Saturday, November 27, 2010

Overstuffing the Turkey

There is a great debate over how to stuff a turkey. You may not have realized that, but it's true. People like Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart will tell you that it's naughty to over stuff your turkey. They say things like over stuffing is dangerous and can lead to bacteria, or that it will cause your turkey to explode as the stuffing expands. The bottom line is, it's a personal choice. Grandma used to stuff the turkey, sometimes even the night before, and none of us ever died of salmonella poisoning. While I would not suggest pre-stuffing on the night before, if you're putting your turkey in the oven and cooking it for an appropriate amount of time for the weight of it plus the stuffing, then stuff away. I will go so far as to say that I weigh in on the side of stuffing the heck out of the turkey, and I'll even tell you why.

First and foremost, there's never enough stuffing. I say that as a stuffing connoisseur. I have had many different kinds of stuffing, and my favorite is and always will be my Nagymama's recipe (see below). If you don't make enough stuffing, you're forced to do a "family hold-back" and that sucks! Always make much more stuffing than you think you can use. After all, it can be eaten the day after as leftovers, or even added to pot pies and soups to add flavor and texture! If you don't over stuff the turkey, you end up having to put stuffing in tin foil on the side, and it never tastes quite right. It's kind of dry, and often crispy in the wrong way. It just isn't correct.

Second, if you want to enjoy the moistest, most deliciously flavored turkey ever, over stuff. Not only do I stuff the cavity of the bird, I slide stuffing mix up into the breast. With careful handling, you can easily separate the skin from the breast meat. Spoon or shove that stuffing right up into it, and make sure the whole breast is covered. This keeps the meat moist, tender, and adds a wallop of flavor to it. Try it once, and you'll never go back! The only caveat to this is that you really need to check both the turkey temperature AND the stuffing temperature to make sure they reach 160F before serving, to make sure there is no bacteria.

Third, and most importantly in my opinion, that over stuffing will actually allow you to see when your turkey is done (note, this only applies to bread stuffing; rice won't expand and therefore doesn't cause the turkey to disjoint). What happens is that as the stuffing cooks, it slowly expands and causes the turkey to become disjointed. This means that the juices of the stuffing actually baste your turkey for you! When it's done, you'll know because your turkey's legs will be all akimbo and likely will begin to fall off. Remember to check with a meat thermometer to make certain, though (those little plastic pop up ones are of no use to you if you stuff your bird, by the way).

When your turkey is done, pull it out of the oven and set it on a cutting board (we have one just for cutting juicy things, and it sits over the sink and has a little divot where the juices run out into the drain rather than all over the counter). It needs to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before you cut it. I know, I know, it's tough to wait that long. Honestly, though, it really is important: the bird is still cooking. If you don't let it sit, you may still have parts that aren't as tender and juicy as others. Also, this is the perfect time to make your gravy. A good gravy takes about 15 to 20 minutes to make, and then you can dismember the bird! You might also want to take pictures of the bird, because as beautiful as it is, it's much easier to cut it up in the kitchen than at the table. Norman Rockwell be damned - when that bird hits the table, people want to eat it, not admire it.

To cut up your turkey, use a good, sharp knife. Try to avoid using electric knives, as they can shred the meat. The first thing to do is remove all the stuffing and set it into a bowl for serving later. You may want to put it in a warm (not hot) oven to keep it at the right temperature). Cut along the breast bone, down the middle. Using your hands, gently pull the breast meat off. If it doesn't come, feel free to get in there with a knife, but usually they will come off in one big piece. Once they're off, slice into acceptable sized pieces. Believe me when I say that turkey breast (and other fowl breast) is not meant to be cut up on the bone.

Make one plate of white meat, and another of dark, so people can make their choice. Add the legs to the dark meat platter, and the wings to the light meat platter. Decorate with a sprig of parsley and a couple of cranberries if you wish.

Okay, now what you've been waiting for: turkey stuffing recipe.

cubed bread (you may use packaged stuffing bread)
one large onion
the turkey liver
3 large cloves of garlic (fresh)
savory, parsley, cilantro, salt, pepper to taste
8 to 12 eggs
half stick of butter
boiling water

While the water is boiling, chop your garlic and onions. I use a food processor to get them very fine. Put the bread cubes into a very large mixing bowl and dump the onion and garlic mix on top. Add your dry spices. Use the food processor to basically liquefy the liver (you can buy more liver for this if you like it, or use none at all, or even use beef liver) and add that on top of the onions. Add the eggs, about 8 eggs for a 15 lb turkey, and 12 for a 22 lb turkey. You may want to whisk the eggs before putting them in, though it isn't necessary. Add your butter.

Over this dryish mess, pour boiling water. Use a fork to  mix it all together. You'll want to use a bit of water at a time, no more than a half cup or so. Your end goal is to have the stuffing be moist, without any crunchy bits, and thoroughly mixed, but not so wet that there's water pooling at the bottom. Let it sit and absorb all the spices and egg and such for a few moments while you wash your turkey down and set it on a rack in the roasting pan. Then stuff the stuffing into the bird, filling it as full as you can. You can also stuff the neck cavity, and up under the breast skin as I mentioned before.

On the skin of the turkey, sprinkle the herbs of your choice. I like a mix of savory, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, granulated garlic, and good Hungarian paprika. Cover it with a lid or a tin foil tent (be sure to spray with non-stick spray if there is ANY chance the turkey will touch the lid/tin foil) and put it in the oven for the proscribed amount of time.

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