Saturday, November 24, 2018

Roast Heritage Turkey with Sausage, Apple and Pecan Dressing

Maybe it is the times that we live in, maybe its because I love history.  Either way, I find myself drawn to earliest days of our Republic, when people such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were walking and talking. I often enjoy trips to Mount Vernon, Monticello, or colonial Williamsburg. And, with each trip, I ultimately find myself fixated on, not the founding fathers, but the enslaved who served them. The reason is that I am almost always interested in the kitchens. Those kitchens were staffed by slaves, who were responsible for preparing and serving each course to the hosts and guests.  (My interest actually goes far beyond what may have been served to the guests of George Washington and focuses on what the slaves often prepared for themselves with what little they had. If you are looking for a good book that touches on this subject, check out The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty.)

For Thanksgiving 2018, I decided to prepare a meal that would have prepared during the colonial times. I drew from my cookbooks, such as The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook, and, online, such as the recipes provided by Mount Vernon.  Nearly all of the dishes -- from the appetizer to the main course -- were recipes that could find some connection to America's colonial past. (The only exception was the roasted vegetable dish, which I had made in the past.)

When it came to the turkey and dressing recipes, I decided upon the a Roast Turkey with Sausage, Apple and Pecan Dressing.  This recipe comes from the Tavern Cookbook.  One would like to think that this recipe was served back in the colonial era, such as to George Washington, but I have nothing to support that theory.  And, given that Thanksgiving itself did not become a recognized holiday until another one of the great American Presidents (President Lincoln), this turkey and dressing recipe certainly wasn't served to celebrate any holiday. 

As for the actual turkey itself, Thanksgiving 2018 also featured a first in my cooking adventures ... roasting a heritage turkey. My beautiful Angel and my family were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving at home with her parents. This sparked an interest in sourcing a local turkey from a Maryland farm and, even further, a heritage bird that represents the history of this bird.  There are several farms across the Old Line State that raise heritage turkeys, such as Narragansett and Bourbon Red breeds. Ultimately, I chose Nick's Organic Farm, in part because of its location and the variety of products beyond turkey that the farm sells.  (In a way, this was a test of buying directly from a farm; I am looking to procuring more of the meat that I cook with from a farm as opposed to a grocery store.)

I purchased a ten (10) pound Bourbon Red turkey from Nick's Organic Farm. This 10 pound weight makes the the turkey the smallest one that I ever prepared. (I usually have cooked birds between 12 and 16 pounds, and, occasionally, up to 20 pounds in the past.) Given this was the first time that I was cooking with a heritage bird, I did a lot of research into the bird itself, including the white meat to dark meat ratio and the cooking times.  This is where the Internet, for all of its information, can fail someone. There are literally recipes for cooking this bird in two opposite ways: (1) low and slow; and (2) hot and fast. For someone who is new to cooking heritage birds, this is not helpful. Needless to say, I choose the low and low method in the hopes that I could err on the side of caution. It would be far less frustrating (or so I thought) to cook the bird for an additional 15 minutes than to have a bird as dry as the paper upon which the recipe is printed. I cooked it at 325 degrees for approximately 3 hours. Otherwise, I cooked the bird according to the recipe's instructions.  The lower cooking temperature meant that the cooking time was a longer.  For purposes of this recipe, however, I have left the cooking times from the Tavern Cookbook because those cooking times are more appropriate for store-bought birds).

The stuffing recipe also provided a first, in terms of the ingredients that were used and the style of preparing the stuffing. In an effort to produce a stuffing as close as possible, my beautiful Angel baked both French bread and corn bread. As for the principal ingredients, I bought some bulk turkey sausage.  (My Angel only eats turkey, she does not eat pork or beef.) The apples were a combination of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples. The pecans were, well, pecans.

Typically, when preparing stuffing, I was always told to dip the day-old bread in some turkey stock.  This dipping is to help the stuffing remain moist during the cooking process.  The recipe that I worked with did not call for the dipping of anything in turkey stock.  Instead, the only liquid that was added to the stuffing was 1 stick of melted butter.  This naturally created a drier stuffing.  Given I was working with a smaller bird, I could not put much of the stuffing in the cavity of the bird. The rest went into a greased, glass baking dish and baked separately. I put the dish in at the end of the cooking time for the bird.

Overall, I found the heritage bird to be the best turkey that I have ever eaten, both in terms of flavor and texture. (And, in this regard, I strongly recommend using Nick's Organic Farm.)  The Bourbon Red really does provide a stark contrast to the rather bland meat and texture of a mass produced, broadbreasted white bird.  In fact, the bird is so much better than any other turkey that I have had, that it more than justified the additional cost of the heritage bird. I definitely plan on using heritage birds in the future.  The only change I would make is to stick with the instructions or go with my gut when cooking the bird

Recipe adapted from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook, pg .116-117
Serves Many

Ingredients (for the dressing):
1 pound bulk fresh mild or hot sausage
     (I used mild turkey sausage)
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
3 cups cooked corn bread, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 cups day old French or Italian bread, 
     crusts removed and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 large cooking apples, preferably Granny Smith,
     peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch dice
     (I used a combination of Granny Smiths and Honeycrisps)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Ingredients (for the turkey):
1 trimmed turkey (12 to 14 pounds)
     (I used a 10 pound Bourbon Red heritag eturkey)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup (1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups turkey stock

1. Prepare the dressing. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, place the sausage and cook, stirring often, until no trace of pink remains. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the skillet. And the onions and celery to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until softened about 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the drained sausage, onions, celery, corn bread, day old bread, apples and pecans. Stir in the melted butter, parsley, salt and pepper. 

2. Prepare the turkey.  Dry the turkey inside and out with paper towels. Season the inside the cavity with salt and pepper. Fill the breast and neck cavities with the dressing. Truss the turkey securely with a trussing needle and kitchen string.

3. Roast the turkey.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub the turkey with the butter and season well with salt and pepper. In a large roasting pan, place the bird on its side. Cook for 15 minutes and then turn on the other side for fifteen minutes. Turn, breast side down, in the pan and cook until the back is golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and turn breast side up. Continue to roast for 18 minutes per pound, basting every 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Transfer the turkey to a warmed platter and let sit, loosely covered with foil for 10-15 minutes.  

4. Prepare the gravy.  Skim the fat from the surface of the roasting pan juices.  Pour off the clear juices and reserve.  Place the roasting pan on top of the stove and sprinkler over the flour. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly until the flour is lightly brown, about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the turkey stock and increase the heat to high. Stir or whisk constantly until the gravy comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the clear pan juices and season with salt and pepper. Strain through a sieve and pour into a warmed gravy boat. Carve the turkey and pass the gravy on the side.


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