Start with the turkey. The rest will follow. A menu for Christmas dinner practically writes itself with a little decision making to guide it through.
The turkey, whether it’s fresh, frozen, brined, buttered, fried, stuffed, whole or dismembered is all dependent on your own expectations and whatever mood you’re in. To keep it simple – an ideal goal at Christmastime – let’s say it’s fresh, buttered, and stuffed. For flavourings, it’s got to have sage, so mix a bunch of freshly chopped sage with a celebratory amount of softened unsalted butter, shoving it between the flesh and the skin.
For the stuffing, in the season of excess, why have one when you can have two? The one going inside the bird has got to be this one, that’s so east-coast Canadian it’s not even referred to as stuffing but as dressing and as such, is made up of potatoes. It’s as simple as making mashed potatoes but has the addition of some onion and the official herb of Nova Scotia, summer savory. The bread stuffing that I crave, with an extra dose of gravy over top is done as a side casserole.
Summer Savory Potato Dressing
Makes enough to stuff a small turkey
Serves 8 as a side dish
1.145kg (approximately 5 medium) white potatoes, peeled
1/2 tsp kosher salt
70g unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, diced finely (approximately 150g)
2 tablespoons dried summer savory
100ml whole milk (3.5% M.F.)
2 teaspoons large flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot add the potatoes and fill with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, add the kosher salt and turn the heat down. Simmer, partially covered until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the water off the potatoes, add the rest of the ingredients, and mash until resembling a relatively even texture. Allow to cool completely before stuffing the bird.
Basting the beast need not be complicated either. Though turkeys are lean birds this one is so loaded with butter it won’t hurt missing an encounter with the brush here or there, leaving you to get in full cheer with your guests. When you do remember to baste it, I like mixing equal parts of maple syrup and butter in a small saucepan on the stove and brushing it over the bird in liberal amounts. The sugar and butter help the skin bronze beautifully and the sweet maple syrup will drip down over the obligatory parsnips roasting, tucked up alongside. Leave the bird to cook depending on a number of factors but try to think of it as a giant chicken, and just cook it until the juices run clear in the thigh. If you need precise timings, refer to any number of guides out there on the subject.
The cranberry sauce does not come from a can. I understand some need it to but for shame if you’re in an area such as Canada that has access to good fresh and frozen cranberries that come directly from our friendly east-coast cousins. It’s hard to improve on the recipe on the side of the bag, which consists of adding water and sugar and simmering until the tart berries have just given up their shape. I don’t want my cranberry sauce tasting like oranges, anise, cinnamon or anything else. If you feel like some extra fussing in the kitchen, say to escape some drunken family member or cat obsessed aunt, add a grated apple which will provide a jellied texture to the sauce as well as some extra natural sweetness.
340g bag whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
170g granulated sugar
1 small apple, peeled, cored and grated
125ml cold water
In a small saucepan add 230g of the cranberries, sugar, apple, and cold water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes until the cranberries have started to pop and collapse. Add the remaining 110g of cranberries and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, until the berries just begin to pop. Pour into a resealable glass jar and cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Gravy is gravy is gravy. Thicken the sweet pan juices with a slurry of white all purpose flour and cold water and season with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. If for whatever reason you haven’t much in the way of pan drippings add some turkey stock that you’ve made from simmering the neck on the stovetop with some aromatics, then add some wine (known as chef’s juice on Christmas) before going on to add the thickening slurry.
Sides plus dessert coming up in two posts!