The annual “table picture” of the completely prepared Thanksgiving meal – taken just before everyone tears into the turkey and trimmings – often looks as if it happened effortlessly, as if nothing went wrong or no frantic trips to the corner store for an obscure ingredient were necessary.
But home cooks all over Charlestown know better, and there’s no help like that from a professional.
Recently, the Patriot Bridge sat down with the owners of Brewer’s Fork – Michael Cooney, John Payne and Kari Cooney – to see how those who work in a professional kitchen celebrate the biggest eating day in America, and just how it is that they make it unique.
“Thanksgiving is my favorite meal of the year,” said Chef Payne. “A lot of it is the feeling you get with being together with friends and family. You might eat a lot of things not because you like them, but because your grandmother made it or your mother made it. Thanks giving equals family and we like to keep it really traditional.”
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few twists in the kitchen on turkey day.
THE PERFECT TURKEY
Chef Payne said that he has cooked a turkey a million different ways, but has settled on the ‘spatchcock’ method. That involves removing the back bone and laying the turkey flat – ensuring an even cooking and also allowing one to be able to turn the turkey over.
He starts by putting a dry brine on the turkey that consists of kosher salt and baking powder, which is quite different from the normal salt water bath brining.
“The baking powder make the skin crispy,” he said.
For him, there are a lot of ways to make the turkey, but he said he’s settled on this tried and true method – one that tastes good and feels right.
“I’ve cooked a turkey a million different ways, but the spatchcock is my favorite,” he said. “I don’t like to deviate from the traditional and this makes a very traditional turkey. I’ve smoked turkeys on Thanksgiving before, and it’s fine, but smoked turkey isn’t what you think about on Thanksgiving.”
He also said that he always makes sure to cook two turkeys, one ahead of time so that he can have fresh turkey stock for basting and to put in the roasting pan.
“I always cook two turkeys,” he said. “I cook one ahead of time and use it for stock. If I’m taking the time to make Thanksgiving dinner, I’m not going to buy canned stock.”
To cook it perfectly, one of the tips he offered is to put a bag of ice on the breast for a couple of hours before putting it in the oven.
“One of the biggest issues is the breast cooks to fast,” he said. “The spatchcock method takes some of that problem away, but you can also put ice on the breast before cooking.”
And forget about that little white pop up timer, he said. Use a real thermometer and take it out of the oven when the breast hits 140 degrees.
DRESSING AND CRANBERRIES – WITH A TWIST (OF ORANGE)
Payne said his Thanksgiving dressing is very simple.
He uses bread, celery, onion, sage and thyme. He adds the fresh turkey stock to that, and blends it with eggs and lots of butter.
“I bake it in a large shallow pan, and you’re looking to get it crunchy on top, but creamy and soft on the inside,” he said.
A key part of making dressing right is keeping the moisture correct, and the fresh turkey stock with eggs should do the trick, he said.
Payne has a very different idea for the cranberries, one that doesn’t include cooking down the New England specialty.
Instead, he grinds up raw cranberries with whole, cut up oranges (peel and all) and sugar.
“I’m not a big fan of cooked cranberry sauces and this is how my grandmother made it,” he said. “I just grind it all up in the food processor and it’s a great twist on the traditional.”
POTATOES AND GRAVY
Nobody likes mashed potatoes that look like glue, but it is often how things turn out. Payne said he prefers mashed potatoes, but has seen potatoes au gratin work at Thanksgiving too.
For his mashed, he said to get yellow potatoes, cook them, and mix them with scalded (not boiled) milk and butter. He said not to use cream.
One of the most common mistakes is people buy the wrong kind of potatoes, or they don’t mix them correctly.
“You have to mash them by hand,” he said. “People try to save time by using a machine, but that makes them too gluey. You can’t put them in a machine. If you put them in a food processor, they can just stretch out like taffy.”
However, Payne relishes in making the gravy.
“The best part about Thanksgiving is the gravy,” he said. “I do it in the turkey pan right on the stove. It shouldn’t look like it was made at a restaurant in Paris. It should look like grandma made it.”
He said he uses the turkey fat in the pan, adds flour and cooks it until its brown in color. Then he adds the fresh turkey stock and cooks it until it’s the right consistency.
“I love to scrape up all of that stuff on the bottom of the pan,” he said.
BREWS AND VINO
Kari Cooney, who coordinates the win at Brewer’s Fork, said there are a lot of common mistakes in pairing wine with Thanksgiving items.
“One of the mistakes to avoid is to pair it with a heavy chardonnay or a heavy cabernet because they will overpower the wonderful turkey dinner,” she said. “It’s all you can taste. Acid is great in wine because it helps break down the food and get your palette ready for the next taste. So, it is a good idea to get a wine with some acid in it.”
She said she starts things off with a bubbly aperitif, like a Rosé, to get ready for the big meal. For the best value, she said medium reds like the LudovicusGuarnaccia.
Other recommendations include:
- Sancerre Jolivet.
- Illahe Pinot Noir and Viognier.
Michael Cooney recommended brews such as Belgian beers and also Trappist beers afterwards for the football games or family card games.
GETTING IT ON
All in all, they said that organization and delegation are very important to making sure everything gets on the table and ready to eat.
“Anything you can make ahead of time is a good idea,” Payne said. “The cranberry sauces could be done the day before. You shouldn’t do that while you’re cooking the turkey. A little planning helps and getting people to help you also. If you can get someone to make the potatoes for you, that’s good. That’s what we do in a professional kitchen.”