Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald, a novelist and award-winning journalist and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Talkin’ turkey redux
— Who would have thought there’d be so many stories about roasting a turkey*, continues Anne.
— It’s not the turkey per se, says Fiona. It’s about the family gatherings.
But Mom makes our family gatherings so grim, she thinks. I should phone Neil, see when they’re coming for Christmas.
— Family, eh, says Anne. I remember I was at my sister-in-law Theresa’s one Christmas. My brother’s house I should say, but it’s really her road show. She calls the shots. Anyway, they’ve got the five kids, as you know, and so it’s always nuts, and this was years ago when the kids were just little, so it was even crazier than it is now. The kids had been up since 4 a.m. and everyone was cranky and a little giddy from too much sugar. Luckily, most of the food had been made ahead of time and basically all Theresa had to do was get the turkey into the oven and keep the kids from killing each other. So after the turkey was in, she starts nipping into the sauce. No surprise there; I would have done the same. I arrive with my salads and pumpkin pie and we’re sitting around yakking in the living room and every so often Theresa goes off to baste this turkey. I’m feeling like a slug sitting around drinking wine and so at one point I ask Theresa if I should check the turkey. Sure, she says. So I go to the kitchen and open the oven door and the bottom of the oven is in flames. I’m a bit cut myself at this point. I close the oven door, calm as can be, and walk out to the living room and say: your oven’s on fire. Pandemonium breaks out. The kids are yelling; one of them starts crying: I want turkey! I want turkey! My brother yanks the bird out of the oven and douses the flames with baking soda. It turns out that Theresa was the victim of an oversized turkey as well. She’d put it in the only pan she had and it was a little too small, so the turkey hung over the edges and the grease started to drip out.
Fiona howls with laughter.
— You’re killing me! I would have loved to have seen the look on Theresa’s face. Did you save the bird?
— Oh yeah. But we had to wait for the oven to cool so we could clean it up. The bird was a bit dry, but that’s nothing new. She comes from my mom’s school of thought on the turkey front: roast it at a low temperature for about seven hours. Yikes! I know they both own a copy of Joy of Cooking, but obviously haven’t cracked it open. Anyway, it all turned out okay. And you know, in an odd way, the story of it has brought us all together. We tell it almost every Thanksgiving, part of our shared life, our story.
Fiona goes to the sink to refill the kettle. Shared stories, she thinks. That’s the glue that binds, with friends and with family. It’s all I really have with Mom. But most of that story is so horrible. All about Dad leaving, how he mistreated her. Her bitterness was understandable the first few years, but it’s been over 20 years now. She’s just annoying. Still, I should make more of an effort to be kind. Damn guilt.
— My mother told a good story one time, says Fiona. This young woman moves into her first apartment and invites a big gang of friends over for Thanksgiving. Turkey’s on the menu, obviously, but the thing is she gets the butcher to chop it in half, stuffs it and cooks it in two pans. One of her girlfriends remarks that this is a bit weird and asks her why she does it that way. It’s how I learned, she says. My mom does it this way too. But it’s so much extra work, her friend says. I wonder why your mom does it like that. The woman didn’t know. She starts wondering about it and the next day she phones her mom. Her mom explains that when she was a newlywed, living in a small studio apartment, she invited her family over for Thanksgiving and bought a huge turkey. It was too big, not only for her pan, but also for her oven. So her husband cut it into two, and their upstairs neighbour cooked one half and she cooked the other. The party was a huge success and everyone said the turkey was delicious so she just continued to cook turkeys that way — in two pieces.
— Another family mystery explained, says Anne. There are so many little rituals in family life — the way we fold sheets for example. For years I folded mine in neat little thirds and I finally realized I did that because my mother’s linen closet was narrow and that way you could fit in two stacks on each shelf. But most of the time — like your lady with the turkey — we have no idea where these traditions come from.
— Enough turkey talk, says Fiona. I think I hear the car; the boys must be home. I hope the snow blower wasn’t too expensive.
*Upside-down roast turkey
The turkey conundrum is that by the time the dark meat is cooked the breasts are dried out. I know it sounds strange, but this method of cooking keeps the breasts moist.
1 turkey (about 15 lb or 7 kg)
¼ cup butter, softened
½ teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon each of dried savory and marjoram.
4 ½ cups chicken stock (homemade is best)
1 ½ cups dry white wine
1 onion peeled and chopped
½ cup each of sliced carrot and celery
¼ cup flour
1 tablespoon butter
1. Remove giblets and neck from inside turkey and place in a large saucepan. Set aside.
2. Rinse turkey inside and out; dry skin and cavity with paper towel. Loosely stuff with fruit and nut dressing (see last week’s recipe). Tuck the pinion (little part of wings) under the bird. Tie legs together loosely with cotton string. Combine butter, sage, savory and marjoram; rub on all sides of bird.
3. Place turkey breast side down in roasting pan.
4. Roast at 325 °F, basting every 30 minutes for 3 hours.
5. Meanwhile, make the stock. In the saucepan with the neck and giblets, add stock, wine, onion, carrot and celery. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 hours, skimming off fat. Strain with a sieve into a large measuring cup, adding enough wine to make 3 cups. Set aside.
6. After 3 hours of roasting flip the bird over. First loosen the bottom with a sturdy egg flipper. The easiest way to flip it is to use two oven mitts. You’ll have to wash them afterward, but at least you’ll prevent turkey-on-the-floor syndrome. Alternatively, stick a long carving-type fork into the cavity (where the stuffing is) and use your egg flipper to turn it. Tricky, but doable.
7. Continue to roast at 325 °F, basting every 30 minutes for another 2 hours or until the thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 185 °F. Remove to a platter. Let stand, lightly covered (with a tea towel), for 20 minutes while you make the gravy.
8. Skim off fat in roasting pan. Stir flour into pan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a whisk for a minute or two. Whisk in stock, bring to boil, and stir to scrape up brown bits. Reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes, and then whisk in butter and season with salt and pepper. Strain if you like (or need) to.
9. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.