Rethinking the Holiday Turkey Meal

The food: A reconstructed turkey dinner

The story:

The traditional turkey dinner, chez nous

See that overstuffed plate above? That’s what my family traditionally eats for Thanksgiving dinner – a panoply of starches, including rice, mashed potatoes, bread stuffing and sweet potatoes, overlaid with butter and gravy, and accessorized with cranberry sauce – and this year, a spoonful of green bean casserole – on the side.

That meal has long been my favorite, but when I ate it this year for Canadian Thanksgiving, something seemed to be missing. The texture mixture was good – the crunchy nuts and toasted bread in the stuffing contrasted nicely with the soft potatoes and rice, and with the dry (I like it that way) turkey breast meat. But no matter how much salt and gravy I poured over my plate, the food tasted bland – the robust flavours I associate with a turkey dinner weren’t coming through.

A few weeks before that dinner, I had bought a turkey and cranberry pie from Au Coin Gourmand, an artisanal shop in the Atwater Market in Montreal, and quite enjoyed it.

But had I liked it because the turkey meat was integrated with a creamy sauce, because of the herb-flecked crust, or because I’d eaten it with peach chutney on the side? Or for all three of those reasons?

Left with a large jar of rather ordinary turkey gravy (made by a gourmet food shop) post-Thanksgiving, I decided to reconstruct a turkey dinner. I bought a fresh turkey breast on sale from the supermarket (don’t judge), roasted it, added the drippings to the prepared gravy to juice it up, and thinned the sauce further with some chicken stock. It already tasted better that way, but the kick and depth it needed came from a spicy, fruity jelly I’d almost forgotten existed within reach: Nuala’s Fiery Irish Gold. I drove over to the Wychwood Farmer’s Market on Saturday to pick up a small jar and stirred half of it into the simmering gravy.

I also threw together a small batch of bread stuffing using a few whole wheat ciabatta rolls from Ace Bakery – cubed and toasted, some chopped dried apples, fresh sage and thyme leaves, pecans, and sauteed onion and celery, all baked for 20 minutes with a little more chicken stock.

The baked stuffing, turned out onto a plate, made the perfect bed for the cooked turkey mixed with the now delightfully piquant gravy. Here was the robust and satisfying flavour and combination I’d been seeking, and without a need for three extra starches or a handful of salt.

One thought on “Rethinking the Holiday Turkey Meal

  1. Mary Soderstrom says:

    The very best thing I’ve found to make turkey someting other than a dry bird is brining it for two days before you cook it. Thanksgiving is not a big holiday in Quebec, so we’ve discovered that it’s a terrific time to invite friends and family who are booked completely over the year end holidays. In 2011 we ended up with 45 people, ranging in age from a year to 83, and we scarfed down two 8 kg turkeys that were lucious and moist.

    Here’s the recipie, adapted from Global gourmet.
    2-1/2 gallons cold water
    2 cups kosher salt
    1 cup sugar
    2 bay leaves, torn into pieces
    1 bunch fresh thyme, or 4 tablespoons dried
    1 whole head of garlic, peeled
    5 whole allspice berries, crushed
    4 juniper berries, crushed
    3 dried red chilis

    Place the water in a large pot: I use a canning vat that I haven’t used for canning in 10 years.

    Add all the ingredients and stir for a minute or so until the sugar and salt dissolve.

    Refrigerate turkey for up to 48 hours.

    To cook, stuff the turkey with your preferred dressing (I like plain old white bread, onion and sage.) Rub the skin with oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Cook uncovered in a 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh registers at least 165 degrees.

    You can do the same thing to chickens and pork roast, but brine them for 12-24 hours, and make less brine

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