“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!