Monday, November 28, 2011

Turkey Day Extravaganza 2011: Henry XIII and the King of Stuffing

I hope that everyone had a yummy Thanksgiving day feast with friends and family!  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year since it is literally a holiday based around eating, drinking, friends and family.  Planning the Thanksgiving day meal usually starts for me a bit before Halloween and continues till the week before when it is finalized and I head out to the grocery store and farmer's market.

This was a momentous Thanksgiving for me as I cooked three, yes THREE different meals.  Now, I know what you all must be thinking. Is she crazy? BUT, with careful planning it can be a pretty stress free cooking zone. Secret: we spent most of the time from when the turkey went into the oven to the time it came out drinking my sister's concoctions, dancing to our playlist and playing with the dog. True story.

The big traditional feast was on D-Day for just immediate family; Friday was leftovers remade for my aunt and cousins; and then Saturday dinner with the last of the leftovers completely recooked in a new dish for just me and my parents.  It was truly a turkey-licious weekend! Since there were so many recipes to share, this will be a 2-part blog.  The next one will give all of you, who are still working through your Thanksgiving leftovers, a new life on your turkey.

Now, you might be wondering who exactly is Henry XIII? Who else can Henry be, TURKEY! The tradition of naming my turkeys Henry started when I was a senior in college.  The Mistress of Spices and I decided to cook our very first Thanksgiving dinner party before everyone left for the holiday weekend.  Since the Mistress is vegetarian, I took it upon myself to make the turkey.  I had never made one before, nor had it growing up so it was definitely a challenge.  A few days before the party, I went out to our ghetto Safeway and picked up a nice and plump 12 pound turkey.  In a moment of giddiness, I named him Henry (because what else would you name a turkey) and all turkeys following him were named thusly. Our party was a rousing success and I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner since that momentous year 13 years ago!

Each year, I make a new turkey and experiment with different recipes.  Every year with continued practice, I found myself getting more and more comfortable with making up my own recipes. This year, I took the training wheels off completely with a menu that was about 95% mine! I was a little nervous since none of the recipes were tested, but my mother's praise (surely the hardest critic around!) of each dish and the quiet that fell over the table as each person started eating washed all my worries away.

Here is what was on the menu:

* Thyme gougéres (I made these a few days ahead of time)
* Roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta and pomegranate seeds
* Mashed sweet & Idaho potatoes
* Grilled prawns
* Acorn Squash with Quinoa and Wild Mushrooms
* Cranberry Ginger Chutney (This was made the night before)
* Rye Stuffing with Smoked Oysters, Sausage, Pecans and Persimmons (the KING of stuffings!)
* Chinese 5-Spice and Clementine Turkey with Citrus Gravy
* Pumpkin Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookie
* "Pop Rock" Cupcakes (This was made the night before and topped the special ingredient right before serving)

Left Photo: Cranberry Ginger Chutney & Roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta and pomegranate seeds
Right Photo: Thyme gougéres and acorn squash with quinoa and wild mushrooms
The feast laid out in all its glory!
 There were many delicious recipes I wanted to share with you, but unfortunately this posting would be pages and pages long. So I decided to share what I consider the two star dishes on a Thanksgiving menu: the turkey and the stuffing.
I wanted to create a meal that my parents could really enjoy.  They've never really acclimated to what they think of as American cooking (pasta, pizza, anything with cheese & fat), so I wanted to bring them a meal chockful of flavor and spices. Each year, they want something else other than turkey. And each year, I cook the bird in the hopes of turning them over. I think this year was it with my Asian inflected Chinese 5-spice and clementine turkey. Juicy and tender with a hint of citrus and star anise from the 5-spice embedded on the crispy pieces of skin, it is definitely a turkey to remember.

Grilled Prawns

For those of you unfamiliar with Chinese 5-Spice powder, it is predominantly made from star anise, cinnamon, cloves, Sichuan pepper and ground fennel seeds. It is an aromatic blend that is used mainly on poultry and meats, though it has been used on vegetables as well.  You can find it easily at any Asian store and some supermarkets in the spice aisle.
The stuffing literally came to me in a moment of clarity: smoked oysters and persimmons somehow seemed to make perfect sense to me as strange as the combination sounded.  Each ingredient came together with the smoked oyster adding a salty brininess, the sausage a little heat,  the persimmons a hint of sweetness and toasted pecans a textural crunch.

While Thanksgiving may be over now, I hope that you will save this recipe to try next year or for your upcoming Christmas dinner.  Who says turkey can only around once a year on the last Thursday of November?
Serves 12

For the turkey:
One 15-lb turkey (no hormones if you can)
1/2 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 tbsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1 tbsp grated Clementine peel (approximately 4-5 Clementines)
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 fennel (including fronds), roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 stalks fresh thyme
3 clementines, quartered
Gizzards, heart, liver and neck from cavity of turkey

For the gravy:
Reserved drippings from turkey, drained (approximately 1 cup)
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp unbleached flour
3 tbsp orange juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. The evening before or the morning of Turkey day, prep the turkey and lightly pat it dry of any moisture. In a small bowl, add the next 5 ingredients and mix thoroughly.  With your hands (yes, you will get dirty!), rub pieces of the butter mixture under the skin of turkey and all over each and every inch of the bird.  Put on roaster, cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate until an hour before you are ready to cook.

2. Take the turkey out an hour before you are ready to cook to bring the meat back up to room temperature to cook evenly. Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. Add the rest of the ingredients for turkey on the base of the roasting pan.  This will all be used to create the flavorful stock for the gravy. The turkey goes on top of it. Season again with salt and black pepper on top. Remember, it's a big bird!

3. You can stuff the turkey with your stuffing or not at this point.  My sister and I adore the stuffing from inside the turkey because all of the juices run into it. But it is not necessary.  If you decide to make your turkey without the stuffing, you can remove it an half hour earlier than my recipe calls for.

4.  Cover the turkey back with the aluminum foil and roast the turkey for an hour.  This will keep the bird from drying out. Take out the turkey, baste and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Baste the turkey every half hour for the next 3 hours to ensure that gorgeous golden brown color. In the last half hour, uncover the turkey and let roast for a nice crispy and golden crust.  At this point, I have made turkey so many times that I can usually tell by touch and color that it is done.  But for a more accurate read, use a meat thermometer; the turkey should be at 180 degrees fahrenheit.

5. Remove from oven and put on platter and let stand at room temperature for an additional 20-25 minutes.  This will allow all the juices to evenly distribute through the meat. It will also continue cooking during this time.

6. While the turkey is resting, start on your 10-minute gravy. Pour the turkey drippings into an oil separator.  This will take the top grease out of your gravy. Make sure to squeeze the juices out of the roasted vegetables and clementines with the back of a wooden spoon.  It should come out to approximately 1 cup.

7. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the dripping and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil.

8.  In a small mixing bowl, mix the water and flour. Whisk together until smooth and no lumps.  When the drippings mixture has come to a boil, then add the water-flour mixture.  This will thicken the gravy. To make thicker/thinner gravy, adjust the flour measurements.

9.  Bring to a boil again, add juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower to medium-low heat and simmer for a few minutes for the gravy to come together.  Remove from heat and pour into your ready gravy boat.

10.  Serve immediately with turkey.

Serves 10-12

1 loaf day old rye bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 large Vidalia onions, roughly diced
1 stalk celery, roughly diced
2 stalks fresh thyme
1/2 tsp herbes de provence
2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed and roughly broken into small pieces
2 persimmons, quartered with skin removed

2 cans smoked oysters
3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
2 large eggs, whisked together
3 cups warm chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahreneheit.  On a lined baking sheet, spread the bread evenly over the surface to toast. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to ensure it gets a golden, light brown crust. Toast for 10 min to ensure crunchy croutons.

2.  In a large skillet pan with taller sides, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions, celery and thyme.  Cook for a few minutes until the onions become slightly translucent.  Add sausage and mix together and cook until outside is a light caramel brown. 

3.  Add persimmons, oysters and pecans and mix together again for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Add toasted bread to the mixture.  Add eggs and fold together.  Then, add one cup of broth at a time and fold gently again.  If more/less broth is needed, adjust accordingly.  The stuffing should be the right consistency when the bread is slightly soft to the touch, but NOT mushy and falling apart.

4.  Reserve 2 cups to stuff inside the turkey.  The rest can be put into a medium size baking dish and refrigerated up to a day before the event. 

5.  Forty-five minutes before the turkey is supposed to come out of the oven, put the stuffing into the 350 degrees fahrenheit oven.  While you take the turkey out of the oven and make the gravy, continue baking for an additional 15 minutes until toasty brown on top and slightly puffed.  

6.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Remember, this stuffing recipe is really just a base.  You can do whatever you want to it.  If you don't like a certain ingredient, feel free to experiement and add whatever you have on hand.  It can easily be made vegetarian with some squash, kale or broccoli.  Have a wonderful and safe holiday season everyone! Happy cooking!! 


  1. Great post and looks like it was a great Thanksgiving meal (or meals!). I can't believe it's been 13 years since that first Thanksgiving and since the first Henry. We finally hosted Thanksgiving for the first time in Paris this year and ordered 2 turkeys from the States! The first one got a Portuguese piri-piri marinade and was named Miguel. The other was more American style and he too was named Henry! Don't mess with a winning formula!

  2. Thanks Mistress! We came up with some great recipes that year. Your piri-piri turkey sounds amazing! Love the names...Henry thanks you for continuing the tradition. :)