I never knew what Thanksgiving really was until I moved to New York 9 years ago. I had vaguely heard about it of course but I never truly realized what it meant and how important it is to American culture until this country became my home.
Over the years I have had many kinds of Thanksgiving – large and small, either as a guest or the host. This year, I went to my friend Kelly’s house set on the edge of a lake in the Poconos with two of my closest girlfriends and we had a wonderful time – staying close to the wood burning fireplaces while looking out on the snowy landscape outside.
But one thing has been a constant for some time – I always host a second Thanksgiving on the Sunday of that week to get together with friends who were away with their family on the day itself.
What I love the most about Thanksgiving is that it is a non-religious holiday which means that everyone celebrates it regardless of conviction and background. What I love less about it is … turkey. I have cheated a couple of times over the years and made roast chicken instead but really my American friends can’t (quite justifiably) really embrace that. One of the main reasons is that my oven is tiny and I am not sure a turkey would actually fit in there. The other is that I find that most of the time, the breasts end up dry and the legs overcooked. I experimented with what I have called a “deconstructed turkey” a few times now and I don’t think I can ever go back – I basically buy 2 turkey legs/drumsticks and 2 breast fillets and cook them seperately. The legs get slowly braised on the stove, while the breasts get marinated overnight and roasted.
This year was no different except that I sous-vided the breasts after reading a ton about the best way of doing it. I must say that I adapted and changed recipes a lot more than usual, perhaps because I am gaining more confidence in the kitchen. I did do a lot of research and reading and will detail below what I ended up cooking, the recipes that inspired me, and the cooking order.
Warning number 1: it does take almost a full day to prep this meal.
Warning number 2: I am slightly OCD and the only way I can tackle a meal like this is by being super organized!
My menu this year was as follows:
- Goats cheese crostini with pickled blackberries and truffled honey
- Classic salmon tartare with crackers
- Turkey: red wine braised legs and seared herb marinated breasts
- Mashed potato casserole with fontina and sage
- Roasted brussels sprouts with coriander and cumin
- Sausage and sage stuffing muffins
- My friend Brian brought his amazing cranberry sauce (the secret is a lot of cognac apparently!) and a spicy green beans dish
- Fionuala and Caroline brought some cheeses which I served with crackers and Port
- Elizabeth brought a lovely apple pie
And here is what I did the day before:
- I chopped off the wing of the turkey breast I had and simmered it very slowly for a couple hours in chicken broth in which I had also added some fresh thyme and bay leaves. This was going to be the stock I used to braise the turkey legs and eventually make the gravy.
- I made the mashed potato casserole, not departing from this Food & Wine recipe, except from the fact that I used Yukon gold potatoes instead of Russet – I prefer their creamier texture. I then refrigerated it overnight, ready to be baked the next day.
- I cleaned and prepped the brussel sprouts and popped them in the fridge overnight in a tray ready for baking the next day.
- For the braised turkey legs, I had a few recipes to inspire me (here and here), but in the end, I kind of winged it and made my own. I seared the legs in a pan with olive oil on high heat. I took the legs out of the pan and added an equal mix of chopped onion and celery to the hot pan until they were soft and then added quartered portobello mushrooms and a teaspoon of puréed garlic. Once everything got a little softer, I added the legs back in and poured a couple of cups of the “pimped up” chicken stock to the pan, along with a few squeezes of tomato purée and a glug of the red wine I was drinking. I simmered the lot for an hour and a half and then let it get to room temperature before refrigerating overnight.
- To make the gravy, I heated up a couple of tablespoons of butter and added flour until it got brown and a little thick (I basically made a roux). I then added ladling spoons of the turkey legs cooking liquid and added some more flour along the way, little by little, until I felt it was the right consistency. This was by far the best gravy I have ever made – the key really is the stock!
- I also brined the blackberries since I figured they would taste even better the next day.
- Lastly, I smeared the turkey breasts in olive oil, salt and pepper and a mix of chopped sage and thyme – I popped them in sous-vide bags and refrigerated them overnight. I had not seen this marinating step done in the sous-vide recipes I read but I figured that I couldn’t really go wrong there.
On the day itself:
- I took the turkey breasts out to bring them back to room temperature and then popped them in a sous-vide bath heated at 145F for 3 hours. I first got the idea of doing the breasts sous-vide from ChefSteps but also used this guide from Anova to determine the right temperature and time. After the 3 hours were up, I took them out of the bags and covered them with foil to keep them warm. I seared them quickly on high heat just before serving and this was quite possibly the best bit of white turkey meat I’ve ever had and my friends absolutely raved about it too.
- I slowly reheated the turkey legs and the gravy on the stovetop. Because the legs were braised gently for so long, the meat literally fell off the bones and was incredibly tasty.
- I baked the mashed potato casserole as well as the brussel sprouts, following this recipe from Food & Wine again.
- I assembled the goats cheese crostini, according to this recipe. I will definitely try pickling other fruits as well as I love the contrast of sweetness and acidity and truffled honey was a new discovery for me – I can’t wait to try it with other dishes too.
- The salmon tartare was very easy to make and I followed this recipe (sorry it is in French!) with the exception of adding parsley to the mixture – I’m just not a huge fan of raw parsley and I thought it would detract from the otherwise smooth and buttery texture of the salmon.
- As for the stuffing muffins, I again read quite a few recipes but decided on my own mix. I sweated chopped celery and onion in butter and olive oil and then added sweet Italian sausage meat to the pan and chopped sage until cooked through. I added 2 eggs to the mixture after allowing it to cool down to room temperate, then folded in the dried bread cubes (I cheated and bought a bad of ready made ones) and added enough stock to get to what I felt was the right consistency with the bread mostly soaked but retaining its shape. I divided the mixture in individual servings in a muffin baking tray and put it in a hot oven (400F) for about 30 minutes.
Between the yummy food and wonderful company, we had a great afternoon together and I was again reminded of the significance of this holiday for me – where some of the people I love the most come together at my table.