#25 turkey, stuffing & gravy

A Christmas special edition post, it’s going to be a complex one, with a number of recipes all stemming from the very beautiful & traditionally beloved turkey!  Traditionally eaten as the main course of Christmas feasts in much of the English-speaking world, it has been adopted in many diets around the world.  But the traditional serving of whole roasted turkey in Thanksgiving & Christmas has become a symbol of family tradition & gathering.  Many different recipes & ‘secrets’ are found online or have been passed down through the generations; and many more ways to stuff the bird exist throughout the different regions of the world.  But I’m happy to share my own personal experiences with this year’s holiday preparations and my own touches to each recipe!

My story begins a week before Christmas.  I decided to find a beautiful (& small) turkey for our first ever lonely Christmas overseas.  Part of the joy of the holiday season for me is cooking up a storm for my family, and just because we wouldn’t be having guests over for dinner & merriment this Christmas Eve didn’t mean we had to reduce the night to another ‘just us’ dinner.  So I prepared a meal plan and we all chose our personal favorite side dishes to accompany our little turkey.  I visited three supermarkets on various occasions, and was a bit saddened to find only goose & duck – in abundant amounts.  Yeah, yeah, I get it, goose is served on German Weihnachten; not turkey, not American turkey.  I was getting a bit antsy, and decided to send my husband searching on his side of town after work.  Nope, no turkey.  Just a random giant single turkey leg…I wasn’t really up for that substitution just yet.

I walked over to the nearby butcher.  Determined not to be deflated by my not-so-perfect German, I walked in, proud & foreign, and asked if they happened to sell turkeys.  To be more precise, I asked for a whole turkey.  The saleslady stared at me, apparently not understanding what I was asking of her.  I repeated myself and explained that I wanted a whole turkey, for roasting, for Christmas.  And all I got in response was: “a whole turkey, like with feathers?”  Mind you, this conversation was in German, so I actually doubted my understanding skills when I tried really, really hard to decipher whether this was her actual question.  It was. And no, lady, I did not want feathers with my turkey.  Was this normal in Germany?  To pluck your own turkey’s feathers?  If that was the case, I was already thinking about the turkey legs at the supermarket.  In the end, it turned out they do sell normal fresh turkey and the costs of around 12 euros per kilo add up to about 60 euros for a 10-pound turkey.  Budget overload!  I politely ran the heck out of there.

The big day was approaching and I still did not have my turkey defrosting on my kitchen window sill like I should have had according to know-it-all grandmas and turkey experts.  Granted finding a turkey three days before Christmas here in Germany is nothing at all like trying to find one in the United States within that time frame, I was determined to find a solution.  I prepared my grocery trip the next day with my list of missing ingredients: cranberries, marshmallows, celery sticks (not the root Germans love to sell you), ground nutmeg, grapes, among other small things.  I was planning on taking the car over to the largest grocery store (a.k.a. the German Walmart) where I was certain to find my missing pièce de rèsistance, but I couldn’t wait to get all the other stuff, so I took a morning stroll with my daughter and walked over to three different markets close-by.  On my first stop I was delighted to find walnuts in their shells sold by weight (and not prepackaged shelled walnut kernels).  This was also joyful for my eldest, who had a blast cracking those little guys all over the kitchen floor.  I then walked past a vietnamese vegetable & fruit store, where I found red grapes for my Waldorf salad and actual celery sticks (which are not too popular here apparently).

On my way home, certain there was no way I was going to be able to carry any more groceries in my super savvy zero-waste reusable grocery bag – or my daughter’s stroller tricycle (which was overflowing with flour, sugar, & celery sticks) – something called me from within the last supermarket we passed by.  I had never been into this particular one, because the smaller branch is right next door to us.  But deciding I had plenty of time to spare and was still missing some of the ingredients on my list, I went in.  I was surprised to find my fresh cranberries, my marshmallows, and lo and behold: my turkey!  A perfectly sized almost 10-pounder, alone and waiting just for me.  The dilemma now that I had found it was how the heck do I get it home.  I wasn’t about to dismiss the opportunity, risking not to find any other in all of Leipzig.  I mustered up the courage, packed my grocery bag high behind my back, gave my daughter the cranberries and marshmallows and marched out of that supermarket with a frozen bird tucked safely underneath my arms – sans bag, sans dignity – but happy as a clam & thrilled beyond belief!

The holiday cook-a-thon looked promising from then on.  And oh how promising it was!  I treated and cooked my food with tender love and care, and the results were three days of deliciousness without a scrap to be left.  I share with you now the recipe for the dishes I prepared: the brine for the previous day, the roasted turkey, the stuffing, & the gravy.  All were successful recipes, delicious and highly recommended!

For the Brine

  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoons of ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons of ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of white wine, Riesling
  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of rosemary
  • 8 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 13 cups of water

Soaking a turkey for a long time before preparing definitely ensures moist results.  When you add aromatics to the brine instead of doing a simple salt & water submersion, the resulting roast is infused with a unique character of its own.  Best done the evening before, the turkey can sit in the brine for a long, long time and the results only get better; however it’s important to understand that the longer you brine, the saltier the meat.  The standard is 1 cup of salt per gallon of water (one gallon has 16 cups) – but a tiny secret of mine: I don’t use that much salt as many other recipes call for and I let the turkey sit there for almost 24 hours.  And my results yielded a yummy turkey, so…

Bring the above ingredients to a boil and immediately place in a large 5-gallon container (I used a bucket).  Submerge the turkey quickly and with help almost simultaneously let 4 cups of ice drop into the container.  Cover well, and let the turkey brine for 12 hours or more, overnight.  Up to 24 hours is OK, as long as it sit in the refrigerator; or well-covered outside in the wintery cold in our case!  Discard the brine immediately after the soaking.

For the Stuffing

  • Turkey giblets
  • 6 slices (80g) of bacon, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (55g) of butter
  • 1/2 cup of chopped onion
  • 3 cups (105g) of bread cubes
  • 1/4 cup of dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of ground basil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) of milk
  • 1/2 cup (60g) of chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup (65g) of prunes, halved
  • 1 cup (80g) of chopped mushrooms

This is a light, mildly flavored stuffing that gets its kick from the bacon & the giblets!  Instead of throwing out the usually unwanted innards, chop them very finely so they become barely noticeable by those picky eaters…EVERYTHING: the gizzard, heart & liver!  Add the chopped bacon to a medium skillet over medium heat, and cook until toasty.  Add the butter, the onions, & the finely-chopped giblets.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft.  Add the mushrooms, ground parsley, basil, salt, paprika, & nutmeg.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until all the flavors are combined.  Turn off the heat.

Add the bread cubes (preferably from day old stale bread), milk, walnuts, and prunes.  Combine well, remove the neck and keep warm until it’s time to stuff the bird.  Another option is to bake separately in a dish; indications for this variety: add 2 large eggs and an additional 1/2 cup of milk.

For the Turkey

  • 1 10 pound (4400g) turkey
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of thyme
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of honey

Turkeys are sold according to weight, and in order for you to know best what size is appropriate for your small or large family, calculate by allowing 1 pound per person, plus a margin for leftovers.  Whether you want a fresh turkey, frozen, organic or natural is all up to you, sometimes the difference in price according to the particular label is huge, but luckily there’s a turkey out there for every budget and preference!

There are many ways to determine whether the turkey is well-cooked.  Some are sold with a pop-up thermometer, and some people determine the turkey’s doneness with a kitchen thermometer that reads 180°F (82°C) in the thigh.  But I have a better solution.  Low heat for a long, long time to brown the skin does the trick for me every time!

Position the rack at the lowest level in the oven and preheat it to 300°F (150°C).  Take the turkey out of the brining solution and pat dry.  Place the stuffing in the cavity.  At this point I would recommend trussing or at least tying and skewering the turkey legs together, otherwise you will end up with a somewhat vulgar-looking open-legged turkey!

In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, salt, ground black pepper, paprika, rosemary, thyme, brown sugar, & honey.  Mix well and brush all over the turkey skin, leaving half of the mixture for later.  Set the turkey breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan.  For cooking, it’s recommended to calculate 15 minutes of cooking time per pound, which means a total of 150 minutes for my 10-pound turkey: 2-1/2 hours.  At this point, it would be recommended to check for doneness with a thermometer.  But I choose to set my oven at a lower 300°F (150°C), and my measurement for doneness is when at this lower temperature my turkey’s breast are golden.  That means that the bird has slowly and tenderly cooked on the inside, and the skin on the outside is beginning to brown a lovely golden color.  This means my turkey sits in the oven for about 5 to 6 hours, which is the secret to a succulent and juicy bird!  I also remember to baste every 30 minutes with the reserved rub.  These tiny things really made all the difference.

For the Gravy

  • 1 turkey neck
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of chopped onion
  • 4 cups (1L) of chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) of white wine
  • 1/4 cup (30g) of carrots, diced
  • 1/4 cup (56) of celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of dried parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/3 cup (45g) of all-purpose flour
  • Turkey drippings

Gravies and pan sauces are a yummy addition to turkey meat.  Made from the drippings and/or thickened with flour, there are several ways to prepare a delicious side sauce for your turkey.  This particular recipe was a total success!

Pat the turkey neck dry and chop into two pieces.  Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the neck & onions.  Cook until onions are soft and the neck is richly browned.  Reduce the heat slightly.  Add chicken stock, white wine, carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaf, & thyme.  Partially cover the pan and simmer very slowly until the carrots are mushy and the stock is flavorful, about an hour.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Remove the bay leaf & the neck and discard.  Place the stock with the vegetables in a blender.  Purée completely.  In the saucepan, heat butter until foaming.  Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly.  Add the vegetable purée and bring to a furious boil, whisking constantly.  Remove from heat and set aside.

When the turkey is done, transfer it to a platter and keep warm.  Remove the juices & fat from the roasting pan and strain to discard browned bits and clumps.  Add to the gravy saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium heat.  Pour into gravy boat and serve warm.

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Had to add the picture for this wonderful glazed deliciousness.  In any case, I hope this post was as entertaining to read as it was for me to write!  Long, but deserving, it was a great holiday season for me.  In the privacy of our new home, we enjoyed major quality time and I had a chance to experiment with many new recipes (& tools) in my kitchen.  Wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Family & home are missed, and it gets pretty nostalgic during the holidays for us, but the comfort of many other things allow us to put it all on the scale, and we are more than thankful everyday for our adventures, our health & our lives.

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