Saturday, November 18, 2006

Rula Gives Good Bird

Rula's Thanksgiving Tips

Rula's Tips for a Fabulous Thanksgiving!

Greetings, fellow Pilgrims! Rumor has it that there has been some seasonal poultry abuse in Santa Fe over the years, and taste buds and families have suffered. As a result of this situation, Stacy, being the community-minded good soul that she is, has asked me to step in and pass on my top tips for a successful Thanksgiving dinner. Here are some surefire hints to improve the evening's meal. Sorry, but I can't do anything about your relatives!

1) Start with a quality turkey. If possible, buy a free-range, fresh bird, not one that's been in the freezer since last year and is pumped full of water and preservatives. The Amish turkeys are excellent. You could go organic or heirloom, but the price will be astronomical, so prepare yourself. If you do buy a frozen bird, give it 3 to 4 days to defrost in your fridge, that's the safest way.

2) Invest in a meat thermometer. Don't rely on those plastic pop-up things to tell you when to pull the bird from the oven, because they are unreliable. Besides, only cheap turkeys come with those things, and when your observant guests see the hole created by pulling the plastic plug out of the skin, they will know they spent too much on the wine. A simple instant-read thermometer will take all the guesswork out of telling when it's done. Open the door of the oven, insert the thermometer into the bird, and let it sit there for about 15-30 seconds till the needle stops. Turkey should reach between 165-170 degrees. Check the bird in a variety of spots: where the leg meets the breast; in the thickest part of the breast; and in the back.

3) Rub it! It doesn't matter what you choose, but rub something into the skin. A classic rub used by Mother of Rula is about 1 tablespoon each of salt and black pepper, and 1/4 cup each of garlic powder and Hungarian paprika. Mix with water or olive oil till you form a paste, and rub it in. Don't forget to season the cavity with herbs as well. Take the extra rub and add water to it and pour it into the roasting pan, which will give the gravy a great base. You can also do a Balsamic vinegar and Herbs de Provence rub, or a smoked paprika, Madeira, and butter rub. You get the idea. All a rub is, is a combination of seasonings and liquids (and usually some fat) which will soak in and flavor the bird from the outside in.

4) Don't just sit there ... baste! Nothing insures a moist bird and tender skin like a well-basted bird. As the bird cooks, the fat will drip into the roasting pan, mixing with the rub ingredients and the water and create a beautiful base for the gravy. If your oven tends to evaporate out all the liquid as it cooks, keep replacing it with hot water.

5) Make good side dishes. That way, if you incinerate the bird, nobody will notice. This can take a variety of forms. Homemade cranberry sauce is a must! The simplest and best cranberry-orange relish is on the Ocean Spray cranberry bag. All you need is a food processor or meat grinder. No cooking... it's easier than opening the can and letting the jellied stuff wobble on to a plate. If you want to get more gourmet, may I suggest a cranberry and fig chutney made with Port and rosemary? You can e-mail me for the recipe. I also suggest you don't forget about your veggies. Buck tradition: skip the French's-fried-onion-and-frozen-green-bean casserole, and try sautéing some fresh green beans with roast chestnuts and caramelized shallots. How could that be bad?

6) Stuffing was not invented by Pepperidge Farm, so look further. Yes, you can do the box stuffing, but how uncreative can you be? Cornbread, foccacia, ciabatta, even sourdough baguettes can all be used for stuffing. You can buy them a few days ahead of time, cut them in cubes and dry them out in a slow oven till crisp. Try combining one or two sexy ingredients with the bread base: oysters; Andouille sausage; diced dried pears or apricots; caramelized apples; spiced pecans — to name a few. Remember, don't skimp on the butter and use some of the pan juices to moisten the stuffing.

7) Just because he's your Father and he says so, doesn't mean he's the best person to carve the bird. Even the most perfectly cooked turkey can be turned into a big mess by an unskilled knifeman. Evaluate your guests and politely ask the one with the best culinary background to do the honors. If that job rests on your shoulders, here are some tips. First, remove the wings and legs at the joint where they meet the breast, then slice off the breast meat on a 45 degree angle into thin slices. Now turn the bird over, and slice off some dark meat from the thigh. You can slice the meat off the legs or serve them whole, depending how tribal you want to be.

8) You can never have too many desserts! After a huge Tryptophan-laden meal, nothing says "American tradition" like gorging on cakes and pies until you pass out on the couch. Having company for dinner? Let them bring dessert. You might even direct them to your favorite bakery. I say leave nothing to chance. If you insist on baking, don't go nouvelle on us now, stick with the classics: pumpkin pie; pecan pie; or something chocolate. This is no time for spelt crusted tofu pie. Haven't you suffered enough?