Post courtesy of a JKCP Cooking Program Alum and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Simon Solis-Cohen.
Thanksgiving is only a day away, but it’s never to late to find ways to revamp your meal. There is nothing wrong with tradition and honoring the classics, but just adding a few special touches can make your meal extra special this year.
Everyone has their favorite methods for roasting a turkey and there is no one right way. One method is starting the turkey breast side down for one hour and then turning it over in the oven to color and finishing cooking. Others say to wrap it in moistened cheesecloth to help retain moisture. Regardless of how you roast your turkey, my number one suggestion is to brine your turkey. Brining is the simple process of allowing the turkey to sit overnight in a salt-water solution in order to help retain moisture for a juicer turkey. Place your turkey in a large cooler or large plastic bag (some supermarkets sell bags labeled for brining) and cover it fully in a solution of 90% water and 10% salt. If you want to, add a few sprigs of thyme and your other favorite herbs, a few crushed garlic cloves, and the peel of a lemon or two. The amounts don’t have to be exact; the important part is the salt water. Allow the turkey to sit in the brine in the fridge overnight or 12 hours. Remove the turkey, dry it fully with paper towel and then roast it according to your favorite method.
I must say I am partial to my grandmother’s stuffing. She sautés onion and celery and then adds turkey sausage and then the bread with some chicken stock. It’s seasoned with cayenne pepper and salt. Of course, I could never imagine a thanksgiving without her stuffing, but here are a few suggestions for stuffing I use during the rest of the year. Instead of using the pre-diced bread that’s packaged for stuffing, buy some brioche the day before and dice it and let it sit out overnight to get hard. Brioche is an egg heavy bread that’s richer and will have a more luxurious and fatty taste. Besides adding vegetables and spices to your stuffing add some chopped nuts such as almonds or pecans and also dried fruit such as dried apricots or dried figs. I find the sweetness of the fruit and salty nuts add a great contrast to a mundane stuffing.
In my house we have a set roster of side dishes that never change. Instead of the everyday mashed potatoes, we take sweet potatoes and slice them in half and then roast them in a 350-degree oven until they are fork tender. We also have brussel sprouts which we cut in half and also roast in the oven with some diced pancetta, or bacon, until golden brown and tender. As for the all-important cranberry sauce, try making your own instead of buying the canned version. It is very easy to do and there are plenty of recipes on the Internet.