My local grocery store just came up with some Vidalia onions. They are the best onions, and I’m cooking with them every day so I can eat them all before any go bad.
When you cook onions to the point where they brown, they become sweet tasting and great smelling. That is the Maillard reaction. Cooking meat enough gets you a similar effect. Toast. All kinds of foods.
“All sorts of things happen in this reaction. But eventually, you get to flavor town.”
Here’s a short video that gives you the science of the Maillard reaction:
How do you pronounce it? Mai yard. More or less. Skip past the “ll” part.
The domestication of the turkey probably first took place around 2000 years ago in south central Mexico, possibly for their feathers and ritual value rather than their meat. Their rise to the top of the American festive table came much later, not with the Pilgrims but with Charles Wampler, whose efforts to promote turkey raising started Rockingham County, Virginia, on its path to Turkey Capital of the World. That much we heard in the previous episode of Eat This Podcast. In between domestication and proto-industrialisation, however, the wild turkey almost vanished from America, hunted to the edge of extinction. Nature types – and hunters – really thought the turkey was a goner, and it was the hunters who brought it back, to the point where there are now turkeys in 10 states, including Hawaii, that originally had none….
Read the rest here, and listen to the podcast (in which I, as well as various turkey experts, am interviewed) HERE.
The previous podcast, “A partial history of the turkey,” is here.
This makes one pie. You probably want two, so double everything.
PREHEAT oven to 425F. Set the rack to above the middle of the oven but not too high up.
Mix dry ingredients in one bowl.
Mix wet ingredients in a different bowl.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.
Put a pie crust in a pie shell. Make the edges all fancy looking by using a fork.
Stir the ingredients up one more time and put it in the pie shell.
Place the pie in the center of the rack.
Bake for 15 minutes
Remove pie, shut oven.
Put strips of aluminum foil around the crust to slow cooking of exposed crust.
Return pie to oven
CHANGE TEMPERATURE TO 350F
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes (usually about 47 minutes)
The pie is ready to remove from the oven when a stick or knife comes out of the center clean.
Don’t worry if there is a little bit of pumpkin pie stuff on the knife/stick. The pie is going to keep cooking for a while.
Place pie on top of stove/oven, which should be pretty warm, and let it cool slowly (on a rack or equivalent).
Eat or refrigerate, then eat.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt plus a pinch
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
2 extra large eggs
1 regular can of pumpkin stuff (pictured)
12 ounces of 50:50 mix of whole evaporated milk and heavy cream.
There are two main features in this recipe. First, the spices are approximately double the usual recommended spices. Second, the usual evaporated milk is partially substituted with heavy cream. You can if fact use 100% heavy cream if you like but the 60:40 to 50:50 mix of heavy cream:evaporated milk works best.
If you live in certain regions of the world, such as Australia, you may not be able to find a can of pumpkin puree. If so, obtain a pumpkin and cook it. Get a small cooking pumpkin for this purpose. Much up the cooked pumpkin and measure out about 15 ounces. You may mix any form of winter squash in there if you like. Some of the best pumpkin pie is only half pumpkin, the rest butternut, acorn, or the squash formerly known as “turk’s head.” (The various winter squash may have diverse local names.)
Remember the extra stir just as you are putting the ingredients in the pie shell. The dry spices tend to settle.
To help movie the pie in and out of the oven in the early stages of baking, use a flat cookie sheet in the manner that a pizza paddle is used to manage a pizza. Or use your pizza paddle if you have one.
When putting the aluminum foil strips on the crust, pinch the foil right on there to get it to stay in place and have close contact to avoid hot air circulating around the crust.
Use your favorite crust. I don’t divulge my crust recipe because it tends to enrage people and I don’t need that. But it is very good and very simple.
Does grinding your own meat make a better burger? How does adding fat to your eggs create the perfect tender omelet? Why should you have patience before carving your roast?
Discover the science behind everyday cooking with Christopher Kimball from America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated. Join us as we explore the fundamental science explaining how — and why — your recipes work.
I previously posted on a way to make a turkey that would leave you with the bulk of the bird’s uncooked skeleton, and I promised some tips for how to make good stock. Continue reading How to make stock→
First, consider cooking something other than a turkey
Cooking turkey is actually kind of a dumb idea. Most people don’t ever cook turkey. Turkey is like chicken … it’s a domestic bird that is familiar to all Americans … but it is very difficult to cook in a way that does not ruin it. So once a year, you cook this huge bird and try not to ruin it, and invite everybody that is important to you over to see if it worked.
As a result of this the truth is that many people have never had good turkey. They’ve only had ruined turkey. And for each of these people, what they think turkey tastes like is unique to the particular way their family’s turkey cooker learned to ruin the turkey every year.
How to cook a turkey
… you might as well try doing it the most difficult way possible. But before considering that, try this idea on for size: Cook more than one a year and use different methods to see how it turns out! (Jeesh, you’d think this would be obvious.)
This isn’t the only way, but it is a good way. It is also the hardest way that I’ve done it.
My daughter, Julia, is named after two people. One of them is Julia Child. I happen to think Julia Child has had more influence on American society than most other people, by helping to make varied and interesting cuisine part of American culture.
One day when Julia was a very young child (my Julia, not Julia Child), I was out walking her in her carriage. I turned the corner around the Van Serg Building on the Harvard Campus and practically ran into Julia Child, who was walking in the other direction on her daily constitutional.
“Oh, what a cute child,” she said. (And she was a cute child, I assure you.) “What’s her name.”
Well, that was an interesting conversation…..
Anyway, I want to suggest that you use a recipe invented by Julia Child for cooking your Thanksgiving Turkey this year. It is called “Laid Back Turkey.” It is, in my view, the best possible way to cook a turkey.
But it is not for the faint of heart….
Laid Back Turkey a la Julia Child
You can find more specific instructions in The Way to Cook by Julia Child. Julia made this on her show once, so somewhere out there is a video of this process. Here, I’ll just give you the basic idea. If you are the kind of person to even try this, the you are also surely willing to experiment and take some chances. All you should really need is the basic theory. If you are the kind of cook who prefers specific instructions and actually follows recipes, then hang up now…
The first thing you need to do is to remove all but a few of the bones from the bird.
Lay the uncooked turkey on it’s front. Slice down to the bone along the spine. Use this slit as the starting point to expose the entire skeleton, working your way around the rib cage, etc., all of which you will remove except for the wing bones and the distal leg bones. Cut through the wing and leg joints at this point in order to free the “outer” part of the bird from the main skeleton.
Caution: As you work your way around to the front … to the breastbone … your chances of cutting through the skin increases. Don’t do this.
When you’ve got the skeleton out of the turkey, lay the deboned bird on it’s front, exposed flesh facing up, and brush the livid tissue with an appropriate oil based marinade. I recommend half grape seed oil and half olive oil with lots of thyme, some black pepper, and a little salt.
In the meantime, make a huge pile of stuffing. Put this pile on a flat pan with very low sides big enough to hold the turkey. You are going to lay the turkey on this pile later. If possible, put the stuffing on a cookie sheet that, in turn, fits into a large low-sided baking pan. You can even fashion the pan from aluminum foil or from those disposable pans you get in the spice and cooking supply aisle of your basic grocery store. You’ll see later why this method … the cookie sheet set into a crushable aluminum foil pan … is useful.
Now, back to the turkey. You’ve got the exposed flesh facing up, and you’ve put it on some kind of a pan, temporarily. Fire up the broiler and slide the bird in there. Watch it closely. You want to brown the exposed flesh and hopefully get it cooked a quarter to a half inch deep. The more cooking at this stage, without burning, the better.
Now, take the large, floppy bird that is now covered with hot oil (so be careful!) and lay it flesh side down over the big pile of stuffing. Manipulate the corpse to make it look like nothing’s happened, like it is supposed to be this way. Brush the skin, which is now facing up, with your favorite substance for these purposes. I recommend coating the skin with oil and sprinkling copious amounts of dried green spice (thyme and basil … avoid oregano) for this purpose.
Put this in the oven and cook until done. It will take a fraction of the time that a “normal” turkey will take. It is also a good idea to make sure the stuffing is not cold … in fact, it could be heated up in advance .. when you put the turkey on there. You want to avoid partly cooking bird-meat, cooling it down, then cooking it again. Makes it a bit rubbery.
Now, here comes the fun part.
When the bird is done, wrangle it onto a huge cutting board, big enough to hold this laid back bird. This is where the cookie sheet inside the big pan is helpful. You could poke a hole in the pan and drain it into a bowl sitting in the sink, then cut away one side of the pan, and then use this fenestration to slide the bird-bearing cookie sheet out of what is now a scrap aluminum mess. To cut the turkey properly, slide it off the cookie sheet onto a huge cutting board. Have a mop handy. Might be good to wear rubber boots with a good tread, as the floor tends to get slippery at this stage.
Get a whopping big knife, which you have sharpened, the biggest spatula you have (maybe two) and possibly something large and flat and metal like a cookie sheet cut in half down the long axis. Maybe a flattened hubcap. Whatever you’ve got that is big and flat and thin.
Having an assistant help you with this step is a good idea, if it is someone you work well with.
Get the plates ready … the plates you will be serving dinner on.
Cut the laid back turkey right down the middle, the long way, in half. Using large flat devices, separate the two halves by a couple of inches.
Now, cut a slice about a third of an inch from this freshly exposed cut … so you are cutting a saggital section from near the midline of the bird. Use your flat devices to keep this slice from falling apart, angle it onto the flat surface, and move it over to one of the plates. Now, carefully slide this big slice onto a plate. You will probably have to curve the ends in to make it fit on the plate.
Now, look at what you’ve done. You have a slice of white meat and a slice of dark meat, nestled along side a slice of stuffing, all in one glorious unit. Because both forms of meat will cook much more nicely with this method than the usual ways of cooking turkey, your guests will enjoy both even if they’ve come to the table with preconceptions about their preference for dark vs. light meat.
Repeat this slicing operation, working from both halves of the turkey. As you work your way laterally, make the slices a bit thicker if you want all of the servings to be similar in total mass.
If the slicing procedure does not work well, don’t worry. Just cut the bird up and serve as normal. The flavor will be far superior to any other method you’ve ever tried, and the meat will be moister and tastier.
An interesting variation of Laid Back Turkey is Laid Back Flock. Here, you get a few birds, like a few of Cornish game hens, two big chickens, and a medium sized turkey. You totally fillet the smaller birds (cut off the wings and the distal legs and get rid of the skin) and arrange them over the giant pile of stuffing, and cover them all with the turkey. This can produce astounding results.
The frame of the turkey can be used for stock. Also, don’t forget to make some excellent gravy to go on this dish.
Tip 1: Get some corn-on-the-cob and a large pot for which you have a tight fitting top. Husk the corn while you boil a large amount of water in the pot (salted if you like, for flavor). Put the corn-on-the-cob in the water and leave the heat on only for a minute, put the top on and turn off the heat. Since there is no more boiling the corn will not likely overcook. In ten minutes or so it will be ready, but it will sit there in the hot water for a long time (did you remember to keep the to on?) as long as you keep the top on.
Variation: If you have a smallish pot, microwave the corn for a few minutes before you put it in the boiling water. You’ll get less long term holding because there is less heated mass.
Tip 2: First, decide if you want to use catchup or ketchup. If you find people objecting to the use of either, call it Umami Sauce. Then, put the Umami sauce and the mustard on the hot dogs BEFORE you grill them. Ketchup, er, I mean, Umami sauce and mustard makes an excellent BBQ sauce. Add any available cooking oil to make more spectacular fire.
Tip 3: The main use of inexpensive bottled beer is to manage the above mentioned fire. Acquire long-necked bottled beer. Hold with fingers around neck, thumb over opening. Shake lightly and using thumb to regulate flow, the beer bottle now becomes an effective and tasty fire extinguisher. As the amount of beer goes down more shaking will be needed. When it is mostly gone feed it to the dog and get another one.
Tip 4: You probably don’t really want to feed that to the dog.
The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once proposed that humanity began with cooking. [a Twin Cities anthropologist] says love may have begun with cooking, as well.
The earliest human ancestors, some kind of chimp-like apes, were living off raw plant foods and probably doing a bit of hunting like chimpanzees do now.
And then, somebody discovers the ability to control fire. Everybody argues about when this happened. We’re saying it happened about 2 million years ago. Suddenly, all this food that was previously poisonous or indigestible becomes edible. We’re talking about grass seeds, like wheat. And tubers. The amount of energy available to these early human ancestors goes up a huge amount. So, they get bigger. At the same time, their jaws get smaller, which is supported by the fossil record.
and so on and so forth, bla bla bla. Read it here.