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Curtis Cooks a Turkey
With Christmas only weeks away it’s high time to make the appropriate preparations for the year’s most important lunch or Christmas Eve dinner, depending on where you live and local tradition.
The notion of cooking a roast turkey can be daunting to many but really folks; it’s just a bigger bird than a chicken. Those who enjoy cooking and entertaining at home, the Christmas turkey and accompaniments are a relatively straightforward, time-honored menu yet a very rewarding experience.
Having spent last Christmas in Melbourne the Wandering Palate is actually not wandering this Christmas and will be cooking at home in Singapore.
This brought up the usual conundrum of finding a decent turkey in a country that does not condone free-range poultry, as strange as it may sound in the chicken capital of the world, visit http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/produce/a-happy-chook-is-a-tasty-chook/
The good news is I have found a Singapore source for arguably the best turkey on the planet, from the Bresse region in France. However, in my search for the perfect turkey, in correspondence with fellow wandering palates abroad, their response was rather surprising, in that two trusted gastronomically obsessed individuals both said turkey was no longer on the menu and goose was now the flavor.
According to their family tastes, turkey is too bland and dry, to which I wonder if the provenance of the bird is the issue, as in my experience, a good free-range, organically reared turkey is very tasty indeed, and moist if of course you don’t overcook it.
It does however highlight one’s democratic choice of bird suitable to the occasion and in fact my gourmand colleagues have stimulated my palate and curiosity on the notion of a roast goose – maybe I might do both!
And with that in mind, I am now researching goose recipes as well as embarking on a comprehensive global list of free-range, organic turkey and goose suppliers – scroll down further for this.
Dealing with turkey first: many people are totally intimidated with the very thought of cooking a turkey and everyone seems to have a horror story about their first attempt.
Invariably it is due to the bird not being defrosted sufficiently, turning out golden brown on the outside and still raw on the inside!
On the flip side, there is a lot of turkey that gets over-cooked and subsequently turns out very dry and chewy. On the bright side, Christmas guests are very forgiving with any imperfections lost in the joviality of the day and singing your praises forever for the effort.
For the intimidated; folks, it’s all about planning and method. I am going to mention it several times, just to drive it home; you need to take a frozen bird (perish the thought) out of the freezer tree days before and let it thaw slowly in the fridge, making sure to remove all wrappings and sitting on a wad of kitchen paper.
That is of course assuming your turkey is frozen, as it might well be if you live in certain parts of Asia. Actually, frozen turkey is commonplace the world over although nothing beats a freshly chilled, free-range, organic turkey, should you be lucky enough to have access to such.
When we lived in Hong Kong it was no problem sourcing a freshly chilled free range turkey from France and this remains such, having confirmed that Great Food Hall at Pacific Place www.greatfoodhall.com has available for pre-order, freshly chilled, free range Bresse turkey.
This fine specimen of turkey is also available in Singapore, through Le Bon Marche, to which the Wandering Palate has secured a 7kg bird, and I would highly recommend you contact them urgently, as there limited availability http://www.lebonmarche.sg
The Bresse region, gravitating around the village of Vonnas and not far from Mâcon in Burgundy is world famous for its poultry with chickens and turkeys revered for their strong flavour and impressive flesh, so much so these birds come with a guaranteed designation of origin (appellation d'origine contrôlée). Indeed, this is where the legendary three starred Michelin Chef Georges Blanc has created a whole cuisine around the Bresse region and its exemplary produce. http://www.georgesblanc.com
Of course there are many fine breeds of turkey all over the world and what you procure for the Christmas table will obviously depend on where you live and availability. I would however like to encourage people to avoid supermarket, frozen turkeys and go that extra mile to source a wholesome, free-range bird.
Furthermore, I would like this to be a forum for people to share where they source their turkeys and any detail on the birds breeding line and pedigree, or the farm raising them, no matter where you live on this planet. So please, send your turkey info to firstname.lastname@example.org which will be added to the compilation at the very bottom of this article.
My input thus far is, the Bresse turkey that is available in Singapore and Hong Kong, although I have also written about our experience in Australia last Christmas where I sourced a massive 11 kilo bird, from Deutchers Turkey Farm, in Dadswells Bridge, in the west of Victoria, Australia.
Deutchers specialize in and old rare breeds of game birds with the emphasis on not being genetically altered with breeding programs to accentuate meat flavors or textures – essentially, this is the real thing; visit http://deutschersturkeyfarm.webs.com
Actually, this turkey was sourced through The Chicken Pantry, at the Queen Victoria Market, a marvellous stall with everything from, well chicken, but also rabbit, hare, duck, goose, quail, pheasant, guinea fowl, venison, kangaroo and all of it free-range and organic.
Roasting your Turkey
Apart from defrosting or a freshly chilled turkey, it is imperative to bring the bird up to room temperature before cooking, which will take a good four to five hours, depending on the size of the turkey.
This generally means leaving it out of the fridge overnight, to which I would leave the air-conditioning on in the kitchen if you are in the tropics, unless you are happy to get up at three in the morning to take it out of the fridge!
All this hard-yakka can of course be used to embellish your cooking talents and gargantuan efforts on the day and if I could suggest chaps, get in the kitchen as this is a good chance to earn some serious brownie points.
Personally I feel stuffing the turkey is essential, although there is a theory that this makes it more difficult to cook through. In 20 years of stuffing/cooking turkeys I have never encountered any such problem. More importantly, people have always commented on “how damn good” the stuffing is.
I use sourdough bread (buzzed in the food processor), chopped shallot onions (sautéed soft in butter), truffle paste, chanterelle mushrooms, garlic, fresh sage and thyme and seasoning, all bound with egg. You can use fresh truffles if you like; although not an inexpensive exercise however I find black or white truffle pastes, sometimes combined with mushroom as a type of pâté, does a wonderful job.
If you can’t source fresh chenterelles, dried ones are usually readily available, or you can use dried morels or assorted dried wild-mushrooms. Dried mushrooms need to be soaked in warm water for 15 minutes before adding to the stuffing mix.
• Large metal oven roasting dish
• Metal rack for placing the turkey on
• Separate oven and meat temperature gauges
• Baking foil/Aluminium foil – preferably wide commercial size
• Kitchen paper towel
• Large mixing bowl for stuffing
• Large platter for presenting the bird at the table
• 4kg Turkey (up to 8 people) 6kg Turkey (up to 12 people)
• Butter or Olive Oil
• Salt and Pepper
• Garlic (half a head, that is several cloves)
• Fresh sage (bunch)
• Fresh thyme (half dozen sprigs)
• Lemons (1 large, chopped in half)
• Truffle oil (for sauce)
Ingredients for Stuffing
• Bread for stuffing (preferably sour dough)
• Two large shallot onions
• Salt and Pepper
• Truffle paste (small jar)
• Fresh Chenterelle mushrooms, or dried morels/wild mushrooms
• Fresh sage (use from ingredients for turkey)
• Garlic (chopped fine)
• Two eggs (free range – from Huber’s)
Preparation: Plan and start well ahead! Cooking time for a 4kgs bird will be over 3-1/2half hours including resting of the meat.
You might want to consider half cooking your roast vegetables the night before, then reheating and crisping in a hot oven whilst the turkey is resting.
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius
Making the stuffing:
• Either break up the sourdough bread to tiny pieces by hand or buzz in the food processor.
• Soak dried mushrooms and drain, or wash and drain the fresh chanterelles, chop coarsely
• Chop shallots finely and sauté very gently in butter, do not brown.
• Peel garlic, leave some whole and crush with the back of knife for placing in Turkey cavity. Chop remaining finely for stuffing.
• Rinse sage and pat dry. Chop half the sage finely retaining the rest whole for placing inside turkey cavity.
• Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, with several grinds from the pepper mill and two good pinches of Maldon sea salt. Bind with egg and ensuring truffle paste evenly distributed – best way is use your hands.
Preparing the bird – make sure it’s properly thawed and at room temperature
• Wipe turkey inside and out with kitchen paper, removing giblets and neck (these should be placed in the bottom of roasting dish to add flavour to your sauce), season with pepper and salt well, rubbing inside and out. Place bird in roasting dish.
• Rub the bird with cut lemon, again inside and out. Place whole garlic, thyme and sage sprigs in cavity.
• Stuff the bird but loosely, as the stuffing will swell. Use the crust from the sourdough bread to seal cavity, or any bread crust will do. You can use baking twin to tie legs together to help close the cavity.
• Rub the bird liberally with butter (you can use olive oil, although butter achieves a more flavoursome result), messy job but hands necessary. At the same time butter a double-sheet of foil, again very generous with the butter (on one side) and make sure the foil is large enough cover whole roasting dish.
• Pour a cup or two of water in roasting dish and then turn the bird upside down, breast down, making sure you are using a metal rack to lift of the bottom of the roasting dish so heat can circulate. Cover the bird and dish with the cooking foil, butter side down!
Cooking the turkey and tips:
• General cooking time is 20 minutes per 500 g, approximately 2 hours 40 minutes for a 4 kgs bird.
• For the first 40 minutes cook at 200C which seals in the flavors, then lower temperature to 160C for remainder of cooking time.
• Here’s where you can be a little adventurous, time permitting. I much prefer to slow roast practically everything, and in my convection/fan oven this means turning the heat way down to less than 50 degrees on the dial, which translates to an oven temperature ideally around 90 to 100C (remember, rely on a separate oven temperature gauge than the dial). I don’t really calculate the extra cooking time rather relying on my meat temperature gauge inserted in the thickest part of the breast and leg. Poultry is considered cooked at around 80 or 90C, thus the logic of slow cooking and not cooking at higher temperature to avoid drying out the meat.
• The turkey needs to be basted every 20 minutes, using the juices and fat flowing from the bird as it cooks. I also maintain a small amount of water in the bottom of the roasting dish to keep the moisture level up.
• Half way through cooking, turn the bird over leaving breast side up for the remainder. The reason for placing the bird breast down initially is this allows the juices from the legs to run in to the breast meat, which tends to dry out easier.
• Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes of cooking so the bird browns nicely, at the same time not adding any more water to the pan so it reduces to a thicker stock, but watch that it doesn’t dry out completely and burn.
• Remove bird from the roasting dish and place on a large white platter to rest, covering loosely with cooking foil. 30 minutes is feasibly sufficient resting time however I like to give my turkey a good hour of resting. Also be sure to retain juices that will release from the resting for your sauce.
• Deglaze the roasting pan over stove element with a glass of chardonnay (also see wine pairing), adding a cup of organic chicken stock and a teaspoon of truffle oil, along with juices from resting. Reduce until sufficiently thickened or use a roux to thicken the sauce more to your own texture and taste.
• Meanwhile, place your par-cooked vegetables in the oven to finish roasting a crisp. My wife actually achieves a better result crisping parboiled potatoes in a frying pan. Equally, a friend of mine has perfected his technique, preferring to half boil the potatoes first, then drain and rough up by shaking the pot vigorously. This sort of fluffs them up and when roasted in the oven at high heat become wonderfully crisp on the outside.
Well, you’re probably exhausted reading through this by now and have picked up the phone to order your pre-roasted turkey from your local providore, which is certainly a convenient option.
However, I love the oooohs and aaaahs and applause when I appear out of the kitchen with an impressive, golden brown turkey and plonk it in the middle of the table. Which reminds me, always carve at the table, otherwise you will lose the spectacle altogether.
We always have a late lunch for this sort of generous meal which will easily run in to dinner, particularly if you plan to serve Christmas pudding. I like to buy a whole cooked ham for the kids (and some impatient adults) to eat earlier or later when the munchies return but you can’t be bothered cooking.
You should have a starter or stand up nibbles but nothing too heavy. Invariably we serve gravalax of Tasmanian ocean trout or salmon (cured as opposed to smoked) which is less rich than smoked. That said if you can find Tetsuya Wakuda’s smoked Petuna Tasmanian smoked ocean trout in your part of the world, it is sublime, http://www.tetsuyas.com/page/products.html
Using your sourdough bread, toast thin slices and have a bowl of very finely chopped shallots and crème fraiche to add as a topping.
If you are serving up Christmas pudding then make sure you have some reasonably mature vintage port around as it needs a powerful and spicy wine with plenty of butterscotch and cleansing acidity. WJ Graham’s is my personal favourite; see if you lay your hands on the 1980, a much underrated vintage and drinking superbly.
If you’re having cheese before pudding, I highly recommend Vacherin Mont d'Or - an exquisite washed-rind cow's milk cheese from the Jura Mountains, France, and only made in the winter months, perfectly timed for Xmas as it were. It is presented in a spruce-wood box that keeps the cheese from oozing all over the place. Indeed, you need to use a spoon to get it safely on to your toasted country bread. Make sure it is brought up to room temperature in advance.
Roast Goose Recipe to come...
And the wine...with the turkey or goose:
There to get a wholesome free range turkey in your part of the world
A big thank you to Karl Campbell, Manager Coq Au Vin (a division of Tegel), who candidly reports; there are only three turkey producers in New Zealand, Tegel Foods, Cantervalley and Crozier. Crozier are the only free range producers of turkey however after about 40 years in business they are selling up, to which Tegel are looking at taking over their business in the New Year. Interestingly, all commercial turkeys are grown in Canterbury, South Island and Cantervalley are apparently going free range next year, perhaps sensing the gap in the market.
Whilst my research in to free-range poultry in New Zealand has just begun, it would appear that not is all as ‘green’ as we think in the land of sustainability and organics, given that out of the 280,000 approx turkeys raised annually, only 12,000 are free-range. There is something in the order of 100 million chickens raised in New Zealand annually, to which I would suggest a very small perecent are free-range. There are no commercial Geese although Karl says he does buy the odd flock and have them processed from time to time and these are free range.
Croziers Turkey: Head office is in Auckland email@example.com however to find a supplier close to you visit their website which has detailed stockist of free-range turkey and chicken.
The Chicken Pantry: Shop 85 Queen Victoria Market, Corner of Elizabeth St and Victoria St
Melbourne Tel: (03) 93296417
Selling free-range, organic heirloom breeds from Deutchers Turkey
Great Food Hall, Basement 2 Pacific Place, Queensway, Hong Kong, Tel: 2918 9986. Pre-order, freshly chilled, free range Bresse turkey from France, cooking service available.
Le Bon Marche, 383 Bukit Timah Road #01-01 Alocassia Service Apartments
Singapore, Tel: 6226-3269, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pre-order, freshly chilled, free range Bresse turkey from France, 6/7 kg bird at S$65 per kilo, cooking service available S$90 per kilo inclusive.
My sources in Jakarta tell me that only frozen turkeys from the USA are available in Indonesia. If anyone has more Intel, would be glad to hear from you. Meanwhile, these are the popular outlets for the frozen birds.
Kem Chicks: Jl. Kemang Raya No. 3-5, Kemang, Jakarta – well-known high-end supermarket servicing the expat community around Kemang.
Mastro Meat Market: Jl. Wolter Monginsidi no.36, tel: 021-726-7660
Indoguna, the wholesale food importer has a retail outlet at Jl Cipaku I 11-A 12170, 021-7222050, email: email@example.com
A big thank you to Nick Lander, the most respected of restaurant critiques and food writers on this planet, www.nicklander.com who reports “This is the company in Scotland I use for all our meat, turkey to game. Very, very good”. All I can say it, recommendations do not come any higher than this.
The Blackface Meat Company: +44 (0)1387 730 326, who have available free-range Bronze turkey. This is a small family business, rearing Blackface sheep (hence the name) and Galloway cattle on the heather clad hill farm in the South West of Scotland. They supply a wide range of high quality, oven-ready game from selected Scottish estates and also source slow grown 'Iron Age' pork and Christmas turkeys from nearby farms. And I quote, “This is the lamb, mutton, game, beef and pork enjoyed by our ancestors, now available all over the UK via our efficient home delivery service.” Apart from Nick Lander’s emphatic reference, there website testament really drives home how respected they are for quality, “We are also long term, trusted suppliers to some of London's best-loved restaurants, including The Ivy, Fergus Henderson's St. John and Rowley Leigh's Cafe des Anglais.”
Other UK sources:
The Ginger Pig: One of my favourite shops at the Borough market and the Ginger Pig Meat Book is absolutely highly recommended and the seasonal menus brilliant. They sell free range, broad breasted, bronzed turkey @ £10.80 per kg, amongst other high-quality meats. Ph: 01751 460 091, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack O’Shea: Also comes highly recommended by one of the Wandering Palate’s UK scouts, and the introduction hardly necessary for one of Europe’s leading butchers, but just to reiterate they are frequently voted as one the top butchers in the UK and Jack O'Shea supplies meat to some of the finest restaurants in the country including Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck in Bray, Mark Hix's Oyster and Chop House and Richard Corrigan's eponymous Mayfair restaurant. “Butchery is in Jack's blood. The family business, which was founded in Tipperary in 1790...”
For the 4th year in a row Jack O’Shea will be stocking the Award Winning Kelly Bronze turkeys from Essex, winner of the Best Poultry producer and Great Taste Award. As seen on The Great British Food Revival programme last night on BBC 2.
The Kelly Bronze Turkeys are a slow growth variety which is completely free range and free from all hormone and additives. They are hand plucked and hung for 14 days to create even more flavour.
They come in their own individual box with meat thermometer and cooking instructions to make sure you get a delicious succulent bird to the table.
Sillfield Farm – Peter Gott: Also comes very highly recommended by our UK Wandering Palate Scout, who goes into raptures of culinary bliss when talking about them, Sillfield Farm is home to Wild Boar, Rare Breed Pigs, Herdwick sheep and rare breed types of poultry, all of which are Free Range.
Owners Peter and Christine Gott have been running the farm for twenty years, Peter very well respected leader in Artisan food production and has appeared in numerous television programmes passing on to people his methods. I have yet to confirm they have turkeys but our man says their free range chickens are big enough and as tasty to do the job!
My good friend, Captain James Bryson (retired) who now resides in Jakarta, travels back to his native Ireland for Christmas and reports that the family religiously procures their turkey from North Antrim Turkeys, 170 Larne Road - Ballymena - Co. Antrim http://www.okanepoultry.com/ In his own words, “As long as there's red cabbage, the roast potatoes are a crispy at the edges and the sausages are nice and brown, and there are lashings of decent red.... all will be well in the world.”
Where to get a wholesome free range goose in your part of the world
A good place to start your research on geese in the United Kingdom is the British Goose Producers official website, with plenty of general information, but more importantly dedicated to free range producers. Use this link to locate a supplier in the UK
Great Clerkes Farm is a small family run farm in north-west rural Essex. The farm has been in the Hughes family for three generations and is now run by Simon Hughes, following on from his late father and grandfather. They farm 400 acres of arable land, as well as 1,000 free-range geese and 1,200 free-range chickens aimed at the Christmas market. They have been rearing geese on the farm for over 25 years, which is invaluable knowledge in producing only the finest quality goose. You can order direct from them here.
G. B Geese - The Botterill family have been running Lings View farm for 70 years and have been producing free range poultry for over 20 years, located in the small Leicestershire village of Croxton Kerrial on the Leicestershire and Lincolnshire borders. They also have free range turkey and chickens, visit http://www.freerangebirds.co.uk/ Tel: 01476 870394, email email@example.com
Cheers and Merry Christmas!
Curtis Marsh – The Wandering Palate