Archive for delicious

Cooking the Easter Bunny

Posted in Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2009 by restaurantouring

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A couple years ago, I was driving a friend’s car (she was too tipsy to drive) when I accidentally ran over a rabbit that was running across route 10, in East Hanover.

Damn thing came outta nowhere.

I felt pretty bad about the whole crushing-a-skull-under-the-driver’s-side-wheel thing, and the fact that it was Good Friday only made things worse. It was like I just killed the Easter Bunny.

So, this year, I decided to kill a bunny rabbit on purpose.

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After severing the forequarters and cutting off the hindquarters, I trimmed the loin from the ribs and left the belly meat attached. I stuffed the loin with some caramelized onions that had been sauteed with some garlic and fresh sage leaves. I wrapped it all in some duck bacon that my good friend, Jose, bought me, seared it off, and finished it in the oven. It ain’t too pretty, mainly cuz the duck bacon was too thick and not nearly long enough, so the whole package unraveled by the time the food hit the plate. I will probably stick with good ol’ pork bacon next time.

I should note that the rabbit did not come with the liver, kidneys, or heart for some reason. I generally like offal, and I try to make an effort to eat it whenever it is available, if only so that it does not go to waste. For this dish, I was actually counting on some rabbit liver, so I was pretty upset when I discovered that this thing came with no offal whatsoever. Bummer.

While the rabbit finished cooking, I sauteed some potatoes in the rendered duck fat from the bacon, and seared some oyster mushrooms to go along with it. I deglazed with some chardonnay that I had laying around and added some fairly concentrated, gelatinous, deeply caramelized duck stock that I also had lying around. I reduced it to nappe consistency and lightly sauced the loin with that. A la minute.

Voila: dinner.

I hope everyone had a happy Easter!

P.S. I’m a big fan of total utilization. As I write this, the remaining bones and carcass from the rabbit is slowly simmering in a pot of water for stock. I threw in some chicken bones I’ve been saving up for the past couple weeks, too. I just threw the bones into a zip top bag in the freezer and took them out to make a batch of rabbit/chicken stock.

check my Flickr account for higher-quality and larger-sized pictures, especially since WordPress does this annoying thing where the right side of all my pictures gets cropped out of the frame (I’ll figure out how to fix it one of these days, I swear): http://www.flickr.com/photos/epicnomz

to learn more about breaking down bunnies into marketable consumer cuts, search for Michael Pardus, longtime instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, on YouTube. His user name is MPardus, I believe. Or, just click here.

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Thanksgiving Day Turkey

Posted in Books and gear, Home cooking and more, How To's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2008 by restaurantouring

Note: If you read this recipe before 6:15 PM EST on 11/24/08, you should take note of the recipe changes I’ve made.  I had to go back and check the salt content and I realized I was recommending too little salt.  I’m sorry I goofed!

I apologize to the couple I bumped into at Bed Bath and Beyond last weekend, who ended up buying that All Clad roasting pan after I talked to them (Hey, All Clad!  Throw me a freaking bone here, please!).  I promised you a recipe for my turkey brine, and I’ve put it off until now to do it.  I’ve been very busy, but I hope you’re still out there, checking this blog (probably not.  I have 3 readers that I know of, and sadly, I am one of them and another reader is someone I charged with editting my rants).

But I hope you’re still there, or at least searching around for another brine recipe, because I’m a firm believer that brining your turkey is the single best thing you can do for your Thanksgiving turkey.  Brining ensures that your turkey is properly seasoned throughout, and also makes sure that your turkey is moist and flavorful, even after spending a couple of hours inside the oven.  Brining also gives you a bit of a buffer, in case you forget the turkey and leave it in the oven for a little too long.  Luckily, if you have a probe thermometer, you can eliminate that problem altogether.  Finally, brining is simple, even if some people say it is unnecessarily arduous.  Personally, I say it’s unnecessarily arduous to try to chew through another piece of tough, dry, flavorless turkey, but that’s enough of that.  Let’s cut to the chase:

To brine, you will need a couple of special tools.  The first is a clean 5-gallon bucket, or some container large enough to hold your turkey submerged in about 2 gallons of the brining liquid.  Home Depot sells them for about 5 bucks apiece.  Be sure to pick up the lid to go with it, and wash it really well in the tub when you get home.  Make sure that you’re not trying to reuse the old bucket from the last time you decided to repave your driveway or something, since that won’t taste very good.  The second item is the  probe thermometer I mentioned earlier.  I like Polder brand.  I got mine for about 20 bucks at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Or maybe it was Linens N Things?  I can’t remember.    Either way, you can get it on Amazon.com for 20 bucks, too (as soon as the price drops back down to $20 that is).  Anyway, let’s move on.

Brines should be around a 5% solution of salt in water.  To achieve this, it is best to weigh your ingredients.  Hopefully, you have a food scale somewhere in your home.  If not, you can approximate this solution by dissolving about 1 and 2/3 cup of kosher salt into a gallon of water.  A little more salt doesn’t hurt either — just don’t use too much, and definitely don’t use less.  I use Diamond kosher salt — the kind in the red and white box.  A cup of Diamond kosher salt weighs approximately 4.8 ounces, and you’ll need 8 ounces of salt for every gallon.  Things would be so much easier if we used the metric system. . . .  You’ll probably need about two gallons of water to brine your turkey, so you’ll need about 3 and 1/3 cups of kosher salt.  Unfortunately, I have no idea how much the equivalent amount of regular table salt would be, because I almost never use the stuff.  Tastes funny.  I think it’s the iodine.  Again, hopefully you have a scale.  You should be adding a pound of salt (16 ounces) to two gallons of water (that’s 5%).

You can either dissolve the salt in hot water, allow the brine to cool down, and brine your turkey in the refrigerator, or you can take your salt for a spin in your food processor for half a minute and dissolve it in cold water.  Processing kosher salt in a food processor creates a salt powder, which dissolves very very easily, even in cold water.  This way, you don’t have to wait for the solution to cool down before you dunk your bird inside.  Just be careful when opening the lid to your food processor — don’t inhale!  Lung-fuls of salt powder isn’t pleasant, trust me (not that I’m speaking from personal experience . . . or anything. . . .).

You can also brine your turkey on your porch or in your garage if the temperature outside doesn’t rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (I’d keep it outside at no higher than 37 degrees, just to be safe.  The windier it is outside, the better).  Alternatively, you can fill zip top bags with ice and slap them on top of the bird.  This serves to weight the bird down so that it is submerged, and also to keep the mix cold.  Replace the ice as needed, and make sure your zip top bags are good and waterproof, to prevent the melted ice from diluting the solution.  Brine overnight, and up to a day in advance.

That’s it.  A simple brine.

Of course, why should you be satisfied with just salt and water?  Sugar can be added to further enhance the effects of the brine.  White, table sugar will do in a pinch, but it has no flavor.  I try to add flavor whenever and where ever possible.  Here’s my recipe for my own turkey brine:

– 1 canister of orange juice or apple juice concentrate (it’s probably in the frozen section of your grocery store)

– 3 cups of kosher salt

– 1 cup of good soy sauce (I use Kikkoman because advertising works)

– 4-8 ounces of molasses (I believe they come in 12 ounce jars)

– half a cup of dark brown sugar

– a tablespoon of cracked peppercorns.  To crack peppercorns, lightly smash them with the side of a broad knife, or use the flat side of that meat mallet you have laying around somewhere.

– an onion, cut into quarters

– a couple ribs of celery, snapped in half or into thirds

– a couple of carrots, chopped into 1-inch chunks

– 3 bay leaves

– about 10 stems of thyme

– a bunch of parsley.  Also about 10 stems of it, torn up into pieces

– 10 sage leaves, shredded

– 5 star anise, smashed with the side of a knife

– a few cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a knife

– a couple oranges or apples, cut into chunks

– 2 – 4 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half

– 232 ounces (two gallons, minus 3 cups) or so of home made vegetable stock.  If you use the canned stuff from the store, please be wary of the sodium content and adjust the amount of salt you add accordingly.  Also, please consider making your own veggie stock.  Just heat up two gallons of water and toss in some chunks of carrot, onion, celery, parsnip, and tomato.  Simmer for an hour or two.  Remove the solid chunks of veggies by straining.  Dissolve all the other ingredients into the broth.  You can probably (definitely) find better vegetable broth recipes online, since mine is very simple.

– You can also swap out some of the broth for wine or juice or apple cider.  It’s best to bring wine up to a boil, to drive off some of the alcohol, since alcohol may inhibit the brining process.

Again, brine your turkey for up to a day, flipping the bird (HA!  I swear that was unintentional.) halfway through the brining process to ensure that your turkey is seasoned evenly.  Then, remove it to your roasting rack and roasting pan, pat dry all around with paper towels, rub the turkey with oil, and roast it at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for half an hour.  This will give the turkey a very nice GBD (Golden Brown and Delicious) color on the outside of the skin.

If your turkey does not brown after half an hour in a 500 degree oven, a few things may be going wrong: 1) Your oven may not be calibrated correctly, so even though you set it to 500 degrees, it may not be reaching such a high temperature, 2) You may not have thoroughly dried the skin of the turkey before putting it into the oven, 3) There was too much acid in your brine (from citrus or vinegar or juice, etc), and the acid is preventing the turkey from browning properly, or 4)  You didn’t allow the oven enough time to preheat.  Allow an oven to preheat for at least half an hour before baking, especially when you need to bake at such a high temperature.  Other factors may be at play here, but these are the major factors that I can think of.

DO NOT STUFF YOUR BIRD.  Placing a rib of celery, a quarter onion, orange, or apple, herbs, spices, or other aromatics into the bird’s cavity is fine, but do not do not do not do not do not stuff the bird otherwise.  It won’t cook properly.

After half an hour, remove the turkey from the oven, put a double layer of foil directly onto the turkey breasts (to prevent the white meat from cooking too quickly and drying out), push the probe from the thermometer directly into the middle of one of the breasts (punching through the foil is fine).  Set the temperature on the probe thermometer to 160 degrees, and make sure you flip the switch on so that it will beep when the breast reaches that temperature.  You should also take this opportunity to wrap some foil around the wings and the ends of the legs, since those are small, thin areas that may burn easily if you’re not careful.

If you don’t have a probe thermometer, please try to get one.  If not, a 15-pound turkey should cook for another hour and a half or maybe slightly longer.  Larger birds will take longer and will most likely dry out more, even though you brined the turkey (don’t worry, the drying won’t be as bad as it normally might be).  Basically, try to avoid getting a turkey larger than 15 or 16 pounds.  Don’t be greedy and grab the 21 pounder.  It won’t cook properly.

Lower the heat down to 350 degrees and bake the turkey until the probe thermometer starts beeping at 160 degrees.  Do not open the oven door in the middle to check on the turkey or to baste it.  Leave the fate of the turkey up to the Thanksgiving Day / Polder gods.  Remove the turkey, let it rest for half an hour, and then you can carve and serve it.  It is important to let the turkey rest for two reasons: 1)  At 160 degrees, the turkey can still harbor salmonella.  Salmonella dies at 165 degrees, and the carryover cooking will easily bring the temperature of the turkey to above 165 degrees.  2) meat that has had a chance to rest after roasting has the benefit of being juicier, since the liquids in the hot meat have the chance to settle and become reabsorbed by the strands of protein in the meat.

Summary: Roasting a Thanksgiving Day turkey is easy.  All you have to remember is to avoid getting a bird larger than 15 or 16 pounds, always brine the bird, never stuff the bird, and once it is in the oven, don’t go futzin’ around with it and opening the oven door repeatedly.  The rest is simple, as well: 1) brine (repetition never hurt anyone), 2) pat dry and rub the turkey with oil, 3) roast for half an hour at 500 degrees, 4) cover the breasts, wings, and drumstick ends with foil, 5) finish the turkey in a 350 degree oven until a probe thermometer tells you that the temperature in the middle of a turkey breast has reached 160 degrees, 6) rest the turkey for half an hour, and 7) enjoy!

P.S.  Fans of Alton Brown’s show, Good Eats, will notice that this recipe basically follows Alton’s method for roasting a whole bird.  Clever, you.  Alton Brown rocks my socks.