Big Joe’s Big Thanksgiving Dinner — Part Four
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. I love Christmas, but Thanksgiving was always very, very special to me and my family. I’ve always had a big table of family and friends and I always cooked.
It was a four day event to prepare for the big day and then it seemed that once the food was on the table it was gone in ten minutes! I hated that part of the day. I always tried to have as much done in advance so that I could be more social and entertaining to my guests. I tried but I never left the kitchen.
Invariably everyone congregated in the kitchen just to watch me do my thing and to talk. My mom would come over early to help and watch the parade, and then get mad with me because I wouldn’t let her do any of the prep work. When I was younger, mom and I spent so many Thanksgivings at friends and relatives and once I had a place of my own, and nieces and nephews to cook for, it was always at my house.
My favorite memories are making Thanksgiving dinner for my mom and my nieces and nephew, my cousins and friends. One Thanksgiving my cousin Chip and I made dinner for 50 of our friends and family. We held the dinner at the Little Silver Fire House and used their big kitchen. We had over 20 different dishes, we hired a karaoke dj and it was a blast, what a party.
One of my favorite traditions that I enjoyed is being up at 6:00am Thanksgiving morning cooking and prepping for the big day, early in the morning a couple of my friends and cousins would show up for a bloody mary. My friend Big Bob who has since passed was the best, he would bring this special bloody mary mix and we would toss a few back to get the heart going. My buddy Jimmy would stop by and have a cold one and a bloody mary. It was terrific, but on one certain Thanksgiving morning there was a string of friends and family who all came over to celebrate the tradition at staggered times, and you have to imbibe when sharing a Thanksgiving moment with those you enjoy. Well by the time noon rolled around I started to feel the effects of my tradition, whew, getting that dinner on the table that year was a chore.
I enjoy the whole day, the morning tradition, the work, the smell and then dinner hits the table and it’s gone in world record time. I would sit at the table in disbelief that all this work is gone in such a short time.
The enjoyment after dinner was watching all my guests go into a tryptophan coma spread out in my living room like mustard gas had seeped through the vents. There I would sit by myself with the last glass of wine overlooking the carnage in my living room from filled content bellies watching them drool in their nap and I would smile and say another great Thanksgiving dinner. This Thanksgiving will be a little different this year but I hope that you spend this holiday with family and friends even if only virtually and that you enjoy the day as much as I do. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Big Turkey
I found that a fresh turkey is my favorite but the old Butterball works ok too. Rinse the turkey well and make sure that you remove the gizzards and neck, dry the cavity and bird.
I make a butter "paste" out of 2 sticks of room temperature softened butter, mixed with a teaspoon each of rosemary, sage salt, pepper and thyme. Mix butter and spices with a fork make sure that all spices are well blended. Spread the mixture with a soft spatula underneath the skin of the turkey breast; be careful not to tear the skin. Leave some of the mixture for the outside of turkey smear generously over the skin.
If you are not stuffing the turkey I salt the inside of the cavity with kosher salt and add coarsely chopped onion two celery stalks and a sprig of rosemary and leave that in the bird while it cooks.
Cooking the big bird: I use a wire v-rack with about 1 cup of chicken broth in the pan to catch the drippings. The rule of thumb is 20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. In the last hour I crank the oven to 450 and let it get nice and crisp, make sure you baste well before this process. Once cooked remove the turkey and let stand for at least 1 hour, longer if the turkey is a big one.
Slicing the turkey is also an art. I remove the drumsticks with a sharp knife cut to the joint, and then remove the thighs with a cut to the joint as well. Once that is removed I remove the breast on both sides of the bird by carving as close to the breast bone as possible and removing the breast in whole. It makes it easier for slicing, also looks better on the plate too.
After you remove the breast I turn the turkey over on the back and remove the dark meat. I try and remove all the meat from the bone, rather than storing the left over meat in the refrigerator while it is still on the carcass. I found that storing the left over meat in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil then inside a freezer bag and into the refrigerator makes for a more moist turkey sandwich later that night!
Big Joe's Delicious Gravy
Gravy is the absolute crowning jewel of your Thanksgiving dinner. It sometimes can be a tough long process that frustrates you, but as with most of the recipes in this dinner it takes a little time and effort and you and your guests will be rewarded. When the gravy is made, then you know that the big Thanksgiving meal is done.
When I was about 11 or 12 we went up to my Uncle Rich’s and Aunt Pat’s for Thanksgiving. They lived in Connecticut. Aunt Pat is working hard in the kitchen and my uncle Rich was with us in the den as we were watching football. The adults were having a cocktail or two and everything seemed like it was going well.
Suddenly from the kitchen my aunt screamed “Richard the gravy is finished, the gravy is finished!” With that my uncle bolted out of his chair, my mom asked him “Rich is everything o.k.?” While hustling over to the bar he said “Oh yeah, the gravy’s made, Pat can now have her Rob Roy.”
It was funny to watch him sprint to the bar and quickly make my aunt that cocktail. It was all good, the gravy was made and now she could have her Rob Roy. I have since tried to incorporate that strategy into my Thanksgiving, it never works, and I only make it to the stuffing! I hate when that happens.
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
2 stalks of celery coarsely chopped
4 cans chicken broth
1 container sliced button mushrooms
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon Gravy Master
Pan drippings from turkey in oven
1 teaspoon each of sage, parsley, rosemary & thyme, salt & pepper
1 bay leaf
How to put it together:
In a sauce pan, sauté mushrooms with 1 stick of butter cook remove and set aside, add spices,onions, celery, rosemary, chicken broth, and the gizzards and neck from the turkey.
Bring to a slow boil, and then simmer for 1 hour. Add gravy master. Add pan drippings from turkey pan,and mix well. Strain liquid from the pan removing all vegetables gizzards and neck.
Before putting liquid back into sauce pan, make rue from flour and 1/4 cup of strained liquid in saucepan, slowly add back strained liquid whisking constantly. Simmer for 10 minutes and serve hot.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.