A Rambling Thanksgiving Post

“O Lord that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.”

When I was growing up, a child of divorce, we did Thanksgiving with my mom’s family on Thursday and with my dad on the day after. It never bothered us because we got a full Thanksgiving meal two days in a row and my dad was an awesome cook. We would eat at noon and after our food had digested a bit and the dishes were cleared my dad would say, “Let’s go hunting boys.”  My brother and I lived for that moment and we would rush to our bedroom to put on hunting clothes and grab our guns out of the closet. My thoroughly citified grandmother would be on the couch enjoying a highball and she would shake her head and wonder aloud how she ended up on a farm in the country with her family members all carrying guns out the back door.  After an hour or two walking the fields looking for rabbits we would work up an appetite for a second round of turkey and stuffing. Those are good memories…

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. I love the whole concept of recognizing a time to be grateful for what we have. The holiday has its roots in American history. It represents the ‘official’ start of the winter hunting season for me. And it’s all about food. About ten years ago after both my father and my maternal grandmother had passed away, I volunteered to cook the Thanksgiving meal for the whole family. We were only ten strong then so it was less intimidating.  Two more marriages, seven grandkids and some invited in-laws later, I am cooking for twenty-six people this year. The trick to this, I have found, is a level of preparation that borders on manic.

Over the years I have learned that there are some items that can be bought pre-made and no one will notice. I buy pre-made mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie from Costco with zero guilt. For other items the crockpot is my best friend. Green beans, corn and stuffing. The other key to a stress-free Thanksgiving is my method of cooking the turkey. I read about this in our local paper years ago, tried it once and I have never looked back. I also cook the turkey one or two days before our family meal and it makes things a lot easier. That sounds weird to people until they try it and I promise you will be a convert. The only caveat is that this is not a turkey for the table. It’s not pretty , but it is delicious and oh-so-easy. Here’s how I do it.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Wash and pat dry a completely thawed turkey. You can add a dry rub or butter at this point but after this there will be no more contact with the bird until it is done.

Put the turkey, breast-side down in a tightly covered roasting pan with 3 cups of water. Cook the turkey for exactly 6 hours. The lid must remain on during this entire process so the steam does not escape.

When you open the pan the turkey will look like something went wrong. Meat will be pulling back from the bones and the undercarriage will be starting to cave in. Don’t be afraid. What has happened here is that all of the connective tissues have been steamed away and the meat has separated from the bones. Let the turkey sit for 30 minutes to cool off for handling. While waiting prepare three large bowls. One for white meat, one for dark meat and one for bones. I usually have a fourth for dog scraps.

Carving is not necessary or really possible with this method. Simply lift off the meat with tongs and place into the appropriate bowl. There is also no waste with this method. You will literally be able to get every scrap of meat available with ease. The trick is really just to make sure you remove all of the bones to prevent choking hazards. I also like to pour the pan juices through cheesecloth and save for later. There is a lot of concentrated flavor from this method and it makes a great stock base for other dishes. Once complete the meat can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

About 40 minutes before your Thanksgiving meal move the meat to some oven-safe dishes and pour chicken broth over it. Then just throw it in the oven with whatever else is cooking. It will warm through and be extremely moist.

This year I am thankful for a lot of things. Most of these I will share with my family later this week but one thing I have to say here is that I am so thankful for this community. It is a very humbling experience to be in the company of so many smart people and being given a venue in which I can share my ideas and opinions. I consider many of you my friends and I am proud of the work we do here. I truly believe that the sky is the limit for us. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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17 thoughts on “A Rambling Thanksgiving Post

  1. “While waiting prepare three large bowls. One for white meat, one for dark meat and one for bones. I usually have a fourth for dog scraps.”

    Wait, you cooked a dog?

    • Tod,

      It’s literally so easy that I feel guilty when people compliment me about the turkey after the meal. If you want to wait until a less high-profile meal you just have to make plans for all the turkey because you will be amazed how much more meat you have.

      After trying this the first year my mother-in-law actually outsourced her turkey baking to me and I do another bird for her every Christmas.

  2. I plan to write my own Thanksgiving post a bit later, in which I express sentiments similar to those in your last paragraph.

    For now, I’ll content myself by returning your gratitude that you are part of this community. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m indeed thankful for the perspectives you bring, and the always-respectful way we’ve been able to engage with each other, even when we haven’t always totally agreed.

  3. But Mike, what about the skin? How do you crisp up the skin if you’re steaming the bird?

    This is a whine. Steaming the bird is a great way to harvest as much meat as possible from him. And I’m sure the meat is super-tender too.

    Will the bones reduce to a good stock after they’ve been treated this way? Seems to me a lot of the marrow and flavor would get leached out — into the strained pan juices which you said make for the stock base, so maybe it doesn’t matter. But making a stock without bones seems wrong somehow.

    • Burt – the skin does crisp up using this method, but it;s the skin on the bottom of the bird. The only thing is that it’s hard to keep it on the meat. I typically just remove it and enjoy it on my own. It’s my ‘chef’s portion’ from the turkey.

      As for the bones, they lose most of the marrow so I don’t keep them. The pan juices are super-concentrated so I usually mix that with some chicken broth for a very flavorful stock. I’ve also used them as a base for gravy.

      I’m going to try and do a quick video when I cook our bird tomorrow. That might answer some questions.

  4. My favorite thing to make for Thanksgiving is cranberry sauce. So easy, so much better than the canned stuff (which some folks insist on eating [head-desk]). I make two — one just cranberries and sugar-substitute; one with crunchies (celery, apples and nuts, usually).
  5. Nice, Mike. Has your hunting season been bountiful yet?

    And I just have to say, the clothes in that picture are my idea of hipster wear. I’ve just added a pair of knee socks with a fair-isle band and a felted waist coat to my list of things to design. If that’s the trend in hand knitwear in three years, you get the credit.

    Thankful blessings one and all.

    • Zic,

      Hunting season started slow but it picked up last weekend. I got a deer so it was good to put plenty of meat in the freezer. Goose season starts tomorrow.

      • Hope there’s going to be goose confit for Christmas.

        Congrats on the deer!

        I’m just waiting out the remainder of the season here, then I can return to the woods. I miss them. Need to forage some lichen and hedgehog mushrooms for the cauldron*.

        *large pot used for extracting dyes and for dyeing fiber, usually wool. Called the cauldron because it gets hung over an open fire outside, since dyeing can be stinky and the fumes can be dangerous, depending on the mordants and dye stuff in use.

  6. This year mom and pop are hosting.

    Next year, I think I’m going to smoke the turkey. Maybe I’ll do it for Christmas.

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