Thanksgiving 2008 – Debrief

For most people, Thanksgiving is a time for families to come together and celebrate. For me, it’s also an opportunity to experiment on more complicated dishes I would never attempt for two people.

In addition, it’s an exercise in time management and planning. With so many dishes to prepare, which tasks do I perform before, during or after another?

At first, I was tempted to map out a schedule of my cooking tasks in half hour increments, but the planning itself was taking over a half hour increment. Finally, I gave up and just decided to keep it simple — prep as much as I can in the morning and start cooking in the afternoon.

The only schedule I adhered to was the turkey’s. I had brined it the day before, and it had to be in the oven by 1:30pm on the day itself so it would be ready by 7pm for Thanksgiving dinner.


Oyster Stew

Cavolo Nero Salad with Pecorino Roselli

Bacalao with Peppers and Tomato Sauce

Pernil (My Brother In Law’s)

Cider Brined & Glazed Turkey

Roast Potatoes with Jose Andres’ Modern Aioli

Oyster Stew

When I told my husband I wanted to make an oyster stuffing, his reaction was a horrified “NO!”. It’s probably about fifteen years since I made that unfortunate stuffing one Thanksgiving, but he still vividly recalls the seemingly endless gray brown matter (actually rice, chestnut and oysters) oozing out of every orifice a turkey could have. Ok, I admit I miscalculated then.

Despite his objections, I was still determined to redeem myself and had my heart set on having oysters on the menu. After looking through a few recipes for oyster stuffing, I had doubts on whether something as delicate as an oyster could stand up to half an hour in a 350 degree oven without becoming a rubber chew toy.

I really couldn’t screw this up again. Because of that incident, I didn’t have the luxury of a second chance. Time for plan B. Oyster stew.

I sort of cobbled together this recipe for oyster stew after unsuccessfully searching for one that I really liked:

  1. Slice 1 onion, 1 fennel bulb and 2 celery ribs.
  2. In a stockpot, saute the vegetables separately in some olive oil.
  3. Add 1/2 cup white wine to deglaze the pot. Don’t add more liquid until this has been absorbed by the vegetables.
  4. Add 3 cups stock and bring to a boil. Normally, fish stock would be my choice but since I had a ton of home made chicken stock in my freezer, I used that instead. I also added herb sprigs that I had on hand, namely, rosemary and thyme.
  5. Add 2 oysters along with any juice reserved after shucking. These were my “sacrifice oysters”, solely used for enriching the base to my soup. They would be pureed to smithereens in a later step.
  6. Add 1 cup heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste. I’m not sure what it is about the cream that brings out the sweetness in the oysters. My two sacrifice oysters were happy as clams, lolling about in the white liquid absorbing their flavor.
  7. Let cool and pour all the contents into a blender. Puree until smooth. The soup can be made ahead up to this point.
  8. Right before serving, return the puree into the stock pot and turn the heat back on to a medium flame. When the creamy soup starts to bubble, lower the heat and add the rest of the oysters (I figured about one oyster per person). Cook for about ten minutes.

Since I wasn’t sure of the outcome, I only prepared a small batch. I served the stew in small teacups as an aperitif and hoped that no one found it revolting. I got compliments, so it surpassed my expectations.

Cavolo Nero Salad with Pecorino Roselli

Kale is a rather odious vegetable. It’s something I eat not for its taste but because I want to avoid cancer. Traditionally paired with ham or salt pork to drown out its bitterness, it’s also typically cooked to death, i.e. until the stem and leaf structure have broken down and turned into an unappetizing olive green.

Who would have thought it could be so delicious and refreshing as a salad. This recipe calls for a specific type of kale — lacinato kale or cavolo nero in Italian. One caveat, if there’s one vegetable to eat in the right season, this is it. I’ve made the mistake of preparing this in the summer, and the results were dreadfully unremarkable. Cavolo nero is best eaten during the fall/winter months when it is sweetest.

This is a great dish to include in a Thanksgiving menu. First, there is no cooking involved, so it doesn’t compete with the turkey or other dishes for oven or stove top space. Second, the prep is easy — slice kale into ribbons, toast breadcrumbs in butter, prepare dressing of mashed garlic clove, lemon juice and olive oil — and all three steps can be done ahead. Lastly, it’s a hit with anyone who’s not purely carnivorous.

Bacalao with Peppers and Tomato Sauce

This was probably the most disappointing dish for the evening.

My friend from Canada showed me how to prepare this some years back, except in her version, she flaked the bacalao and let it disintegrate into the tomato sauce. She also had a lot of chickpeas.

In hindsight, I should have stuck to her recipe. Instead, I decided to leave the bacalao in whole chunks and braise it with the red peppers and tomato sauce. The taste was how I remembered it, but the texture of the fish was tough and stringy even though I let it simmer on low heat the entire time. Is it possible to over-braise something or is this just the nature of unflaked bacalao?

Needless to say, this won’t make an appearance on any of my dinner parties in the future.

Cider Brined & Glazed Turkey

This recipe produced a well flavored bird with sweet crispy skin and an excellent gravy, but, frankly, I had more success with my turkey last year. This time, the turkey breast was a tad dry even though the back and legs were moist and juicy. I’m sure it had more to do with flaws in my technique rather than the recipe itself.

My lessons learned for next year:

  1. Save old gallon and quart size ziploc bags to use as ice packs for lining my brining cooler.
  2. Double up the extra large ziploc bag for brining the turkey. I think some of the brine may have seeped out to the cooler.
  3. Start with the bird breast side down so all the back fat drips over and bastes it while it cooks. Turn it over after two hours using silicone rubber mittens to do so.
  4. Five hours in the oven may be too much for a 17 lb bird at 350 degrees. Check the temperature after four hours.

Thankfully, despite the somewhat dry bird, I didn’t have too much leftovers after fifteen people had a go at it.

Roast Potatoes with Jose Andres’ Modern Aioli

Three kinds of potatoes were used here — tiny purple, tiny yukon gold and russian banana fingerlings. I cut them up in the morning and covered them in water sprinkled with lemon juice so they wouldn’t discolor.

About an hour before show time, I tossed them with some olive oil and rosemary, spread them on a parchment lined metal tray and shoved them in the oven right between the 2nd and 3rd rung, just below the big bird.

The aioli proved to be a bit of a challenge. I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the proportions or instructions mentioned in the recipe (from Jose Andres’ Tapas, A Taste of Spain in America)
Mistake one: Using more lemon juice than the recommended 1 teaspoon.
Mistake two: Dumping the garlic, egg, liquid and olive oil all at once into a food processor and hitting the on switch.
Result: Pathetically bland and runny mayonnaise.


Remedy one: Adding way more garlic than what’s good for my breath.
Remedy two: Splashing in some worcestershire sauce in the belief that anything tastes better with a little Lea and Perrins. The flavor improved but the additional liquid didn’t help the consistency. My mayo was getting runnier by the minute. Sigh.
Remedy three: Adding another egg in the hope that the additional protein would tighten up this mess. Was I grasping at straws?
Remedy four: Pouring the darned thing out of the food processor and into a beaker. Using my hand blender and adding a thin stream of olive oil a little at a time (like I was supposed to do in the first place).
Result: Success.

I ended up with a little more aioli than I needed but that’s ok, I have more potatoes.

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~ by Jaded Fork on November 29, 2008.

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