Monday, 4 October 2010

Braised Turkey

This is a photo and recipe I've been saving since last Christmas; not much use in posting it after Christmas I didn't think. So here it is in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.

For years, I've been aware of the old verse;
Turkey boiled is turkey spoiled
And turkey roast is turkey lost
But for turkey braised,
The Lord be praised!
I'm inclined to take their word - whoever they were - that turkey shouldn't be boiled. (Although I can't see any reason why turkey breast couldn't be poached lightly, like chicken breast.)

Modern cooks, or even cooks for the entire last two centuries however, are and have been of the opinion that roast turkey is not at all lost, but in fact the only way to proceed. It is a method that does have its drawbacks though; the white breast meat cooks faster than the dark legs, and so it is prone to being served dried out and overcooked. Furthermore, unless there is someone in the family who is adept at carving, it's a lot easier to cut up the bird before it is cooked, and then just have to slice the boneless breasts before serving. You don't have to worry about "performing" in front of your guests, while the rest of the meal is either scorching or getting cold, and if you find it easiest to put your hands all over it while you cut it up, no problem! It's about to be cooked for several hours anyway.

The one disadvantage that I can see, is that you don't get to present a a shiny brown entire bird to the table in a burst of (usually imaginary in my experience) trumpets - most people have been waiting around for hours and just want to get on with it at that point. And the skin is not so uniformly crisp and delectable, which I do admit is a loss that I feel; that, and the stuffing which obviously cannot be stuffed. Still, if it makes the actual meat moister and tastier, that's a sacrifice I believe I am prepared to make.

This method is particularly suited for smaller turkeys, which are also particularly prone to drying out when roasted. Or, you can (in some places) get turkey pieces instead rather than buying a whole turkey. In a family like ours, where 9 out of 10 diners strongly prefer dark meat, it means you can formulate your pieces to suit peoples tastes. I got 1 breast and 4 thighs for our family one year; there was no leftover thigh meat at all and half a breast left over at the end of dinner. You can imagine that everyone was a lot happier than they would have been with a whole bird. Unfortunately, that was in the days before I had sworn off conventionally raised turkey. If you get organic, free range turkey, they do seem to be available whole or not at all.

Serves, in theory, 10 to 14; although perhaps not if you want plentiful leftovers, and surely you do.
1 hour prep time AND about 5 to 6 hours cooking time, including making but not cooling the stock.

1 10 to 14 pound turkey
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 large parsnip
2 medium carrots
1 large onion
3 large stalks of celery
salt & pepper

Cut the legs and wings from the bird. Cut the tips from wings and put them in a large soup pot. Put the leg and wing pieces aside. If there are any other portions of meat still attached to the back end of the carcass, remove them carefully and set them with the legs and wings.

Break off theback half of carcass (now with all the meat removed) and put in the soup pot with the wing tips. Cut the breast meat carefully from carcass, in one piece from each side, along with any remaining pieces of meat that are large enough to cut off and use. Break up the remaining bones and put them in the soup pot. Cover them with cold filtered water, add the bay leaf, and simmer for several hours; cover and return the turkey pieces to fridge while this happens. You may wish to make the turkey stock the day before the turkey is to be cooked. Cool it promptly and keep it in the fridge as well until needed.

Peel and dice the parsnip, carrots and onion. Clean and dice the celery.

Brown the leg and wing pieces in fat. You can use mild vegetable oil, chicken or bacon fat, or any fat that formed on the top of the stock after it was cooked. Put the browned pieces in a large roasting pan.

Preheat the oven to 275°F.

Sauté the prepared vegetables and arrange them around the pieces of turkey in a large roasting pan. Add about 4 cups of the strained turkey stock, and season to taste with salt & pepper. Cover and braise in the oven at 275°F for about 2 hours.

Increase the temperature to 375°F. Add the boneless turkey breast pieces on top, skin side up, and bake for about 45 minutes longer, uncovered, until the breast pieces are done. Remove from the oven, cover, and let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before slicing - time enough to make some gravy if you are doing that.

Slice the breast meat. Shred and debone the dark meat. Serve with the braised veggies on the side, or they may (at least some of them) be puréed with the pan juice and thickened with a little flour to make gravy.

1 comment:

Alanna Kellogg said...

What a great little ditty, to help remember that there are options for cooking turkey. I like the idea of cooking a turkey this way especially in the off season though of course you've timed this for Canadian Thanksgiving. Bookmarked!

PS I save recipes for a year all the time, it really helps stay both seasonal and timely.