So Thanksgiving’s fast approaching, and although we don’t traditionally celebrate this in the UK, I do. It’s one of my favourite celebrations, not only because it’s entirely non-denominational and everyone can join in, but because it also gives us two cracks at the turkey.
I love turkey. I know it’s a bit fashionable in Britain these days to try an alternative (I love a goose too, by the way), but I’m not convinced by the fish, beef or pork replacements for a big Christmas dinner. A good turkey, free-range — more of which anon — cannot be beat.
Which brings us to the all-important topic of sides. I was chatting with my lovely friend Jo Stougaard the other day, comparing notes on Thanksgiving favourites. What, she asked, do I do with a turkey back home?
So… here are some of my favourite turkey sides and ideas.
Swede, or rutabaga, is one of those vegetables that goes excellently with turkey — kind of like a northern latitude sweet potato. I like to purée it with plenty of butter, salt and pepper, and nutmeg. You’ll have a bowl on the table holding a big orange cloud!
Brussels sprouts are such a hugely traditional part of the British turkey feast, but there’s always someone at the table who claims they don’t like them. This method’s a sure-fire hit: thinly slice the sprouts and wash them in a colander under the tap; slice up 2-3 garlic cloves; fry off some cubed pancetta in a little oil until it’s crispy, add the garlic and a pinch of dried chilli flakes (or a fresh, finely chopped jalepano); sauté until the garlic’s a nice nutty brown, then add the sprouts with a little of their residual water and stir-fry in the pan for about 3-4 minutes until they’re cooked. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Job done.
How about some carrots, for a lovely flash of colour? I like to roast them up, halved down the middle (a whole, if they’re tiddlers), with a little olive oil and butter, some julienned ginger and a drizzle of honey.
We Brits love a roast potato. Mash is for bangers; turkey demands a roastie. So par-boil your tatties, drain them in a colander and, whilst you’re about it, shake them around a little to break up their surfaces. Then set them aside to dry. This will assure you a lovely crispy exterior. Melt a tablespoon of goose or duck fat in a 220˚C oven and, when it’s hot, add the potatoes. Season with salt, and roast for an hour or so, turning them every 20 minutes or so, until they’re perfect and crispy. You need to use the most floury potato you can get. In the UK, I swear by King Edwards.
There would be a small revolution if I didn’t serve mini sausages wrapped in bacon. Just wrap the sausages in streaky bacon, jab a cocktail stick through it to hold it in place, and cook in the oven for about half an hour. You can cook them in their own pan, or you can put them in around the turkey for its last half hour so the pork fat renders in and adds flavour to your gravy. Maybe these are something our good chums at Lindy & Grundy could help you out with: pre-made mini-sausages on sticks?
Crispy stuffing balls: there’s always a debate in our house because Freddie grew up in a world where the stuffing was cooked in the turkey. I’m against this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is this: in order for the stuffing to cook through, the turkey stays in the oven too long and you end up with dry and horrible breast meat. So I bake the stuffing in a separate pan. And, since I always make too much, I roll the remainder into 2cm balls, and bake them for 20 minutes.
Roast parsnips — I was chatting at dinner last night with a British friend who said there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for roast parsnips, they’re that good. I love the way their tips caramelise as they cook. Slice them lengthways into halves or quarters (depending on size), toss them in oil and roast for 40-45 minutes. But keep your eye on them — they can catch. You want them soft and sticky, not burnt!
Bread sauce — you can’t beat Bryn’s grandmother’s recipe. And. yes, I am plugging the book.
A turkey isn’t a turkey without cranberries. In addition to a cranberry sauce, why not cook up some red cabbage, nice and slow, with cranberries, apple, cinnamon, allspice and some orange rind? So colourful, and so delicious!
Some more greens? How about some lovely winter chard or greens, cooked off with some chilli and some walnuts or water chestnuts for added crunchy texture?
Some extra zing in your stuffing? I’ll often add some dried fruit, especially figs because they always seem so luxurious. But, since I’m in LA right now, I’m thinking of chopping in some fabulous DaVall Dates from the Coachella Valley.
For the turkey itself, I like to make a flavoured herb butter to squeeze up under its skin. I always do this the night before cooking, and I massage it well into the beast so its evenly spread over the breast and thighs. Then I roast the bird breast-side down so that all its fat bastes the breast meat throughout the bulk of its cooking, only turning it onto its back to crisp up for the last 30 minutes.
And finally: gravy. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, keeping the yummy turkey juices in the pan. Chop the turkey liver into a 1cm dice, and fry it off in the pan until it’s cooked through, then deglaze with a couple of glasses of red wine. Reduce this by half, then add your stock, say about a pint, and cook it down. Then, at the last minute, taste for seasoning, and stir in a tablespoon of cold butter for a rich, glossy and luxurious finish. Fantastic.
And that’s it.
Just don’t get me started on left-overs. They’re my favourite part of the whole shebang!! More to come…