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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    Black Friday morning quarterback: Turkey CPR and Amish stuffing

    19 lb spatchcocked turkey, brined in buttermilk for 48 hours, roasted at 375°F for two hours. (photo by Forrest Perkins)
    My old Rachael Ray kitchen shears (bottom) weren’t up to the task of spatchcocking a 20 lb turkey. The new pair (top) should do the trick when I try this technique again at Christmas.

    Forrest, who is 29 and doesn’t cook, tells me, “You get so stressed at Thanksgiving.”

    Well, thank you, Captain Hot Pockets, for enlightening me. I “only” volunteered to roast a 20 lb turkey and a ham for a gathering of 17 to 19 people at YOUR sister’s house. And make two types of gravy. And my Lobster Mac with Cheese for the pescatarian contingent. And while I was at it, test out a tray of Amish Cornbread Stuffing to get some feedback for this column. Oh, and some jars of a test Plum & Pepper Jelly compote with diced salami and cheese mixed in for the charcuterie board. I agree, I overcommitted, but in the immortal words of Too $hort, “I’m married to the game”.

    It should be noted that, immediately after snorking down everyone’s great food at Thanksgiving, the first thing Forrest did was post a selfie of his slightly cross-eyed food-coma face on social media. Yes, you slacky McNugget, some things are worth stressing about. And now, onto the post-bird wrap up show, sponsored by Cup Noodles and Pepto-Bismol.

    Buttermilk brine and Spatchcock turkey

    At almost 20 lbs, this was the largest turkey I’ve ever made. I stuck with the NYT Samin Nosrat buttermilk brine recipe (2.5 Tbsp of kosher salt per quart of buttermilk). I used it for the first time two Thanksgivings ago, when I deboned and brined an entire turkey, and then stuffed and rolled it for roasting. Now that was a memorable turkey – juicy and tender, with tanning bed perfect skin.

    My newsfeed has been inundated with posts touting Spatchcocking as the new best practice for a perfect roast turkey. It involves using kitchen shears to cut the backbone out of the bird and flatten it out by breaking the breastbone. What they don’t tell you is, the bigger the turkey, the harder the bones. My kitchen shears were not up to the task; hell, I needed bolt cutters! And when it came time to break the breastbone to flatten the turkey ... UNGH! It was like I was performing CPR, trying to bring it back to life. So I turned it over and hit the sternum with a meat mallet to get it to crack. (I ordered a pair of surgical-looking kitchen shears on Black Friday for the next bird.)

    At this point, I should emphasize that the Butterball Hotline cooking time for an unstuffed, Norman Rockwell portrait-worthy turkey this size, is 3.5 to 4 hours. The spatchcock method promises a roasting time of 2 hours.

    After arranging it on a rack in a roasting pan, I wiped the excess buttermilk off, applied a wash of egg whites, salt and peppered it and then into a 375°F oven (convection) for 2 hours, until the breast was at 150°F and the thighs were at 165°F.

    The skin browned evenly and the internal temperature between the breast and the thighs rose at pretty much the same rate. I only covered small sections of turkey between the breasts and the thighs with foil in the last 30 minutes so they wouldn’t get overly browned. And the meat? Augie, a living, breathing, 21-year-old bassist for local band Fatal Sacrament, dreamily commented, “I didn’t know turkey could be so soft.” And Ginny (the pescatarian) texted me two days later saying, “The turkey ... was phenomonal ... I’m so glad I hopped off the pescatarian wagon to partake ... smiley face, smiley face, smiley face, heart.” When the death metal folks and a retired insurance underwriter can agree on something, that’s a real kumbaya moment for me.

    Amish stuffing

    As a kid, I loved stuffing. As an adult who actually cooks for himself, not so much. It’s not the taste, it’s the idea. Buttery, spiced, soggy bread. My favorite part of the stuffing was the heavily crusted muffin top that erupted out of the turkey cavity. At least that has texture and crunch. The stuffing inside the cavity is just a glump* of soggy bread.

    I came across highly rated recipes for something called Amish Filling. Which sounded like the mother of all carb bombs: seasoned homemade croutons mixed into a fairly liquid batch of mashed potatoes and then baked till the top was browned and crusty. Tweaking the ATK recipe, I made a version using a box of Trader Joe’s Cornbread stuffing I had on hand.

    To my delight, it was light and not glumpy at all. Turns out the Amish know something about building structure. The dry croutons go into the wet mashed potato mix and it lets the croutons get steamed, but not soggy. The pockets of air in the croutons stay light and airy, the top crust gets crusty and delish.

    Amish Cornbread Stuffing

    12 tablespoons unsalted butter

    12 oz bag/box of cubed, seasoned Cornbread Stuffing Mix

    2 ½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick

    Salt and pepper

    1 cup half-and-half

    2 onions, chopped

    2 celery ribs, chopped

    1 ¼ cups chicken broth

    1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

    Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 13-by-9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter.

    Place potatoes and 1 Tbsp salt in large saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until tender, about 12 minutes.

    Drain potatoes and transfer to large bowl. Mash potatoes until smooth and no lumps remain. Stir in half-and-half, 6 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp salt, and ¾ tsp pepper until butter is melted. Set aside.

    In now-empty saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over med-high heat. Add onions, celery and ½ tsp salt and cook until vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add broth and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits, then remove from heat.

    Add broth mixture to mashed potatoes and stir until combined (mixture will be wet). Add stuffing mix and stir until evenly coated with potato mixture. Transfer to prepared dish and spread evenly but do not pack down or smooth top. Cut remaining 2 tablespoons butter into 8 pieces and distribute evenly over top of filling.

    Bake until surface is well browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

    *Glump is the sound it makes when it hits your plate.

    Rich Swanson is a local cook who has had numerous wins in nationally sponsored recipe contests. He is also the layout specialist here at The Day.

    Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Rich Swanson can be reached at TheSurlyTable@gmail.com.

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