How to cook a great holiday turkey
Steff Yorek is a member of Cooks for a Cause – a group of cooks who do labor-donated fundraising dinners for progressive causes such as Palestine solidarity and immigrants rights.
Thanksgiving is upon us. It is a national holiday with the core idea of trying to make pretty the genocide of native nations and make normal the quest for empire. There is nothing to celebrate in the origins of Thanksgiving.
You can say a lot about the holiday. Nonetheless, the fact is, that despite the capitalists’ best efforts, many of us still have the day off. That makes it a great day to get together with family, friends and comrades and be thankful for another year of surviving and struggling.
While the times have been lean, many people splurge on food for Thanksgiving dinner and if you want to do that, it can be fun. It is also possible to do Thanksgiving dinner for eight people for around $40 if you get a supermarket turkey. A market in my area is offering a turkey for around 58 cents a pound when you buy $25 of groceries.
If you have more to spend, a locally grown, sustainably raised turkey will taste better and not be shot full of artificial brine solution, but this is Thanksgiving and eating home-cooked food wherever you can get the ingredients from is the most important thing.
There are many recipes online for the all of basics of Thanksgiving dinner. Rather than going into recipes, I’d like to share some tips. Remember, recipes, like movements, are not written on stone tablets. Read a recipe through for the techniques and then improvise based on what you have. A stuffing made with dry bread, celery, sage, oregano and garlic is very tasty and much cheaper than one with exotic mushrooms and walnuts.
Buy 2 pounds of turkey per person eating; that way you’ll have leftovers and can make soup the next day from the turkey carcass, carrots, celery and noodles to bring down to your local Occupy.
Make sure your turkey is thawed all the way through before you put it in the oven. You can do that in cold water in the sink.
Roll up your sleeves and get inside the cavity – get the giblets out and rub the turkey down with oil or melted butter and season with salt inside and out.
Don’t stuff the turkey. Bake the stuffing separately using vegetable stock for the liquid – not only is it vegetarian friendly but stuffing in the turkey can make for unpredictable cooking times.
A turkey over 8 or 10 pounds won’t roast in a cake pan. Spring for one of the aluminum roasting pans and aluminum foil from the grocery store if you don’t have a roaster. No roasting rack? Wad up aluminum foil into a rope, lay it in the bottom of the pan and oil it before you set your turkey on top. It’s important to let the juices collect at the bottom of the pan without the bird sitting in them.
When your turkey comes out of the oven let it rest for a good 15 minutes before cutting it.
When the turkey is out of the pan, make gravy from the drippings. Put flour in a smallish jar with some water and shake it hard (Food science moment: always add a solid to a liquid and not the other way around). Make the slurry well ahead and let the flour really absorb the water. It should be the consistency of wheat paste.
Pour the drippings into a sauce pan and add the thickener to the drippings. Boil for 15 minutes to cook the flour.
Prepackaged bread for stuffing can be overpriced. Go by the bakery and get a day old loaf. Tear it in small pieces and dry it out in a 170 degree oven. Just make sure it’s cooled before assembling the stuffing.
The co-op or any store with a bulk section is a great place to go for some ingredients, even if $3 per pound turkey is out of your league. For example, if your recipe calls for a tablespoon of sage, buy a tablespoon of sage rather than a whole jar.
For a quick and cheap veggie stock, note that many co-ops have day old veggie bins. Grab anything but peppers or vegetables from the cabbage family (like broccoli). Simmer them in a pot with water to cover until the vegetables have no flavor to make a quick and cheap veggie stock.
Make your vegetarian friends feel welcome at the table by cooking up ½ cup of any whole grain (brown rice, wheat berries, quinoa) and ½ c. of French lentils (these have a great texture and are worth the extra cost for a holiday meal). Season this mixture with celery, onion and carrots sautéed in a little oil and any herbs you have on hand. Moisten with a little veggie stock and stuff it into a green or red pepper, top with bread crumbs or cheese and bake at the same time you bake the sweet potatoes.
Enjoy your dinner, build your friendships, rest up and get ready to hit the streets.