Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fall off the Bones Turkey

This is an honest and true accounting of my adventure in roasting the perfect "fall off the bones" turkey.

I stole this recipe.

The victim of my theft calls herself:

So I would be remiss if I didn't include the full text of Red Writer's recipe. Full disclosure: I made some minor changes. All were committed either in response to the yum factor in my genetic makeup, or to laziness. Mostly laziness.

Red's ingredients were ... oh wait, let me tell you why I decided to roast this turkey in the first place, in exactly this way.

Bonnie's employer has an unusual tradition of giving each of its employees a turkey just before the Thanksgiving holiday. I know, I know, not unusual, but quite common, you say. Then why in my four decades of employment by over a dozen employers, have I had just one such turkey given to me? I have either discovered a flaw in the assumption that the practice is common, or there is a conspiracy against me. Naturally I side with option one.

But this particular turkey on this particular Thanksgiving was superfluous; we had Thanksgiving out of town. And while I love the fact that salmonella has diddly squat to do with salmon, I am risk-averse to those creepy little bacterium. So a four hundred mile transport of the bleeping bird just was not in the cards.

And thus it made its very short trip to our freezer. It remained there until this last Wednesday evening when, according to those clever little turkey thawing tables, a thirteen and a half pound turkey (don't laugh!) ought to begin its long thaw in anticipation of a Saturday morning roast.

But I must digress further still. In anticipation of acquiring this mass of low calorie meat, some two weeks or so ago, I started to consider ways in which I might put the protein by in small quantities for future recipes. Honestly, sliced off the bone turkey breast, thighs, and drumsticks do not leave me with any sense of anticipation, much less culinary creativity. The only reason the roast turkey has survived two plus centuries of American holiday tradition is because the holidays are really about the anticipation of watching Uncle Ed fumble his drunken rendition of politics and/or religion upon an aghast audience. You pretty much must have bland food to counter the dramatic hilarity.

But turkey meat is lean, and (as long as you spice it up to hide its incomparable blandness) it's delicious! I must not let these innocent nutrients go to waste. But to "put the meat by" (a nineteenth century phrase if I ever heard one), I decided I wanted the meat to be moist (right? moist turkey...?), and I didn't want to spend a week cutting it off the bone (and losing two pounds of viable meat mass in the bargain). So I needed fall-off-the-bones meat, with enough infused moisture to sink in Archimedes' bathtub.

The Crock Pot!!

What a concept. And I found recipes galore with the help of Uncle Google. I started salivating immediately and considered crossing this recipe with that, this concoction with the other. I was in my personal culinary heaven. And then a few days after Thanksgiving, when the perfect timing was approaching (Bonnie being out of town) for cleverly creative cookery, I happened upon an online article proclaiming: "Do not EVER slow cook a turkey!!!" Subtitled: "You may die."

Upon reflection, this made perfect sense (see salmonella reference above). As I am risk-averse to death (and liability-averse to the death of others), I decided to explore other options.

And then, I found Redhead's recipe. Cue the ingredients:

21 pound fresh, whole turkey
2 onions
10 bay leaves
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground celery seed
3 strips lemon zest
32 ounces chicken broth

As I had a thirteen and a half pound turkey to work with, I opted to ... leave the ingredients exactly as they were. That is, except for the ingredients I increased.

I will now faithfully and without (much) commentary, quote in whole, Redhead's instructions:

Remove the turkey’s legs from the plastic clip. Don’t ruin the plastic clip and you don’t have to completely separate it from the bird (For the record, Butterball saved $10 million this year by doing away with the plastic clip). Just take the legs out of it. Now inside the cavity of the turkey, you will find a bag of innards such as the liver and heart.
Take the bag out of the turkey cavity. You will also find the turkey neck. Be sure to pull it out too. Do not discard all this stuff (they're currently in my fridge, awaiting god knows what fate).

Now turn the cold water on high and rinse the turkey. Fill the cavity full of water and rinse the innards too. Let the water drain from the turkey while you prepare the pan. In a large roasting pan, line the bottom with a large sliced onion. (due to my risk-averse nature, I did this stuff way before I took the bird from its refrigerated snooze). 

Now comes the really fun part…It’s the artistic part of cooking a turkey. Use the prettiest bay leaves you have in the container (I love art. This isn't art - but they are pretty).

Add bay leaves under the skin. Carefully separate the turkey skin from the breast meat using your fingertips to avoid ripping the skin. Softly and gently separate. That’s the key to prevent(ing) the ripping of the skin (good advice; it worked).

Very carefully arrange the bay leaves between the skin and breast meat. You can make a design or just lay them under the skin (you can't really see the friggin things, so forget making a design - trust me). Now put a bay leaf inside the cavity on one end and a couple bay leaves in the other end (the cavities interconnect, so use your throwing arm, and do this in one fell swoop).

(Bay leaves, before and after - Oh wow!!)

Cut an onion in quarters and put it inside the turkey cavity.

In a separate bowl combine pepper, salt, dried parsley, basil, thyme, garlic, cumin, and ground celery seed (I kept the garlic separate because I didn't used dried garlic [really, who the f*** does???]. And half a teaspoon of garlic??? Really??? Please; it isn't garlic unless at least three cloves have met their demise).

Pat most of the mixture all over the outside of the turkey (don't think I did this; I'm going to hell)I took the onion out of the cavity and sprinkled the rest of the spice mixture inside the turkey (I read this and thought, "whatever." Don't put the onions in until you're done with the rest).

Now add the chicken broth to the pan around the turkey. Peel off three (or eight) medium size pieces of lemon zest.

Put one in the broth at one end of the turkey and put the other two in the cavity at the other end or in the broth (it makes a lot more sense to do this before adding the broth - I added the zest at the same time I added the bay leaves!).

(Red forgot to mention that the turkey needs to be trussed up again before roasting. I love trussing up a bird!)

Seal the roasting pan base tightly with aluminum foil.

Put the lid on tightly (Lid? I don't have a %#@* lid. Foil will have to do).

Bake in a preheated 450 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes (don't forget to leave a spot in this hermetic seal to stick your temperature probe in!). Reduce the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and cook until done – approximately 4 hours for a 21 pound turkey. Do not peek or open the aluminum foil. Just trust me and bake it 12 minutes per pound.

It's been in the oven all but 17 minutes according to my calculations and the Mayan calendar. I've dropped the temperature to 325 degrees as directed. My calculations tell me

that means I'm nearing the moment of truth when I must put up or shut up!

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Red Chile Caribe

I recently prepared some Carne Adovada from a recipe I found online. Carne Adovada (or Adobada, as it is also pronounced) is pork in red chile sauce. It sounds simple, maybe even boring. But the taste is exquisite and the preparation can be complex. The iterations in the means of preparation are also varied and nuanced.

The recipe I used included an ingredient called, simply, Chile Caribe. A quick Google search indicated that this was a recipe of its own, and the Carne Adovada preparation was going to be time intensive as it was. A few months back, I had prepared a wonderful paste called Schug. It's a Mediterranean blend with chiles, garlic, coriander, cumin, cardamom, pepper, onion, lemon, cloves and salt. I used that. However, more recent research into Chile Caribe indicates that the recipe was probably just calling for some processed red chile flakes, heavy on the hot seeds (although I should say that the Schug worked fantastically).

My research into Chile Caribe also produced another meaning for this ingredient. Chile Caribe sometimes refers to a concentrated red chile sauce which may be used in the preparation of innumerable red chile based dishes. This piqued my interest. I decided to prepare this sort of Chile Caribe. And of course, for me that meant I was going to do a PROJECT.

A recurring theme in the preparation of Chile Caribe was the observation that the best red chile in all of New Mexico (and therefore, in all the world) is Chimayo red chile. I made my Carne Adovada with ground Chimayo red chile. Actually, it was a blend of Chimayo and Hatch (New Mexico's standard). It was about $3.50 for two ounces. Had it been pure Chimayo, it would have cost $10. Traditionally, one does not use powdered chile. One starts with chile pods, dried, then soaks them, the purees them, and so on. Chimayo dried red chile pods are very hard to get your hands on - going on a trek to find them is considered something of a mystic journey.

We planned a Saturday drive to Chimayo to initiate our hadj. I called the local trading post (yes, really, that's what they call it), and was told rather severely that Chimayo red chile pods were not to be had for love or money - they had plenty of the ground stuff, at $30 a gram or some such. I could perhaps drive to the Santa Fe Farmer's Market and find a Mexican vendor who calls himself Chencho; Chencho sometimes sold Chimayo red chile pods. I asked if Chencho had a phone number. The Hispanic sounding gentleman on the other end of the line laughed and said, "no, Chencho is a Mexican."

I was jonesing to make my Chile Caribe Friday night, and drove down the street to Chile Traditions where we buy our Hatch chile every year. On a whim I asked if they sold Chimayo red chile pods, and the woman running the place hacked out in the worst smoker's voice I've ever heard that "Nobody don't grow that no more. Hack, hack, hack." Oof. Did they perhaps have some Hatch dried red chile pods? Oh sure, we have them hanging in the back in onion sacks. I didn't know what an onion sack was. Bonnie did. It was about two bushels of dried pods; they had the sacks hanging from the ceiling in the back room. I bought mine and drove home.

To get started I prepared some essentials. A glass of rum and a Cowboy Junkies album.

My Chile Caribe recipe first had me briefly roast about 24 pods at 300 degrees in the oven on a cookie sheet. While the pods were roasting, I borrowed an idea from another recipe, and boiled 3 or 4 quarts of water in a large sauce pan. Once the pods came out of the oven, broke the stem ends of the pods off, shook out the seeds, and broke them up into large pieces. Then I rinsed them, and placed them in the boiling pot and reduced heat to a simmer, and left them there for half an hour.

 Leaving the pods to their own devices, I then prepared onions, garlic, and cilantro. I chopped one yellow onion and sauteed until golden brown in about 2 tbsp of olive oil. I chopped fine about 6 or so garlic cloves and added them to the onions and sauteed about two more minutes, then I added about 3/4 cups of fresh chopped cilantro and sauteed another minute or two. To the sauteed vegetables I added 3/4 cups of chicken broth (I like to use low sodium). I let this simmer down to about half the liquid. Somewhere along the line I threw in a tbsp of cumin, and another tbsp of coriander.

Once the chile pods had simmered for thirty minutes, I removed them from the pot and placed them in a bowl. To this bowl I added the sauteed vegetable broth mix and stirred them all together.

The next step is to puree the mix. You can use a blender or a food processor; either will work. I used a blender. A note of caution; white vinyl blender lids will stain red forever if you don't wrap them in stretch wrap. Ours is black, so it wasn't a problem, but take my word for it.

I put about half the mix in the blender at a time. I added water from the large simmer pot until the mix was just covered, and then pureed the mash until it had a nice consistency. Not quite smooth, just a little course.

I repeated this for the second half, placed both batches of puree in a dutch oven (it's also what I sauteed the veggies in), added more of the simmer pot water, and stewed at at simmer for 45 minutes. I added simmer water as needed so as not to scorch the sauce, but you're going to want to get it about the consistency of a thick marinara. I added salt and threw in some balsamic vinegar for the final flavor spin. This is concentrate for use with other dishes, so don't get too exotic with the flavors and commit yourself to a flavor profile which might not work for a later preparation.

Another note of caution: this mix, when being simmered, splatters like a son of a gun. Be prepared to wipe up a lot. Or use one of those screens you can put over pans (I don't have one but keep thinking of buying one).

When done, the final product measures about one quart. I've got it in the fridge for now, but I'm going to freeze it in small chunks (1 cup size if I can find the right containers) and have it for making red chile dishes whenever I want to. I'm planning on cooking up the rest of the bag I bought and freezing it all. I might do just half for now; we'll see. That's going to take a lot of freezer space...