Flipping the Bird

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For some oddball reason, we managed to roast the Thanksgiving turkey upside down, without anyone even noticing until the master carver of the house, preparing to slice up the bird, asked why it was placed breast down on the presentation platter.

We still can’t explain that one, but the surprise result was a turkey that yielded exquisitely moist white meat. True, it could be thanks also to the dry brine it underwent in the days leading up to the holiday, or the liberal rubdown with Porchetta-Spiced butter it received just prior to cooking.  But the accidental upside-down roast method got us to thinking; maybe we were on to something, by pure happenstance.

A little cookbook sleuthing finds it may be so. Research and experiments into how to roast the perfect turkey, detailed by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated in The Best Recipe (1999, Boston Common Press), reference James Beard’s technique for achieving equal temperatures in the white and dark meat – turning the bird as it roasts, starting with the breast side down on a rack, turning onto each side during the cooking time, and finishing with the breast side up.  The Cook’s Illustrated editors concluded: “Brining, turning, and basting are work, yes, but the combination produces the best turkey we’ve ever had.”

Funny, it was the exact same thing we’d theorized, standing over the upside-down bird on its decorative holiday platter. That’s the tried-and-true method for roasting a chicken that we learned from Julia Child.  Although in truth, turning a searing-hot chicken is work enough, so the next time the turkey may be started breast side down, and flipped once. That’s probably what Kate was aiming for in the first place, having used the L.A. Times method for how to dry brine. The big flip just got lost somewhere in the dinner hustle-bustle.  Because we also tend to follow the advice offered by The New York Times on how to stop freaking out about the turkey: “Remember, it’s just a big chicken.”

Bonus tip: Because this Porchetta-Spiced Turkey recipe includes fennel seed in the dry rub, we added some fresh fennel to the dressing. It lends a clean, fresh note to the traditional celery, onion and sage combination, while echoing the seasonings in the turkey and resulting gravy. 

Upside-Down Sides

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Everyone’s always on the lookout for holiday side dishes with a twist. Quite by accident, this year’s Thanksgiving table included sides that turned assumptions about certain ingredients upside down, offering savory  bites where sweet was expected, sweet where savory is  usually a given. It began with the cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Salsa “What is this? I’ve never had anything like it,” asked one dinner guest. This simple-to-prepare alternative to the usual sweet, forgettable cranberry sauce combines bright flavors: cranberries, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, jalapeno, green onion and line juice. It tastes fresh, not hot, works well with a variety of menus, and there’s no cooking required beyond some toasting of pumpkin seeds. Mix it up.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle — “These sweet potatoes are great. They’re not sweet,” said another diner. The Three Points cooks have long wondered why most recipes take an inherently sweet vegetable and douse it with even more sugar/maple syrup/marshmallows. A touch of chopped, canned chipotles in adobo adds a smoky undertone to mashed sweet potatoes. There’s no real recipe needed here; chipotles are added to taste. But do proceed with  caution, as the chipotle chilies are deceptively hot.

Carmelized Brussels Sprouts with Pecans — Who would have guessed that a bit of sweetness would turn up in the brussels sprouts? Shredding the sprouts makes the stovetop preparation quick and easy and maintains the color.

Marinated Beets with Horseradish — A vibrant dish that’s actually best made in advance. Oven-roasted beets (easy to cook, easy to peel) are dressed with olive oil, dijon mustard and horseradish.

Pumpkin-Thyme Dinner Rolls — And where’s the pumpkin? Why in the dinner rolls.  (Also great for appetizers with a blue cheese spread.)

These gorgeous, jewel-toned dishes surrounded the centerpiece:

Roast Turkey with Pancetta-Sage Gravy —  liberal application of a pancetta-butter blend with sage and Parmesan (or as we like to call it, bacon-and-cheese butter) infused the turkey with a slightly porky, umami essence. The wonderfully moist bird produced gravy so lip-smackingly rich that guests drained every last drop from the serving dish, thankful, each and every one, for the opportunity.

Thanks also to Chez Kate for the Unruly Cellars house red, from Spanish grapes blended with Spanish expertise.