Talking Turkey For each of the last eight years, I have prepared more than thirty Thanksgiving dinners for more than one thousand people. Turkey addict? Pumpkin pie groupie? A victim of gravy obsession syndrome? Yes, but there is a better reason. I travel all over the country teaching a cooking class called Thanksgiving 101. Now, everything I teach in my classes is in this book, with my favorite recipes, make-ahead tips, anecdotes, organization secrets, and insights into what makes this holiday so different from all others. How did I become a Thanksgiving guru? In 1985, I started a catering company, Cuisine Americaine, and specialized in cooking regional American foods. And what is more American than Thanksgiving dinner? My customers loved my holiday spreads. In 1990, when Perdue Farms, one of the East Coast's largest poultry producers was looking for a media spokesperson to represent their turkey products, they came to me. I learned everything there is to know about turkey, spending lots of time on turkey farms and in the kitchen, and even wrote a cookbook on the subject. Since then, I have traveled all over the country teaching Thanksgiving cooking classes and making television and radio appearances on how to have the perfect Thanksgiving meal. Everyone, from friends to television and radio appearances on how to have the perfect Thanksgiving meal. Everyone, from friends to television producers, calls me "Mr. Thanksgiving" or "The Turkey Meister." One of the best things about my work as a cooking teacher is that I am in personal contact with our country's home cooks--I am not a restaurant chef who is out of touch with how people actually cook. No matter where I go, from Seattle to Miami, I ask my students about their personal Thanksgiving dishes and customs. First, Thanksgiving 101 is a collection of these favorite recipes--even if some of them start with a can of soup or a box of Jell-O. Some of Thanksgiving's most cherished recipes are brand-name specific. I call these "Classic Recipes," and I include some background on how they rose to the top to become holiday icons. We all know the generic recipes that form the backbone of the quintessential Thanksgiving dinner. Mashed potatoes, gravy, piecrust, and stuffing all fit into this category. With practice, these dishes become simple, but they can intimidate novices and elude practiced cooks looking for the perfect version. These recipes are labeled "101," and if they seem long, it's because I have included extra details that even old hands can learn from. What I hear most from my students is that they are desperate for help in organizing the meal. So, in addition to a host of tips, I've provided suggested complete menus with preparation and cooking timetables. I have been gathering the recipes for this book for years, listening to thousands of American home cooks tell me about the fun (and fear) they experience while getting the big meal on the table. I promised them I would write a practical guide on this beloved holiday. Many of these recipes are downright simple, but that doesn't make them any less delicious. Thanksgiving 101 is a culinary insurance policy to having the best Turkey Day ever. Happy Thanksgiving! Perfect Roast Turkey with Best-Ever Gravy Makes about 18 servings, with about 7 cups gravy After trying every turkey roasting method under the sun, this is the one I come back to, and the one I always teach at my cooking classes. Instructions here are for an average-sized eighteen-pound turkey, but this recipe can be adapted to the size of your bird. Read the information on stuffing and gravy on pages 63-65 and 96-99. If you prefer to roast an unstuffed turkey, use the vegetable or herb seasonings on page 46. One 18-pound fresh turkey About 12 cups of your favorite stuffing 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature Salt and freshly milled black pepper 2 12 quarts Homemade Turkey Stock (page 22), or as needed Melted unsalted butter, if needed 34 cup all-purpose flour 13 cup bourbon, port, or dry sherry, optional 1. Position a rack in the lowest position of the oven and preheat to 325°F. 2. Reserve the turkey neck and giblets to use in gravy or stock. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat the turkey skin dry. Turn the turkey on its breast. Loosely fill the neck cavity with stuffing. Using a thin wooden or metal skewer, pin the neck skin to the back. Fold the turkey's wings akimbo behind the back or tie to the body with kitchen string. Loosely fill the large body cavity with stuffing. Place any remaining stuffing in a lightly buttered casserole, cover, and refrigerate to bake as a side dish. Place the drumsticks in the hock lock or tie together with kitchen string. 3. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Rub all over with the softened butter. Season with salt and pepper. Tightly cover the breast area with aluminum foil. Pour 2 cups of the turkey stock into the bottom of the pan. 4. Roast the turkey, basting all over every 30 minutes with the juices on the bottom of the pan (lift up the foil to reach the breast area), until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh (but not touching a bone) reads 180°F and the stuffing is at least 160°F, about 4 14 hours. Whenever the drippings evaporate, add stock to moisten them, about 1 12 cups at a time. Remove the foil during the last hour to allow the breast skin to brown. 5. Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter and let it stand for at least 20 minutes before carving. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F. Drizzle 12 cup turkey stock over the stuffing in the casserole, cover, and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. 6. Meanwhile, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a heatproof glass bowl or large measuring cup. Let stand for 5 minutes, then skim off and reserve the clear yellow fat that has risen to the top. Measure 34 cup fat, adding melted butter if needed. Add enough turkey stock to the skimmed drippings to make 8 cups total. 7. Place the roasting pan in two stove burners over low heat and add the turkey fat. Whisk in the flour, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the turkey stock and the optional bourbon. Cook, whisking often, until the gravy has thickened and no trace of raw flour taste remains, about 5 minutes. Transfer the gravy to a warmed gravy boat. Carve the turkey and serve the gravy and the stuffing alongside. Homemade Turkey Stock 101 Makes about 2 12 quarts Make Ahead: The stock can be prepared and refrigerated for up to 3 days ahead or frozen for up to 3 months. Every Thanksgiving Eve, I put on a big pot of stock to simmer overnight. Then I use it all Thanksgiving Day long. It is one of the secrets to a moist, beautifully colored roast bird with wonderful gravy, as in Perfect Roast Turkey on page 43. Some of the stock also goes into the stuffing, some usually gets turned into soup, and I often use it in my side dishes as well. The recipe is easily doubled or even tripled, assuming you have a stockpot big enough to hold the ingredients. If you want a smaller amount of stock, make the Small-Batch Turkey Stock variation on page 24. But don't worry about having too much stock. Any leftovers can be frozen, or used the next day to make a terrific soup. Turkey parts with lots of bone, like wings and backs, make the best stock. Use the turkey neck, heart, and gizzard in the stock, but not the liver. (Liver makes the stock bitter.) When the stock is strained, you can retrieve the neck and giblets to use in giblet gravy. If you want to use the liver in the gravy, add it to the stock during the last 15 minutes of simmering, and poach it just until cooked through. Browning the turkey parts first give the stock a rich color that will make a dark gravy. Cooking the vegetables brings out their flavor. Too many cooks throw some giblets in a pot with some water to boil up a weak, pale stock that doesn't have much flavor. Never let stock come to a rolling boil, or it will become cloudy and have a less refined flavor. Cook the stock uncovered. Add the herbs to the stock after you've skimmed it. If you add them at the beginning, they will rise to the surface and be skimmed off with the foam. The foam isn't anything unwholesome--it's just the coagulating proteins in the bones. They are removed to make the stock clearer. The longer a stock simmers, the better, up to 12 hours. Replace the water as needed as it evaporates. While I trust my stove to simmer the stock overnight, some of my students have been shocked at the idea. A great alternative is to make the stock in a 5 12-quart slow cooker. Transfer the browned turkey and vegetable mixture to the cooker, add the herbs, and pour in enough cold water to cover generously. Cook on Low, and the stock will barely simmer all night long, to make a clear, delicious stock. If time is a factor, just simmer the stock for an hour or two--it will still be better than using water or canned broth to make your gravy. Or, make a pot well ahead of Thanksgiving and freeze it. Don't add salt to your stock. The stock is often used in recipes where it must be reduced, and the final dish could end up too salty. To check the stock's flavor, ladle some into a cup and season lightly with salt before tasting. Without the salt, it may taste deceptively weak. 3 pounds turkey wings Turkey neck and giblets (liver reserved, if desired; see above) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 medium onion, chopped 1 medium carrot, chopped 1 medium celery rib with leaves, chopped 6 parsley sprigs 12 teaspoon dried thyme 14 teaspoon black peppercorns 1 bay leaf 1. Using a heavy cleaver, chop the wings and neck into 2-inch pieces. (If necessary, ask the butcher to do this for you.) Using a sharp knife, trim away any membranes from the giblets. 2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. In batches, add the turkey wings, neck, and giblets and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 6 minutes. 3. Return the turkey to the pot. Add enough cold water to cover the turkey by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Add the parsley, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low. Cook at a bare simmer for at least 2 and up to 12 hours. As needed, add more water to the pot to keep the bones covered. 4. Strain the stock through a colander into a large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes, then skim off the clear yellow fat that rises to the surface. If desired, remove the giblets, cool, finely chop, and refrigerate for use in gravy. The neck meat can be removed in strips, chopped, and reserved as well. Cool the stock completely before refrigerating or freezing. (Turkey stock can be prepared up to 3 days ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. It can also be frozen in airtight containers for up to 3 months.) Small-Batch Turkey Stock: A smaller amount of stock can be prepared with just the turkey neck and giblets. As this relatively small amount of turkey won't give a very full flavored stock, use chicken broth (homemade or canned) as a booster. Following the instructions above, brown the neck and giblets from 1 turkey in 1 tablespoon oil. Add 1 small onion, 1 small carrot, and 1 small celery rib, all chopped, and cook until softened. Add 1 quart water and one 13 34-ounce can low-sodium chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add 3 parsley sprigs, 14 teaspoon dried thyme, 6 peppercorns, and 1 small bay leaf. Simmer for 2 12 to 3 hours (the smaller amount of liquid would evaporate away if cooked longer). Makes about 1 quart. Homemade Chicken Stock: Substitute 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into 2-inch pieces, for the turkey wings. Delete the turkey neck and giblets. Savory Sausage and Mushroom Bread Pudding Makes 8 to 10 servings Make Ahead: The vegetables and sausage can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. If you aren't serving a stuffed turkey, this moist savory bread pudding will fill the bill. Seven cups of cubed seasoned bread stuffing can be substituted for the stale bread cubes. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 10 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced 1 medium onion, chopped 1 medium celery rib with leaves, chopped 1 pound bulk pork sausage 3 cups milk 6 large eggs, beaten 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning, preferably homemade (see Note, page 66) 12 teaspoon salt 14 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper 12 ounces firm-textured white sandwich bread, cut into 12-inch cubes (about 7 cups) and dried overnight or in the oven (see page 64) 1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. 2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they give off their juices, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushroom juices evaporate and the onion softens, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. 3. In the same skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spoon, until it loses its pink color, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of vegetables. (The vegetables and sausage can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, cooled, stored in self-sealing plastic bags, and refrigerated. 4. Stir in the milk. Gradually beat in the eggs, then add the parsley, poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Stir in the bread cubes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Pour into the prepared dish. 5. Bake until the top is browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Serve immediately. Excerpted from Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America's Favorite Holiday with America's Thanksgiving Expert by Rick Rodgers All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.