the fresh from the can Ocean Spray cranberry sauce.  At best, any of this served warm would be an improvement. This year I say throw caution to the wind, mix it up a bit and have some fun with the fixins’.

Perhaps you could substitute Aunt Mary’s soggy green bean casserole for Brussels sprouts with roasted chestnuts, switch out Abuelas’ bland mashed potatoes for potato and cheese pie or potato soufflé and replace mom’s good ole’ pumpkin pie for pumpkin gooey butter cakes.  You may even get real crazy and make your own cranberry sauce from scratch.

I am excited this year to have the opportunity to spend the holiday with my entire family.  A welcomed break from the norm as most holidays I’m in the weeds at the restaurant cooking for other families.  This year I have been charged with the task of preparing the bird and drippins’, a few sides and something sweet.  I am taking my own advice and spicing it up a bit with these not so run of the mill Thanksgiving dishes.

Turkey brine with a mixture of spices and herbs *(and how to cook the bird day of)

Sausage, apple and walnut stuffing

Roasted beets with pickled onions, candied hazelnuts and goat cheese

Brussels sprouts with panchetta, roasted chestnuts and lemon

Pumpkin gooey butter cakes, yes Goo-ey!

Stay tuned in the days leading up to Thanksgiving as I will share these recipes and some photos of me preparing the dishes.  In the meantime, here is my recipe for turkey brine.

TURKEY BRINE

  • 2 Gal Water
  • 2 C. Kosher Salt
  • 1/3 C. Brown Sugar
  • ¼ C. Garlic, Whole
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. Whole Black Peppercorns
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. Juniper Berries
  • 3 Bay Leaves

In a large pot place turkey and combine all of the brine ingredients and stir.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the turkey from the pot, discard the brine, and rinse the turkey thoroughly under cold water, pat dry with cloth and set aside for seasoning and roasting.

**Note: I find using a cooler and submerging the bird in water and ice overnight is the easiest method for brining.

FRANKLIN, LINUS, SALLY, CHARLIE BROWN, PEPPERMINT PATTY, SNOOPY AND MARCIE

Eleven-Twelve: “A turkey never voted for an early Christmas.”

[Watch the video] One of my favorite classics…

Each year around holiday time, we chef’s get asked a variety of questions on how to prepare for this fowl full celebration.  These questions range from the basic such as “How long should I cook the turkey?” to the more advanced “How do you brine a turkey?” to the downright absurd “Do I have to thaw a frozen turkey before I put it in the oven?”   And the beat goes on…

With only 10-days until the big Thanksgiving Day feast, I’ve decided to countdown the days with my ten tips for your Thanksgiving dinner.

Tip #1: What’s the best Turkey to buy?
My favorite bird is the Heritage Turkey for 3-main reasons:

Heritage Turkey

1. Naturally mating: A Heritage Turkey must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating. This means that turkeys marketed as “heritage” must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.  No arranged marriages here.

2. Long productive outdoor lifespan: In order to be considered a Heritage Turkey, the bird must have a long productive lifespan. Breeding hens are commonly productive for 5-7 years and breeding toms for 3-5 years. The Heritage Turkey must also have a genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor production systems.

3. Slow growth rate: A Heritage Turkey must have a slow to moderate rate of growth. Today’s heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. Crossfit- devotees everywhere would be proud.

And let’s not forget the most important factor – TASTE.  Heritage birds, when brined and properly cooked, are one of the juiciest and tastiest birds I’ve ever had.  Cooked at the appropriate time and temperature – Juicy, Delicious and Crispy is how my birds roll!

Stay tuned each day as we count down my top ten tips, tomorrow: “How to write a Thanksgiving Menu?”