Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Tuesday

Pasta Monday

Working this Thanksgiving--but what can you do? Happens all the time in this business--so Thanksgiving in our household was Tuesday November 24 instead, on my day off

Only my weekend really started Monday, so for dinner that night we got a pound of extra-large shrimp (16/20) for nine dollars, thawed in salt water (tastier that way). Threw the shells into hot olive oil and butter and fried till crispy orange (wasn't cooking the shells so much as flavoring the oil). Discarded the shells, tossed in sundried tomatoes I'd soaked in warm water to soften, added four cloves of garlic, pepper flakes, and--get this--a can of small smoked oysters. Squeezed a lemon over everything as I didn't have any white wine (lemon probably works better anyway--clean bright tartness to contrast with seafood, as opposed to wine's bitter acidity).

Wasn't exactly creating, wasn't exactly following a recipe--just took from what I've read (Mario Batali's stuff in particular), and what I remember from a chef who once prepared pasta in front of me, in a tiny hole-in-the-wall Italian place in Gilmore Avenue Greenhills, back in the nineties. The chef had a spiky temperament; once tried to refuse me entry because his place was closed (at 5 pm?!) and only relented when I raised my voice (strictly in bewilderment, not anger--no really, I wasn't mad). But his food had a divine grace; he taught me that smoked oyster trick, which presumably would work even better in a cream sauce (though my olive oil and butter was plenty rich enough). 

Boiled the pasta a minute short of cooking time, dropped it in the simmering sauce (folks in the know know that the sauce will thicken from the noodles' starches, while the still-cooking pasta will suck up flavor from the sauce). Three minutes short of the pasta's cooking time I tossed in the shrimp to cook, cut the heat. Topped with a handful of flat parsley:

Garnished the bowl with a few turns from the wooden pepper grinder I bought in Udine and a splash of fine Tuscan olive oil, then served quickly while still hot (the guests wait for the pasta, not the pasta the guests). Al dente noodles spiked with pepper flakes and garlic and smoky crustacean and sharpened by the juice of a lemon; shrimp so fresh it was crispy, and an oil-and-butter mix infused with the brininess of shrimp shell. Not too shabby? Hope so.  

Thanksgiving Tuesday

For the turkey I'd heard of a spatchcocked turkey--a turkey with the back snipped out and the carcass spread flat. Easier to prepare, juicier meat (thanks to the skin's fat dripping all over its flesh), added bonus of crispy skin, takes only ninety minutes to cook, more or less. Who could resist?

Only the kosher turkey I got for free from all the Giant Foods bonus points I earned in the past month weighed seventeen pounds, and the recipe called for a 12 to 14 pound bird tops--otherwise it wouldn't fit in the oven (spatchcocked, remember?). And they were right; looked all over town for a pan wide enough to fit, couldn't find one. Checked the article's comments section and learned I could deconstruct the bird--cut it in half, for starters. Rubbed the bird with oil and pepper (no salt as a kosher meat is always salted), laid it on top of a bed of celery, onions and carrots, garlanded it with sprigs of thyme. Hence:

Side dishes included Brussels sprouts with chorizo, the recipe starting with sprouts blanched in salted water for six minutes, then dunked in ice:

Next fried chorizo (I could only find pepperoni-style slices, not whole sausages) and onions and garlic in medium-high heat:

Spooned the chorizo in a bowl, turned the heat up to medium-high, seared the sprouts till golden brown. Added back the chorizo, mixed, seasoned with salt and pepper.

Then there was a simple cornbread and oyster stuffing--was thinking of using a recipe from, realized it was asking for twelve cups (ninety-six ounces!) of cornbread which was more 'bread than I can find, much less handle (the above recipe had more reasonable proportions). 

So: fried onions (but not celery--can't stand the stuff, go figure) in butter, in a twelve inch cast-iron pan; crumbled the cornbread into the pan, with salt, pepper, eggs, parsley, and oyster liquor; added milk because I'd spilled the oyster liquor and didn't have enough to moisten the bread.

Carefully folded in the oysters; added a can of smoked oysters because--1) well, it was only one can left and I felt I should finish up my supply, and 2) you can't have too many smoked oysters. Dotted the surface with butter, like so:

Stuck the pan in the oven @ 350 F for forty five minutes till browned, and it came out looking like this:

Not bad, right? Right? Crispy crust, sweet 'bread, briny oysters. Tasted great by itself, even better with turkey gravy.

Speaking of which you wouldn't believe how quick the turkey cooked: a hundred minutes--barely enough time to do all the other side dishes, and we were done:

Took the neck, browned it in a pot, then simmered with carrots celery onions in chicken broth for an hour; cooked flour in butter till dark, then carefully ladled the broth in till I had a thick gravy; moved the crispy beauty above to a plate, then poured all that turkey goodness into my gravy. Added a few tablespoons of Maggi's Seasoning for that added punch of umami and to leave my guests guessing "what on earth is that...?"

The finished feast you see at the top of this post (spatchcocked turkey; Brussels sprouts with chorizo; cornbread and oyster stuffing); the finished plate looked something like this:

That incidentally isn't just cranberry sauce but actress Madhur Jaffrey's cranberry chutney, easiest thing in the world to make (because she basically threw together whatever she had on hand): boil cider vinegar, sugar, chopped garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in a pot for fifteen minutes till thick; add whole cranberry sauce; season with salt and pepper; cool and serve.

So--fatty poultry (perfectly seasoned, as it was kosher) with deep dark gravy; crisp sprouts with spicy sausages; a sweet cornbread-and-oyster stuffing; the sweetest tartest spiciest cranberry sauce you ever tasted. Indian meets Latin American meets Jewish/New American in a Filipino household--you could probably do a lot worse. 

The next day was of course leftovers, warmed in a microwave:

Which I submit still looks pretty darn good, especially with a bottle of chilled Kedem grape juice.

And that's all, folks. Tonight I go to work, though I take with me a container of turkey and dressing and gravy, a side container of chutney, and a thermos full of that ice-cold juice. Not perhaps a lot to be thankful for but--I submit--enough. Which is sometimes the best we can manage in this O so uncertain life.  

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