Every family has their favorite side dishes at Thanksgiving, and they show up like clockwork on that day and pretty much are out of sight, out of mind for the other 364 days of the year. Seriously, I’ve never fixed green bean casserole or corn casserole or mystery Jell-O salad for any meal other than on turkey day.
And it is turkey day. That big bird dominates when it comes to main dishes for Thanksgiving. Oh, there are some who eschew the traditional and opt for ham or a standing rib roast for the star of the plate, but to me, those are better left for other holidays such as Christmas or Easter. And of course, if you are a vegetarian or vegan you will pull a table together that could be all side dishes, delicious, and who would mind that? Or, you could go with the titillating tofurky, an option I’ve always been curious about but so far have not tried.
But getting back to the turkey, which is what most of us will grace our Thanksgiving table with. We’ll defrost it if necessary, some will do a brine. We might slather it with butter or put some sprigs of rosemary or a garni of other dried herbs to add a savory touch. But in the end, we’ll pull it out of the oven, carve it up, ladle gravy over it — save some for sandwiches — and call it good.
Or — how about a new twist on an old standby?
Thanks to two adventurous souls, I have rustled up some new takes on the old bird. One is exotic and one is “intoxicating.”
From Rhonda McMurtrie, Idaho Press:
“I was never a big fan of turkey. It just always seemed dry and not a lot of flavor. Then my mom tried this bourbon brine, and man, what a difference! I had to laugh at her, she told me it called for two cups of bourbon, and I said, ‘That’s a pint.’ She said, ‘Yeah, but I got a fifth because I wanted to sip on some too. The bird shouldn’t be the only one getting some!’ (My mom) was a hoot! There’s a reason her nickname was Sassy Pants.
“It adds a bit of flavor and keeps it more moist. The stuffing is my favorite! With adding the pork, those juices flow into the meat and add just that much more flavor. The dried apricots add a nice brightness. After I made a turkey with this stuffing for my family, now it’s requested I do the turkey every time because they loved it so much.
“Also, I run the bird with olive oil, season with kosher salt and pepper, and I don’t use a baking bag.”
3/4 cup Kosher Salt
2 cups bourbon
In a container with cover, put Kosher salt and some water, stir to dissolve salt. Add bourbon. Put turkey in and fill with enough water to cover turkey, and lots of ice. Cover and refrigerate overnight. If cold enough outside, you can put it outside, weighing down lid so it doesn’t come off.
Rinse turkey and pat dry thoroughly. Prepare as desired.
Turkey Stuffing with a Twist
Mrs. Cubbison’s Herb Stuffing
¾ to 1 pound ground pork
Make stuffing as directed. Chop up a handful of dried apricots. Once stuffing is cool, add pork. Mix together.
To stuff bird, gently separate skin from meat around the breast, thighs and legs, where you can reach. Gently put the stuffing in those areas, and put remainder inside the bird. The pork will add moisture and flavor to the meat, especially if you have soaked the bird in the bourbon brine.
Roast turkey as directed. When the breast is carved, each slice will have stuffing with it.
From Terry Rich, Idaho Press bird columnist:
“We have relatives from Nicaragua and Honduras, and they made this for a large group for a holiday a few years ago. They served the warm turkey with the sauce on hard rolls. The flavor is complex and simply stunning! After I first tasted it, I jumped up and asked the cooks (the kitchen was full of cooks!) for the recipe. It is one of my favorite food discoveries of all time!”
(Salvadoran Roast Turkey with Sauce)
Enough for about 8 to 10 people
Whole turkey, with giblets — 11 to 13 pounds
Dijon mustard — 1/2 cup
Worcestershire sauce — 1/2 cup
Tomatoes, cored — 10
Onions, chopped — 6
Green peppers, chopped — 6
Carrots, peeled and chopped — 4
Prunes, pitted — 1 cup
Green olives, pitted — 1/2 cup
Capers — 1/4 cup
Garlic — 10 cloves
White wine or water — 1 cup
Water or stock — 3 cups
Salt and pepper — to season
The day before roasting the turkey, remove and reserve the giblets and wash the turkey well with cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels and tuck the wings under the body to keep them from burning. Season the inside and outside of the bird with salt and pepper. Mix the mustard and Worcestershire sauce together in a bowl, and spread the mixture liberally all over the outside of the turkey. Refrigerate uncovered overnight. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about 45 minutes before you put it in the oven to let it come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set the turkey, breast side down, on a rack in a roasting pan. If you don’t have a V-shaped rack, you may have to tuck balls of scrunched up aluminum foil around the body to keep it upright. Place the roasting pan in the lowest rack of the oven and roast the turkey for about 1 hour.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Carefully turn the turkey over so it is breast side up. Add the tomatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, prunes, olives, capers, garlic, and the wine or water to the roasting pan around the turkey. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 1.5 to 2 hours, basting the turkey periodically with any juices that form in the pan. The turkey is done when the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh measures between 165 and 175 degrees (use a meat thermometer). If the breast begins to brown too much, cover it loosely with foil.
Remove the turkey to a cutting board or baking sheet. Tent with foil and let it rest while you finish the sauce.
Sauce: Remove any excess fat from the roasting pan. Add the turkey giblets (except for the liver; save this for another use) and the ingredients and juices from the roasting pan to a blender or food processor and puree. Add the puree to a large saucepan along with the 3 cups of water or stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until lightly thickened. Strain through a sieve, discarding any solids. Return the strained sauce to the saucepan, reheat and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Once the turkey has cooled somewhat, slice and serve with the warm sauce.
Relajo Spice Mixture: Many Salvadoran cooks add a mixture of spices, peppers and seeds called a relajo to their sauce. Not only does it add authentic Salvadoran flavor, but the peanuts and pumpkin and sesame seeds help thicken the sauce as well. If you use a relajo, you can omit the giblets from the sauce.
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 chile guaque or other dried chile, destemmed and deseeded
10 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme, or 1 sprig fresh
Add the spice mixture when you add the vegetables to the roasting pan. Puree and strain the sauce as directed above.
— from whats4eats.com