Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Come-to-Mama" Turkey

I like to think of myself as a genuinely helpful person.

I love helping people. We are each blessed with unique resources, which God has specified that we use for the purposes of fostering ultimate Good in our oft-bleak world. I also love bringing people together to share good times.

Unfortunately, helpful people--hopelessly blindsided by their helpful fervor--find really, really dumb ways of getting themselves into deep shit.

Imagine this scenario:

Me: So, Dad, what do you think about inviting the whole family over for Orthodox Christmas?

Dad: I have no objection...but...that's a lot of people.

-Fourteen, to be exact.-

Me: So? I think it would be nice. It's the first time anyone has gathered your side of the family altogether. We would be like, making Ghali family history.

Dad: Well, ok. But...what do you cook for Christmas dinner? What will we make?

Me: Well...you make a turkey.

Dad: Oh. You know how to make turkey?


2 hours later

Me: Shoot. I've never made a turkey. What if I burn it?...Shoot.

2 days later

Dad: Samansa! I bought beautiful turkey!

Me: ....really!

Dad: Yes. It was the smallest turkey I found in Costco!

Me: Oh, thank GOD. So how heavy is it?


the next day

Me: Amy...do you know how to cook a sixteen-pound turkey?


Le Jaime Oliver to the rescue.

Upon seeing my distress, Amy graciously lent me a cookbook written by the very talented (read: rich) heartthrob chef du jour, Jaime Oliver. I'd never tried any Jaime Oliver recipes before, and admittedly wasn't exactly impressed with his explanations, but here was a big bird recipe and I needed a crutch at any cost, at this point. To be fair, I'd observed my aunt Amira prepare turkeys every year for Everybody Else Christmas (Dec. 25), and was sure I could wing it...kind of.

The turkey took three days to defrost. That catapulted me into panic mode early on. When Saturday (the day of the dinner) rolled around, I dilly-dally-ed in the kitchen, doing everything else, and pretending that Big Bird wasn't chilling obnoxiously, practically mocking me from my sink, within a two-foot radius of my fidgety, apron-clad self.

Hey baby, let me buy you a drink. You look like you could use some unwindin'.

What You'll Need:

-Lots of fresh thyme

-Lots of fresh rosemary

-Lots of fresh sage

-Lots of fresh parsely

-Lots of minced garlic

-garam masala, or mysterious Mid-Eastern 7-spice mix known as "Bouharat", or your DIY creation

-olive oil or butter

-coarse salt (for cleaning the bird)

-about 5 carrots, sliced once lengthwise

-about 5 celery stalks

-your stuffing of choice (this....is another story on its own. to be blogged soon....)

-1 large orange or two small tangerines

-an oven-proof pan/dish that can carry the weight of your turkey (if you get a disposal aluminum pan, it is crucial that you know how much your turkey weighs before you buy one. Check the packaging on the pan: it should say how much weight the pan can safely carry (don't forget to calculate the weight of turkey + stuffing, too.). The last thing you want is a 3rd degree burn on Christmas and a Big Bird all over your kitchen floor because your pan couldn't withstand the weight of the turkey). What I recommend: buy a pan that you KNOW you can re-use!

What to do:

1) Preheat your oven to the highest degree on your dial (I don't know if this is actually customary, but Jaime Oliver recommends it) on Bake. Once your turkey is seasoned and ready to go into the oven, lower the heat to 350.

2) Peel and slice your carrots lengthwise, place them sliced side facedown, along with the celery stalks, on the bottom of the oven-proof pan. This veggie layer is like a safety net, preventing the bottom of the turkey from burning in case you miscalculate the cooking time. If they don't end up burning, they will caramelize, and be super delish, adding a beautiful veggie-broth flavour to your gravy. Spray or brush the veggies with olive oil.

3) Chop your herbs into 1-2 inch pieces. Toss the different herbs, together with the minced garlic, and reserve in a bowl.

4) Wash your turkey inside and out, rubbing the skin and inside the cavity with coarse salt.

5) Squeeze those abs, bend your knees, and heave-ho your turkey onto the pan.

6) Pour a generous amount of olive oil or softened butter into your hands, and give the turkey a good rub. Then, very carefully, try to loosen the skin of the turkey on either side of the breast, creating two pockets (you'll notice that the breast is separated down the middle) in which you will stuff your herbs. My aunt always did this because she says that the herbs perfumed the meat. Jaime Oliver claims that it helps keeps the breast meat from becoming dry. Booyah! It all works. Try separating the skin from the meat of the breast slowly, first by working your fingers, then your hands, underneath the skin. Try not to make any holes...cause that would suck.

7) Wash your hands and pour about 2 tbsp of the spice mix in your hands, and rub your turkey well, inside and out. Carefully place the garlic-herb mix underneath the breast skin. After that's done, slice parts of the thigh and leg, and place garlic and rosemary for a decorative effect--it also makes people around you think you know what you're doing. ;)

8) Stuff the cavity with your stuffying, leaving a bit of room for the orange(s). Usually, there will be a bit of skin danging beneath the legs. Tuck the legs into that band of skin and hello, mama. There's your turkey.

9) Cover your turkey with aluminum foil, and heave-ho into the oven. Turn your heat down to 350.

10) Your turkey should take about 20 minutes per pound. But always use your chef's sixth sense: is your oven stronger/weaker than most? Trust your gut. If you're unsure if it's ready or not, slide a skewer into the leg and see if the juices run clear. Do the same for the breast.

11) When it's done, take it out and let sit for abot 15-20 minutes. Why? I dunno. It needs to set or something? Whatever.

* * *

After my turkey came out of the oven, my sister (the vegetarian) took one look, gagged, and peaced out. My heart was pounding in my ears. I carried it to my 14 salivating family members and was met with roaring applause--but they didn't even taste it yet!--I was officially mortified.

Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison...

Thanks to the intercessions of all of the saints I invoked, crosses on the turkey, and muttered prayers, my turkey was slightly overcooked, but DID NOT BURN! It could have been more tender (the turkey was done almost an hour earlier than the calculated time), but the meat still fell off the bone, and was soft and succulent. The stuffing was laced with the bright citrus scent of the tangerines--a beautiful accompaniment to the robust turkey meat.

And--big ups to the man who made it all possible--my dad. Thank you for a) agreeing to have an absurb amount of people in your home b) having enough faith to let me lead the whole operation c) being chill, joking, running out and getting last minute things ("Uh, Dad, we don't have enough serving utensils. We own, like, two.")

thanks, Baba!


    the photos are stunning
    lol the caption of the one of you with the bird makes me think of the greek easter video!!!
    you can cook frozen birds. did your jaw just drop? that's actually why I wanted to also show you the Joy, they explain the adjustments needed in temp and time. oh well!!! YOU DID AN AMAZING JOB! we need to get you a meat thermometer yo!!

  2. that's kind of incredible and awesome, sam.