Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey and Beer Hoedown

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends, but when you don't have the money or time to travel back to family, sometimes you just have to have a "Friendsgiving". Clarissa and I spent the day with some good friends, and I will brag a little bit by saying we cooked up a spectacular meal together. Clarissa and I covered the turkey, gravy, and dressing, and our friends helped with side dishes and dessert.
The latest Beeradvocate Magazine had an recipe by Sean Paxton on beer-brined turkey with Moroccan spices. I took this as a jumping-off point for my own cooking, but I left out the Moroccan spices, concentrating on traditional Thanksgiving savory herbs. I also changed out the beer. Instead of throwing down $12 on 3 bottles of Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale (which I would rather drink than soak a turkey in), I used some good but not exceptional homebrew. I used my Alt, which is less robust than the Ninkasi, so I used a little more of it. What I did use was Paxton's basic brine proportions, which are the most important part.

Here's what I came up with:

3/4 gallon water
1 cup pickling salt (cuz we were out of kosher)
3/4 cup sugar
bay leaves
black pepper corns
1 chopped onion
3 stalks chopped celery
6 smashed garlic cloves
- Simmer all that stuff together for 10 minutes, then cool it to refrigerator temp.
- Add 3/4 gallon beer, in this case Alt.
- Remove the innards from a 17-pound turkey, rinse, and dunk it in the brine, keeping it at fridge temp for 2 full days.
** You could probably scale the brine down and use less, if you soak the turkey in a plastic bag.
- Day of: Remove turkey, drain and pat dry inside and out. Bring to room temp over a couple hours, then roast in a 350 degree oven to 160 degrees internal temp. Roast it on a rack, or some sticks of celery if you don't have one, to keep it off the juices. This took a little under 3 hours.
- Remove from oven, rest under tin foil, while making the dressing and gravy (vague recipe provided below by Clarissa's mom is their family recipe). Carve, dowse in gravy, and eat the moistest, best-seasoned turkey you've ever eaten.

Recipes provided by Ann Hitchon:

Mama Lowe's Cornbread Dressing
1 cup celery
1 cup onion Slighty boiled ( I have also added more than this never less)
2 or 3 eggs
1/2 Turkey drippings (save the other half for gravy)
sage or poultry seasoning
salt and Watkins pepper to taste
milk to moisten
dry bread crumbs (left over bread of almost any kind--toasted)
pan of cornbread
Mix together and place in a greased pan
Bake at 400 till done (golden brown and firm to the touch in the middle)
Mother ALWAYS used a large cast iron skillet, but I have never been that brave.

Giblet Gravy

cook all giblets in enough water to cover DO NOT DRAIN
2 or 3 boiled eggs sliced
thickening/ flour or starch
drippings from turkey
salt and Watkins pepper to taste
Cook the giblets and leave them in the water. When cool enough to touch, slice all giblets and clean all you can off the neck too.
Return them to the water and add sliced eggs
Return to a boil and add drippings and then starch and/or flour
All this together with some from-scratch creamed corn, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beens, and a zucchini dish made for an awesome feast.

As for the turkey, here is my opinion on the brining process: It produced by far, the best turkey I have ever had a part in. It was juicy, perfectly done, and perfectly seasoned. Even the leftovers stayed moist for days. No one was actually able to taste any beer flavors in the turkey. Since I have never done any other brines, I can't say if I think the beer contributed anything that a regular brine wouldn't have, but it was damn good. I guess this is one of my issues with cooking with beer. A lot of times I am skeptical about the actual flavor contribution of the beer. Certainly it can add flavor in certain applications, but would this turkey have been just as good with a regular-old brine?

Well, in any case, it was a great opportunity to pair a food with the beer it was made from, since I also brought a growler of the Alt to drink. However, the best beers to drink with dinner were the saison and the rye-amarillo pale ale I made recently, which reminds me I need to put up some tastings on the blog soon about those beers.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and if you had a chance to cook with beer, or found a great beer and food pairing, please feel free to share in the comments!

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