Turkey Dinner Part 2: The Sides

If you’re having turkey as the main event then the sides are absolutely the most important thing going on in the meal. Your guests will know what to expect with the turkey and though it’s nice, it’s not much more than that. Like the the turkey and its various trimmings, the side dish portion of Christmas dinner practically writes itself.

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The parsnips are already roasting with the turkey, getting sticky with maple syrup, butter and turkey juices. The meal still needs carrots. Keeping them separate from the turkey makes them a vegetarian side and provides opportunity to add another flavour profile, in addition to preserving their colour. The carrots, heirloom if you fancy, are simply glazed in a shallow pan on the stovetop with a decent knob of butter, a little sugar, some cold water and a few star anise thrown in there for Christmasy spice and woodsy decoration. The only other spice necessary is a bit of freshly ground black pepper and a touch of flakey sea salt.

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Though the bird is stuffed, it’s with potatoes so it’s okay to make another stuffing with bread. Do something familiar but made better with a few upgrades. Red fife flour is somewhat of a Canadian specialty. It produces a whole grain bread very similar in flavour to rye, and giving attention to the bread here is a pleasant change to forging ahead with whatever miscellaneous petrified white bread that’s often used. The sausage is sweet and mildly spiced while the figs add further sweetness and their seeds an appealing grainy texture.

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Sausage and Fig Stuffing

Enough for 8 as a side dish

1 large day-old loaf red fife (or rye) bread
3 large mild Italian sausages, casings removed
100ml olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
12 dried mission figs, cut into smallish pieces
500ml turkey stock
1/4 large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
50g unsalted butter

Cut the bread into large cubes, approximately 1” chunks, and place in a large mixing bowl. In a heavy bottomed skillet fry the sausage in the olive oil until starting to brown then add the onion, garlic, rosemary, and figs and continue to fry until the onion softens. Add in the turkey stock and cook until the figs begin to plump. Decant the mix into the bowl with the bread and mix in the parsley. Mix and check the seasonings, adding salt and generous amount of pepper to taste.

Generously butter a casserole dish, large enough to hold everything and tumble in the stuffing. Dot the butter overtop of the stuffing and bake, covered until warmed through. If it seems dry, add additional stock, turkey pan drippings, or gravy. This stuffing can also be stuffed inside the bird, such as the summer savory dressing.

Christmas Dinner

Now as the menu is almost done, you may be thinking the plate might look a little dull. It needs a hit of green. Something that’s not going to get cold by the time the other dishes make their way around to the last diner. A hot casserole of something decadent is ideal. Brussels sprouts in bacon or maybe simmered down in mustard and blue cheese would be a good thing but certain family members don’t like the sprouts and there are others that don’t like blue cheese. Spinach buried under a ridiculously thick béchamel sauce is the way to go this time around. The sauce is rich and aromatic better than any macaroni and cheese. A lightly crisp topping made with Japanese bread crumbs, butter, and a little thyme help to gussy the dish up so it’s worthy of the Christmas table.

Creamed Spinach

Enough for 8 as a side dish

1620g (approximately 4 large bunches) spinach
500ml whole milk (3.5% M.F.)
1 small yellow onion, halved with the root-end removed
2 whole cloves
4 whole allspice berries
10 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
80g unsalted butter
80g all-purpose unbleached white flour
150ml whipping cream (35% M.F.)
2 teaspoons Maldon salt

For the topping (optional):
30g Panko bread crumbs
35g unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme

In a small saucepan add the milk, onion, cloves, allspice, peppercorns, and bay leaf and warm over medium heat until starting to steam. Remove from the heat and cover for approximately 20 minutes, allowing the aromatics to infuse the milk.

Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the spinach and trim away the tougher stalks. Add the wet spinach, to a very large pot and cover as much as the lid will fit on top. Wilt the spinach down over medium-high heat, stirring as necessary until the spinach has collapsed. Remove from the heat and set aside in a colander to drain completely.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium-low heat, add the flour and cook for 5 minutes or so, until just starting to turn a light brown colour. Strain the infused milk, discarding the aromatics and add it slowly to the pan, whisking as you go. Stir frequently and cook for 10 minutes. The sauce will be thick. Add the drained spinach, cream, and salt and stir to combine.

If not using the topping, the spinach is ready to serve straight from the pot. To dress it up a bit, decant the creamed spinach into a buttered casserole dish. In a small bowl combine the ingredients for the topping and scatter over top of the casserole. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is browned and the casserole is bubbling.

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With dinner set, it’s time to work out dessert…

Start with the turkey. The rest will follow. Part 1.

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.

Christmas Dinner

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.

Christmas Dinner

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.

Christmas Dinner

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.

Christmas Dinner

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.

Christmas Dinner

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.

Christmas Dinner

Cranberry Sauce

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.

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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.

Christmas Dinner

Sides plus dessert coming up in two posts!