December 29, 2012

Braised Turkey

The first recipe in The Four Hour Chef is a lesson on braising. This recipe is a first for me. I've never braised before and it was easy. The results were fork-tender, delicious turkey and an impressive gravy.

Braising is just cooking what is usually tough cuts of meat in liquid. The liquid could be water-based with herbs and spices, but most recipes call for wine. I had some hearty red wine left over from the holidays and some homemade chicken stock, so I felt remarkably prepared to tackle my first braising task.

Several years ago, Mark Bittman wrote about braising an entire turkey for Thanksgiving. I stumbled upon the article in my fervent braising research. He goes all in: butchering the whole bird, using fresh herbs, separating white and dark meat during cooking. I bet it's great, but that was too big a task for my first effort. I've also already internalized an important idea from Ferriss' book: shrink the margin of error. Instead of an entire turkey for a high-stakes holiday, I give you turkey drumsticks on a snowy Saturday night.

Ingredients & Tools
  • 2 turkey drumsticks
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks [I added another while chopping]
  • 1 large onion [my equivalent was 1 tiny and 1 medium onion on this particular day]
  • 1 cup of wine
  • 2 cups of chicken stock or water
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt
  • pepper
  • canola oil
  • oven safe pot with lid

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and preheat a heavy pan with half an inch of canola oil. Rinse and dry the drumsticks. Season them liberally with salt and pepper.

The first way to introduce flavor in a braised dish is to brown the meat. Leave them untouched on one side for 5-7 minutes until the skin gets crispy and a beautiful browning has happened.

Practice some balancing skills by making sure all sides are browned. Remove the drumsticks and set aside.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery, and carrots. These three ingredients are the French holy trinity, culinarily referred to as mirepoix. I decided on a large chop because this is a slowly cooked dish. When I'm cooking over a long stretch of time, like in my CrockPot, a small dice becomes very mushy and seemingly disappears into the liquid.

Cook the onions and the celery together for about 5 minutes or until they begin to caramelize.

Create some room in the center of the pan and add the wine. Allow the alcohol to cook out, less than 5 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to deglaze. This just means scraping the caramelized meat and vegetable 'bits' [that's an industry term]. This is how the sauce becomes even tastier.

Add the carrots and the stock. My homemade stock produced 1 3/4 cups. Make sure there is enough liquid to cover the drumsticks halfway.

Combine the dried herbs and add them to the pot. If you have fresh herbs, use them. If you prefer a different combination, use them. Let this and all recipes be your guide, not a mandate.

Return the turkey back to the pot. I was short of the 2 cups of liquid, but this came up halfway, so I didn't add water.

Add the bay leaves, cover, and allow to braise in the oven for 90 minutes. Your turkey is done when a fork easily moves the meat away from the bone.

You will have this after an hour and a half. The gravy reduces beautifully. I added a touch more salt, but before you season it, taste the gravy. It reduces and concentrates in the oven.

We ate it with brown rice and loved the gravy. Loved!

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