Thanksgiving in April: Brined Turkey Breast with E-Z Gravy & Sage Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing

25 Apr

This past month has felt more like a particularly grim Fall than the dawning of Spring: torrential downpours and whipping winds have swept away all of my grand weekend hiking and strolling plans, not to mention most of the little budding goodies that have managed to peek through the frost.

Morning walks at this time of the year should be sun-dappled and filled with visions of saffron daffodils, violet pansies, chirping cardinals and rolling fields of sprouting grass populated by hopping bunnies. Instead, they’re gray, cloudy affairs on muddy, sodden fields full of green goose poop. I spend most of my time outside blowing hot air on red, chapped fingers and fretting about how dirty Penelope is getting frolicking about in the muck.

It’s hard to get excited about asparagus, green peas and radishes while it’s still in the 40s and 50s. So this week, instead of whipping out an Easter-friendly honey ham or a hearty leg of lamb, I cranked out a Thanksgiving Feast. Consider it my offering to Helius, Anemi, Harpyiae and Zeus. May my Brined Turkey with E-Z Gravy and Sage Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing quell their righteous anger, and may they finally allow Spring out of the damp cold basement they’ve cast her in! Click on for my edible (and quite delicious) sacrifice.

Brined Turkey with E-Z Gravy

Adapted from Ted Allen’s recipe for Epicurious

Makes 8 hearty servings

Ingredients for brine:

  • 1 6.5 pound turkey breast, on the bone
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half (don’t peel it)
  • 1 medium piece of lemon rind (my piece was about 1.5″ X 1.5″)
  • 6 fresh bay leaves (or two dried)
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs sage
  • 2 sprigs marjoram
  • 1 sprig parsley
  • 2 tsp. juniper berries
  • 1 TBSP whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup fresh celery leaves

Method for brine:

  • Rinse turkey breast, put in big stock pot. Add all of the ingredients and enough cold water to cover the turkey. I used 3.5 quarts.
  • Pop it in the fridge, covered, for six-24 hours. Six hours is just enough time for the flavors of the herbs, salt and honey to penetrate the flesh and permeate the whole breast with a lovely flavor; anything over 24 hours will start to break down the proteins in the meat, leaving you with flabby, distressingly flavor-packed meat.

Ingredients for roasting turkey:

  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  • 10 sprigs of thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Method for roasting turkey:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Move rack to second-lowest rung in the oven. You want to give the turkey a bit of room up top so that its skin isn’t scorched, but if it’s on the bottom rung of the oven, it will cook a bit unevenly.
  • Remove the turkey breast carefully from the brine (have a helper at this stage is great, otherwise you must move quickly to avoid spritzing your work area with salmonella water). Immediately transfer it, breast / skin side up, onto a roasting pan fit with a rack. There should be room between the bottom of the rack and the pan so air can circulate and fat can drip.
  • Dump out and discard the brining water and the solids. (I generally dump it out into a colander and then just tip the colander into the trash).
  • Using a pastry brush, coat the entire exposed breast with melted butter. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with thyme sprigs. Dump about a cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan.

In she goes

  • Pop in oven for 30 minutes. The blast of heat with give the skin a nice golden brown, crackly skin. Rotate the pan 180 degrees.
  • Lower oven’s heat to 325 degrees, and cook until a thermometer reads 160 degrees, about 1- 1.5 hours. Remove from oven, place turkey on platter, tent with foil and let the bird rest for 30 minutes before carving.
  • Pour the juice / drippings from the pan into a small bowl and set aside.

Ingredients for the E-Z Gravy:

  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth or stock
  • drippings from the pan
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Method for E-Z Gravy:

  • Melt butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Cook until a beige-y roux develops.
  • Whisk in chicken stock and pan drippings. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Season to taste. Cook for at least 12 minutes, to eliminate the starchy flour taste; cook until the gravy is nappe, or coats the back of a spoon.

Cost breakdown for Brined Turkey Breast with E-Z Gravy: About $3 a serving.

Nutritional breakdown for Brined Turkey Breast with E-Z Gravy: About 370 calories and 11 grams of fat. Great source of protein and selenium, good balance of naughty and nice fats, decent source of ribovlavin and phosphorus. Sky high in cholesterol and sodium.

Verdict / In the Future: I used the herbs I mentioned above in this recipe, but I always use what I have on hand, within reason. Fresh herbs make a huge difference — dried just don’t pack the same fresh, sunny punch of pasture flavor. While I probably wouldn’t use cilantro or lavender, rosemary and tarragon, and even basil, would make a lovely addition.

Sage Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing

Adapted from Chef Bill Telepan’s recipe for New York Magazine

Makes 8 hearty servings

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 TBSP butter
  • 16 ounces sage pork sausage
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced fine
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced thin
  • 1 pound white button mushrooms, cut crosswise and then sliced thin
  • 1 pound hearty white bread, cut into 1/4-1/2″ dice and then briefly toasted in 325 degree oven in sheet pan until light golden (about 3 minutes)
  • 2 cups turkey broth
  • 1 TBSP fresh marjoram
  • 2 TBSP fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

You need to saute all of this in a large pot; once the mushrooms are added, it overwhelms a skillet

  • Melt butter over medium heat in Dutch oven. Add sausage and break into pieces. Cook until browned but not cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add onion, a dash of salt, cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add celery and garlic and cook until translucent, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, another dash of salt and cook until mushrooms release liquid and soften, about 10 minutes. There should still be plenty of mushroom liquid left in the pan. (This mixture can be set aside for up to a day. Store in fridge with the liquid).
  • Place diced and toasted bread in big bowl (I had to use a stock pot), and stir in sausage mixture with the mushroom broth. Add two cups of broth, more if toast is dry. Mix, add herbs, season to taste. Butter a 9 X 11″ baking pan (or spray with vegetable spray). Ladle out the sausage mixture into the dish, cover with foil, and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook until golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Cost breakdown for Sage Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing: About $2.00 a serving.

Nutritional breakdown for Sage Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing: About 300 calories and 15 grams of fat. It definitely isn’t as fatty and caloric as it tastes, but it does pack a nitrite-and-nitrate-and-saturated fat-and-cholesterol-and-sodium punch, straight to your gut.

Verdict / In the Future: It’s not a problem to make both the turkey and the stuffing at the same time, you just have to plan ahead a bit. I made the sausage and mushroom mixture that morning and just stuck it in the fridge, and I started cubing the bread after I popped the turkey in the oven. Since they can both be cooked at the same temperature, it was easy to just finish off the stuffing while the turkey rested and I whipped up (okay, Stephen whipped up) a gravy.

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