As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I hope you are getting ready to enjoy this upcoming day of rest with family and friends. Growing up in New Orleans, Thanksgiving was always a day to eat, relax, and eat some more! We would get up real early to cook up a bunch of my favorite comfort foods (Creole of course), invite a bunch of family and friends over, and sit down and relax with good conversation and good wine. We would pretty much eat all day from morning until night. Though the pace of life is different here on the East Coast than in the Big Easy, I try my best to carry on this tradition with my own family here in Washington, DC.
I would love to hear about your favorite Thanksgiving traditions and recipes! Please leave a comment on this post to tell us all about it!
For the next several posts, I am going to share with you my favorite Creole recipes that I grew up eating at Thanksgiving – mirliton (chayote squash casserole), dirty rice, pecan pie, bread pudding, and more. But first, I want to talk turkey.
Unfortunately, though I love pretty much everything else about my Creole Thanksgiving dinner, I have to admit that turkey is not my favorite. Give me ham, roast pork, seafood, duck, or really anything else, and I’ll be happy. However, I have discovered a few ways to make it moist, flavorful and, frankly, pretty good.
Here are my favorite ways to prepare turkey:
Brining & Roasting
Now most people brine and roast the whole turkey, but I still find that, even with the brine, the breast overcooks and dries out before the rest of the bird is finished. I avoid this by butchering the turkey into pieces before brining and roasting. That way, the cooking process is (1) quicker – you don’t have to wait all day for the turkey to cook and (2) more controlled – the different pieces cook through without getting dried out. I do realize that you don’t get to carve the bird at the table with this method (if you’re really into that, then I suggest you deep-fry your turkey), but in my world, less time and better taste win out over formality. And if you are someone who likes to stuff your turkey with stuffing, don’t worry – you can still have stuffing, just cook it in a casserole dish. It’s less soggy and, most importantly, there’s virtually no likelihood of food-poisoning causing bacteria being present in your stuffing. (Note: the reason stuffing cooked inside the turkey may have food-poisoning causing bacteria in it is that the temperature inside the cavity of the turkey sometimes doesn’t get high enough to kill bacteria even though the meat is cooked)
Here are my favorite brine and seasoning recipes for roasting (with instructions on how to butcher the turkey):
Butchering Instructions: (note: this is instruction for how to cut up a chicken, but the process is the same for any bird!)
1 gallon water
1 cup sea salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb blend
1/2 gallon ice water
1. In a large stock pot, combine the water, sea salt, Italian herb blend, & brown sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to be sure salt is dissolved. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
2. When the broth mixture is cool, pour it into a clean 5 gallon bucket. Stir in the ice water.
3. Wash and dry your turkey. Make sure you have removed the innards. Place the turkey, breast down, into the brine. Make sure that the cavity gets filled. Place the bucket in the refrigerator overnight.
4. Remove the turkey carefully draining off the excess brine and pat dry. Discard excess brine.
5. Cook the turkey as desired reserving the drippings for gravy. I actually like to sear the skin side before roasting, just fyi. Keep in mind that brined turkeys cook 20 to 30 minutes faster so watch the temperature gauge.
I like to keep things simple a little sea salt and pepper on the outside is all you are going to need here. The flavor of the brine will already have infused in to the meat, so you dont have to over do it here.
I’m sure most of you have heard of deep-frying your turkeys. For flavor, who could go wrong with dunking a bird in a hot tub of oil? I mean, come on. You don’t have to baste and the turkey is cooked on all sides at the same temperature – if you love moist turkey, this method is for you! Just, please don’t fry the turkey inside or on your wooden deck – I don’t want you to burn up your house, even if it is for the sake of great food.
Deep Frying Instructions:
First Step ( this can be set up the night before):
Before beginning, (and before you even season or marinate your turkey) you must determine the amount of oil
you’ll need by placing the turkey in the basket (or on the hanger, depending on the type of fryer you are using) and putting it in the pot. Add water until it reaches about two inches above the turkey. Remove the turkey and note the water level by using a ruler to measure the distance from the top of the pot to the surface of the water. Remove the water and thoroughly dry the pot. Now add enough oil to equal what the water level was without the turkey in the pot.
Next: Use an Injector to Marinade Your Turkey
An injector, which resembles a large hypodermic needle, allows you to inject a marinade directly into the meat. While you can make a fried turkey without this step and get a moist bird, don’t even think about. it will not be flavorful ay all. Look, it will be a disservice if you don’t take the time to inject your bird with marinade. My preference is the night before, but at the very least about a half hour or so before frying.
Fill your syringe with marinade and inject it into both sides of the breast, the legs and the thighs of the turkey. Don’t be afraid to move the needle around to get the marinade into the whole bird. Sometimes it’s easier to get the thighs from the inside of the cavity. Here is a recipe to get you started:
Creole Injectable Marinade for Deep Fried Turkey
8 oz. Italian salad dressing
5 tbsp. Creole Seasoning
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot sauce (like Tabasco however my preference is Crystal or Louisiana Red Hot)
1/3 C. Beer
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth.
2. Stir in beer.
3. Inject into turkey.
Hey there, Don’t forget the skin!
This is a crucial part of the process, we made the inside taste good, now it’s time to work on the outside. I don’t like to get to complicated here just a strait forward dry rub. Drizzle a little oil on the outside of your bird and massage her so she has some shine to her. Then rub the dry mixture evenly all over your turkey. Now let here rest awhile, as I mentioned before my preference is overnight to maximize flavor. Try this one on for size.
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder
How to Fry
Using the candy thermometer to determine temperature, heat the oil to about 325°F and no higher than 350°F. This usually takes between 20 to 30 minutes. Once the oil is hot enough, place the turkey in the basket or on the turkey hanger (follow instructions that came with your turkey frying kit) and slowly lower it into the pot.
Now let her fry! Grab a beer, and your preferred reading material and sit a spell. With whole turkeys, you can estimate on average about three minutes per pound to cook. Remove turkey and check the temperature with a meat thermometer. The temperature should reach 165° F. in the breast and 170° F. in the thigh.
When this is all done, it time to let her rest. Remove your turkey from the hot oil and drain on paper towels. Let her rest for 15 minutes, before putting her on a platter, ready for serving.