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This is not another turkey column… and it’s not “not another turkey column”. The video posted by Rick VanSickle is still one of my favorite commentaries on what to pair with Turkey.
Let’s face it, Rick makes some great points. The most exciting herb or spice that sees most of the turkeys that are being cooked this year is maybe some sage? Or some thyme? Salt and pepper? Your potatoes are seasoned with cream? Salt and pepper? … The traditional Turkey spread (while delicious) is also pretty boring.
2017 was the year of the Turkey at André’s House of Wine, and I had my Turkey epiphany moment this year. The fact that Turkey is bland doesn’t mean it needs to be cooked boring. If you think about it, Turkey is more a blank canvas for you to cook with. I think the problem with Turkey for most people is that it’s time consuming, and even a small bird is pretty big for only a couple of people to enjoy in a sitting. When you’re cooking for a crowd the pressure is on for the meal to turn out. I think everyone has a secret fear of their bird crumbling into dust just like the scene in Christmas Vacation.
So how do you build up that confidence? I mean most people cook turkey two times a year… maybe three. Part of my turkey epiphany meant that I couldn’t be normal. But frankly, I don’t think I have ever been normal. When the delicious birds go on sale, I pick up a couple of small birds to cook in the off-season. There is something impressive about having a turkey to cook for the May long weekend. It’s also fun to confuse your friends when you ask them to come for turkey dinner in the twilight of summer. I have started calling the meals “Just Because Turkey”, obviously because I’m cooking them — just because.
It’s exactly how I feel about sparkling wine. Come to think of it a lot of sparkling wine is like turkey. It’s not that the wine is bland, but the high acidity makes it one of the easiest bottles to put on the table next to food. Having such a versatile libation at your disposal is a reason to enjoy it in the off-season.
So how do I paint on my blank canvas?
There are a few things that I use when cooking my bird. The most important thing is a bluetooth thermometer… you don’t need to have a bluetooth thermometer, but something with multiple probes can help you keep track of how the breast and thigh are both cooking. When I cook my turkey in an oven I keep my basting liquid in the freezer so I can baste the breast with cold water, I keep basting until the thigh and breast are cooking at the same rate, because it’s more than likely your white meat is going to cook faster.
The second thing I do, I brine my turkey, I know brining seems to be a divisive topic… but I’m the one doing the writing hear, and I do it. I find it adds a little more flavour to the bird and my brined Turkey’s have turned out moist and delicious.
Here’s my recipe:
1 Head of Garlic, top cut off.
½ Bunch of Thyme
5 Bay Leaves
1 Bag of Crushed Ice
Bring salt, sugar, water, garlic, thyme and bay leaves to a boil. Pour over ice. Wait until all the ice melts and the liquid is cool before putting the turkey in the brine. Keep refrigerated and let your bird brine overnight.
I take the bird out and I put it on the smoker. I have done it both in a disposable roaster and directly on the grill in my smoker. I like using Oak on Turkey but a milder wood like Alder or Cherry will also be quite nice. I cook the bird at 250F and keep watch on the thermometer with a probe in the thigh and in the breast. I cook the bird unstuffed, so if you need to flip it because one section is cooking quicker than the other you can do that. Keep on smoking until the bird hits 165F.
Ideal pairing for smoked turkey to me is Gewurztraminer or Riesling as I like to cover my plate in hot sauce.
Let’s face it, we all have people in our house who are going to open up a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon when the spread hits the table. There’s nothing wrong with that, but It’s not really a marriage of flavours that I would consider ideal. When seasoning something like Turkey to match up to the rich texture and tannin coming from a full bodied red you may want to consider your blank canvas as more a Jackson Pollock than a Monet. You want bold flavours to match up with the wines. A couple of suggestions I have are some recipes that I have had a chance to experiment with recently.
Southern Style Turkey
1 tsp paprika*
1 tsp chipotle chili powder*
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 sprig of sage, chopped
Mix all these together.
*note, if you don’t have chipotle chili powder you can use smoked paprika and chili powder here.
Brine your turkey using the recipe above overnight. Take the turkey out of the brine, pat dry with paper towel and rub the carcass evenly with unsalted butter and then season with the rub.
Preheat your oven to 450F and cook your turkey for 20 minutes. Then drop the temperature to 280 and keep cooking until your thermometers are at 165F.
Indian Style Turkey
2 cups plain yogurt
1 white onion
6 garlic cloves
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander seed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp kosher salt
Take all the ingredients and puree in a food processor or blender until smooth.
You’re going to rub this all over your turkey, on the inside, on the outside and stick it in every nook and cranny. Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge overnight.
Preheat your oven to 450F and cook for 20 minutes. Then drop the temperature to 280 and keep cooking until your thermometers are at 165F.
So there you go. A few new tricks up your sleeve on how to prepare your Turkey over the holidays. And hopefully some inspiration to cook some turkey just because. Going all the way back to the top, I’m not going to argue with Rick. He’s absolutely correct in that most wines are going to pair with your spread. But hopefully this will help make things a little more interesting.
Here are some wine suggestions below.
2016 Nugan Estate Pinot Grigio – LCBO 483230 – $14.95 – ****
2012 Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Sparkling – Vintages 310334 – $32.95 – ****½
(and if you plan to cover your plate in hot sauce like me)
2016 Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Blanc – LCBO 145094 – $16.95 – ***½
2016 Ferox Sauvignon Blanc – Available at Reif Estates – $46.00 – ****
Southern Style Turkey
2015 Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon – LCBO 434662 – ***½+ – $15.90
2015 Norton Barrel Select Malbec – LCBO 400556 – $12.95 – ***½+
2015 Trius Red – Vintages 303800 – $22.95 – ****
Indian Style Turkey
2016 Rosewood Sussreserve Riesling – Vintages 258806 – $15.95 – ****
2014 13th Street Sandstone Vineyard Gamay Noir – Vintages 130195 – $29.95 – ****½
2016 Megalomaniac Narcissist Riesling – Vintages 67587 – $18.95 – ****