How Not to Cook a Turkey....

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If you didn't get your fill of what the French consider a very "bizarre bird" and have a hankering to roast up another turkey over the holidays, here's what not to do...

My Paris flatmates, John and Pierre, announced a few months ago that this year Thanksgiving was going to be in San Francisco and some of their closest French friends were flying in for the week to experience this crazy American tradition up close and personal. Naturally I couldn't pass up this opportunity so I hopped on United, San Francisco or bust. Actually it was "bust" coming back to Paris but that's another story that requires copious amounts of martinis, but I digress...

We didn't get started cooking until about 3pm (so much for our 4pm start time) because we first had to do a few things... such as scour the oven. At some point in the wee hours of the previous morning, someone decided it would be a good idea to go crazy with the oven cleaner. Not such a good idea in the light of day. Then Pierre popped and poured some champagne and announced that we could now begin cooking.


So a frantic scramble ensued to make the cornbread muffins for the stuffing, prepare the glaze for the turkey, get the cranberries going, prep the sweet potatoes and green beans, and make appetizers that would last 6 hours until dinner! I made my standard go-to app that I learned at Farallon: toasted brioche (round Hawaiian rolls in a pinch), topped with smoked salmon and a dollop of lemon creme fraiche to calm the hungry crowd.

The stuffing was finally ready so we filled up the turkey, rubbed olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika on the turkey, and - is what NOT to do - glazed the turkey. I should have waited until there was about an hour left of cooking. I wasn't thinking. I was tired, frazzled, exhausted from waking up at 4am from jetlag, a bit tipsy from the bubbly and distracted by all the hilarity going on around me that I just slathered that bird with abandon and sent him on his way.

An hour later, I checked on the turkey and it was charred, completely burned black. I wanted to cry. I was distraught. All that work and I ruined the turkey. ARGH! Pierre kept telling me it was OK and filling my champagne glass. John, who'd just emerged from a nap, had a clear head and the smart idea to baste it, cover it with foil and turn down the oven. So we did and continued to cook it for another few hours. I was still inconsolable.

Flora made the cranberry sauce with sugar, orange juice, orange zest and fresh grated ginger. There are no cranberries in France so this dish was most intriguing. So much so that Pierre decided they would be exponentially better mixed with vodka. They hijacked half my bowl of cranberries, pureed them and made cranberry martinis! Amen and pass the ice. When life hands you cranberries, make cocktails I say! As long as it diverts attention from the charcoal lump of a turkey...

Pierre snipped the ends off mounds of green beans while I cut up the sweet potatoes and chiffonade'd the sage. A quick toss in some duck fat and it was good to go in the oven. The green beans I blanched, then sauteed and tossed with toasted sliced almonds and crumbled Roquefort. I was praying everyone would be so enamoured of the rest of the meal they wouldn't notice the cardboard dry turkey meat. When it was time to take it out, I cringed, dreading the inevitable.

John kindly helped me pick off the charred skin and, to my absolute disbelief and joy, underneath the skin was the most moist, juicy, delicious turkey I'd ever made! I've only made two but you know what I mean. The charred skin must have formed an impenetrable seal that kept the turkey from drying out. It was delicious and I was estatic! I didn't ruin the turkey after all so more champagne was poured and toasted. I brushed a little more glaze over the now-naked turkey and around 9:00pm, we finally served to our French friends a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Ok, I brought French wine from Burgundy....all in the name of fostering Franco-American relations 🙂

We were so hungry that we dispensed with prayers and sharing things we were grateful for and dove right into the meal. Dessert was a berry crumble that I learned at one of my first cooking classes at HomeChef. It's the best crumble recipe I've ever had anywhere, ever. We lumbered to the couches in the living room where I promptly fell asleep. Happy Thanksgiving! And if you still want to make a turkey for Christmas, now you know what not to do!

Le Menu de Thanksgiving

Champagne Veuve Cliquot

Saumon Fumee sur Brioche Grillee avec Creme Fraiche Citron

1999 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "La Garennes"

Haricots-Verts avec Amandes et Roquefort

Patates-Douces avec Sauge et Grasse de Canard

Cranberry Sauce

Dinde Roti Farci

Dessert de Crumble de Fruits Frais
(I was too tired to take pictures at this point...)

Les Recettes - The Recipes
The turkey, glaze, cranberry and stuffing recipes I adapted from Shiela Lukins' "Celebrate!". That, along with her "New Basics", are my first go-to books when I need inspiration.

Cornbread Stuffing

1 package Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. Yes, a box mix, spare me the flame mail. When you have 3 hours to pull together an entire Thanksgiving dinner, you do what you have to do. Cook the muffins according to the instructions then crumble them into a bowl.
1 head celery, small dice
1 large onion, small dice
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried cherries
2 tablespoons butter
1 package of mild Italian sauages, casings removed, sauteed, broken into bits
1 cup Swansons chicken broth

1. Saute the celery, onions, parlsey until opaque

2. Add cherries, apricots and butter and combine

3. In a large bowl combine sausage and cornbread and add in the celery-dry fruit mix.

4. Add the broth slowly mixing as you go. Don't let it get soggy, add just enough to moisten it.

The Deadly Maple Ginger Glaze

Olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
grated zest of 1 orange

1. Heat a sauce pan with olive oil and add onion, ginger and garlic

2. Cook, stirring, until onions are opaque

3. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil

4. Simmer and reduce for 10-15 minutes until thick and syrupy

5. Let cool.

Orange Ginger Cranberries

2 pounds of fresh cranberries (2 pounds was about 2-1/2 bags so rather than have a half bag of cranberries that I would never cook again until next Thanksgiving, I just threw in 3 bags, turned out fine)
4 cups sugar
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
zest from 2 oranges
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1. Comine all the ingredients in a large heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat until the berries start to pop open, about 10-15 minutes.

2. Skim the foam off as they are cooking.

3. Let cool and serve as a side dish

note: you can also puree some of this, strain it, combine in a cocktail shaker with vodka and ice and have your self a fabulous martini!

Charred, Burned, Torched Turkey a la Laura

1 turkey
oranges cut in 1/8s
1/2 bottle white wine

1. Wash and dry the turkey

2. Coat outside and inside cavity with olive oil, salt and pepper (and paprika on the outside)

3. Fill the cavity with stuffing

4. Place the oranges around the turkey in the pan

5. Add white wine to the pan

6. DO NOT glaze the turkey yet like I did below in the picture or it will burn (trust me on this one!)

7. Baste every 20 minutes with the wine and juices in the pan

8. Wait until there is about 1 hour left, brush the glaze on the turkey, cover with foil and finish cooking.


Bon Appetit!