As an American living away from home, Thanksgiving dinner is a perennial matter of great concern. I spent my first Thanksgiving abroad in Nice, France. We decided to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a mixed group of American, French and other nationalities. We scoured the entire region along the southeast of France looking for ingredients like fresh cranberries and molasses.
Most non-Americans do not fully understand how important a holiday it is for us. For many of us (myself included) we would put it above Christmas. This being said I have had many a sub-standard Thanksgiving dinner living around the world. The worst though was in Las Vegas. Without any prior plans we ended up at the Rio Hotel’s buffet for a dining experience that literally made my soul ache.
This is why I made sure to blaze this trail this year. I set out to create the closest facsimile of the real thing that I could possibly create here. Also I had the good fortune of timing being on my side with my newly constructed brick smoker/oven to roast the turkey.
Mr. Delicious Thanksgiving Menu 2012
Apple Wood Smoked Turkey
Traditional Stuffing with Bacon and Dark Stock
Oyster Mushroom Stuffing
Green Bean Casserole with Creamy Mushroom Sauce and Fried Onions
Sweet Potato Casserole with Oat Crumble
1950’s Style Cranberry Salad
Cajun Dirty Rice
Lots of Gravy
Pumpkin Pie with Créme Anglaise
Starting with the turkey, I had about a 6kg (12lb.) bird that I brined for 12 hours. The brine consisted of 1 cup of salt and 1 tablespoon of curing salt for 1 gallon of water. I then added sugar, apple cider vinegar, peppercorns, dried chili flakes and parsley stems. I dropped the turkey into a large bucket I use just for brining and pickling and poured the brine over it. Then I weighted it down with a stack of plates. Since there was not enough room in the fridge I kept it iced down for 12 hours. Then remove and rinse.
Once it was cured, I placed it in front of a fan for about two hours to dry and warm up before smoking. I used a combination of charcoal and apple wood, maintaining a temperature of about 235f (110c). It smoked for about 3 hours until an internal probe reads about 160f (70c). I would later finish it in a hot oven before serving.
Stuffing is a very misunderstood side dish but one of my absolute favorites every Thanksgiving. I was raised on oyster stuffing, but unfortunately I could not find oysters in time (at least I had bacon). There are a couple tricks to making good stuffing. First cook your mirepoix thoroughly before folding it into the bread. Use a good brown poultry stock and season it well. Finally add lots of the stock. Keep ladling more until it can take no more. Then just bake until it’s hot in the center and slather with gravy.
Also unavailable were fresh cranberries. However I was able to substitute dried with some success. I decided to mold the cranberry salad like you might see in cookbooks from the 50’s and 60’s. This was actually quite simple. I gelled some cranberry juice with sugar and garnished it with slices of orange, persimmon and chopped walnuts. I molded it in a cake pan and just warmed it in water to release it from the mold.
My sweet potato casserole sucked in a big way. I need to find a way to better adapt the local sweet potatoes into this dish. The local camote is much starchier than what I’m used to in the States. The result was a really dry texture that I think could be remedied by puréeing it.
My wife (who is also responsible for my conspicuously better photos), prepared two different types of pumpkin pie, both made from the local pumpkin. One was a classic variety and the other was finished with caramel and chopped walnuts.
Though I have cut back on the number of private events in to focus on Mr. D’s, I do still enjoy an occasional event like this. I like to keep it very casual and unassuming. Thank you to all who attended. It sure as hell beat the Rio…