Fowl Play: Since we’d hosted the past four Thanksgivings, we were happy to return from Spain knowing this year, it was in someone else’s hands. Well, the hosting anyway. My husband, Bubba, was still determined to make a turkey, since his annual obsession to concoct the ultimate recipe had become tradition. Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday after all (he called it, “Christmas without the pressure”), and every year he managed to move further into his role as the mad scientist of ceremonial supper. Thanksgiving at my house = feasting, football and the Dr. Frankenstein of fowl.
To add to his obsession, there was a bit of competition this year. After Bubba volunteered to make a turkey, our friend, Daniel (aka Grandma), had also decided to take on Tom Turkey and all the trimmings. Bubba warned him, “Don’t cry when nobody eats your turkey,” at which Grandma had scoffed – he prided himself on being an “old char woman” that knew his way around the kitchen. But once in the Thanksgiving arena things got a little greasy. While piling our plates at the serving table, I noticed Bubba’s turkey was nowhere to be found…Grandma had benched Bubba’s bird! And let me tell you, I was on the lookout because this year Dr. Fowl-enstein had truly brought his creation to life.
Brine Design: Bubba had researched brines by the boatload. He swayed away from his salty standby, which had done him well in the past, but focused on more subtle, autumnal ingredients to beef up his bird. He landed on a base of apple cider, its natural sugars highlighted with orange slices, but downplayed enough with aromatic herbs (rosemary, sage, etc.) and onion = powerful, but delicate.
Stuffed animal: When Bubba asked if I wanted pecans or apples in the stuffing, I answered with a confident “no”. Sometimes I feel I might be swayed since I enjoy both outside the Thanksgiving realm, but experience has taught me that the juice from the apples makes stuffing soggy (too soft) and nuts always turn into tough bits of molar mortar (too hard). So like Goldilocks, I settled for “just right”. We’re talking straight forward sausage, celery, onion, sage and thyme. My only decision now would be which bed to nap in afterwards.
Shhh! He’s sleeping: A vital lesson that Bubba learned along the way was the importance of his bacon blanket = salty pork layered across the breast to keep things juicy. Once removed, the skin stayed oiled up for crisping into browned, fatty goodness. The bacon blanket also meant 6-8 pieces of savory, sliced delight for an impromptu appetizer (one year Bubba even maple-coated the bacon...now, that was something to be thankful for).
Floats My (Gravy) Boat: “Bang! Zoom!” As I swallowed this liquid gold, I pictured Ralph Kramdon sending Alice to the moon because I was seeing stars. Juice from the bird and brine-left-behind parlayed themselves into some dazzling drippings – citrus, herbs, turkey tidbits, bacon fat. After removing any fat floating to the top, Bubba added his flour/water slurry to thicken (no corn starch allowed!)= depth without heaviness.
Crusty the Clown: For me this year, my efforts would be focused on recreating my mom’s famous pies, known for their flaky, buttery crust (she used to sell them to a local restaurant years ago) and the easy, two step recipe that she assured me was simpler than I thought. Since Grandma wasn’t pure evil, he decided to come help me, but as he started peeling apples for the filling, I noticed that my dough wasn’t coming together at all. I fumbled around for a bit and then finally added more water – a big no-no. Though the inside of both the apple and pecan pies turned out like Mom’s, my crust didn’t even compare. A good crust (like a man who cooks) is so hard to find...thanks again Bubba!