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Turkey Talk

A host of options for your Thanksgiving bird

Sam Gugino
Posted: November 17, 2000

Turkey Talk

A host of options for your Thanksgiving bird

By Sam Gugino

  Where to Get Your Turkey  
  Harvey Steiman's Thanksgiving Menu

Bruschetta with Homemade Ricotta and Chives

  Potato and Watercress Mussel Soup  
  Roast Turkey  
  Cornbread and Chard Stuffing  
  Wine Gravy  
  Late-Harvest Cranberries  
  Brussels Sprouts With Potato and Chestnut  
  Your Basic Pumpkin Pie  
  Wine Matching Suggestions  

When I was food editor of the San Jose Mercury News, a reader called me on a November afternoon in a panic about how to cook her Thanksgiving turkey. "Relax, a turkey is just a big chicken," I said. "But I don't know how to cook a chicken, either!" she replied. Even people who can cook a turkey are often in a quandary about what kind they should buy for Thanksgiving. Organic? Free-range? Wild? Fresh? Or is a standard, frozen, supermarket turkey perfectly fine? The answer depends on your taste and your pocketbook.

Fresh vs. frozen:

According to Rick Rodgers, author of Thanksgiving 101, there's no contest between the two. "Fresh is always better. Frozen poultry is drier, which is why many are injected with that chicken soup solution," he says, referring to the liquid put into the breast to keep it moist.

Organic free-range vs. conventional:

Organic turkeys are fed grains grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Free-range birds are allowed to roam outside the coop. I tested one that was both organic and free-range, from Eberly Poultry in Stevens, Pa., against a fresh, nonorganic, nonfree-range turkey from Little Washington Farm, a small producer in Downingtown, Pa. All six people at my table correctly guessed which one was the Eberly turkey, by virtue of its richer taste. Yet half preferred the milder, but still flavorful turkey from Little Washington. Of the two, I liked the Eberly bird best.

Wild turkey:

Speaking of cost, the 14-pound wild turkey I bought from Toubl Game Bird Farms in Beloit, Wis., cost $62.33, not including shipping, which can be half as much as the turkey itself. The Toubl (rhymes with "gobble") was the richest of all the turkeys I tried. It had a slightly gamy undertone, comparable to that of domesticated game birds such as squab. (The Toubl birds are a wild species, though they are penned for most of their lives and are not raised organically.) All my dinner companions loved it, even though the dark meat was a bit chewy. I especially liked the firm, juicy quality of the breast meat. It was easy to slice when hot and when cold the next day. However, there wasn't much of it. Unlike the domesticated "Dolly Partons," wild turkeys have sunken breasts, enabling them to fly. They're also smaller all over, so for a big crowd, you'll need to buy two.

There are as many ways to cook turkey as there are stuffing recipes. I prepared most of the turkeys I tested (each was 12 to 14 pounds) the same way. Each breast was smeared with butter, loosely covered with an aluminum foil tent and roasted breast-side up for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours at 350 F. To brown the skin, I then removed the foil and continued for another hour at 400 F, until the internal temperature (taken from the thickest part of the thigh with an instant-read thermometer, not a meat thermometer) reached about 170 F.

Because Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, I generally serve only American wines. Though reds are called for because of turkey's gamelike quality (even with domesticated birds), I found a fat, oaky Chardonnay surprisingly good. Even better was a crisp and fruity Pinot Noir. All-American Zinfandel is a natural choice, but only if the alcohol levels are in check. Blockbusters will overwhelm any bird. The biggest problem with wine, however, is not the turkey but the sweet side-dishes like cranberry sauce and candied yams. They can cause just as much of a headache as finding the right bird, which is why my phone will be off the hook this Thanksgiving.

Sam Gugino, Wine Spectator's Tastes columnist, is the author of Low-Fat Cooking to Beat the Clock, to be published in December.

For the complete article, please see the Nov. 15, 2000, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 33.
Where to Get Your Turkey

D'Artagnan Newark, N.J., (800) 327-8246; www.dartagnan.com (for organic, free-range Eberlys and wild)

Jaindl Orefield, Pa., (610) 395-3333 (for retail stores and hours of the company store)

Toubl Game Bird Farms Beloit, Wis., (800) 875-0603; birdgirl@inwave.com

Urbani USA Long Island City, N.Y., Culver City, Calif., (800) 281-2330; www.urbani.com (free-range and wild)

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Harvey Steiman's Thanksgiving Menu
(November 15, 1999)

Bruschetta with Homemade Ricotta and Chives
wine match

8 large, thick slices crusty white bread
1 cup Fresh Homemade Cheese (recipe follows), or 1 3/4 cups ricotta cheese blended with 2 tablespoons orange juice
Coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Grill or broil the bread until lightly browned on both sides. Spread the cheese generously on the warm bread, sprinkle with salt, grind fresh pepper over it lightly and sprinkle with chopped chives. Garnish with additional chives, if desired. Makes 8 appetizer servings.

Fresh Homemade Cheese

1 quart whole or lowfat milk
2/3 cup half-and-half
Juice of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat the milk and half-and-half to just below boiling in a nonaluminum saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the juices into the milk. Let the mixture stand until the milk is thoroughly curdled, about 15 minutes.

Gently pour the mixture into a large sieve lined with three or four thicknesses of cheesecloth, letting the liquid drain off into a bowl or sink. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth around the curds and tie the cloth into a bundle which can be hung from a faucet. Let the bundle drip into the sink for at least an hour, or until firm. Remove the cheese from the cloth, sprinkle it with salt, wrap it well with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for up to four days. Makes 1 cup.

Potato and Watercress Mussel Soup
wine match

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
3/4 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
2 bunches watercress, tough stems removed
1 1/2 cups rich fish broth or half clam juice and half water
2 1/4 cups rich chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper
About 1 1/4 pounds mussels in their shells
2 to 3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup each of finely chopped leeks, carrots and celery
1 sprig thyme
1 clove garlic, unpeeled and crushed
2/3 cup water

In a nonstick saucepan of at least 3 1/2 quarts, gently cook the shallots and garlic in the butter. Add the sliced leek, potatoes and watercress leaves, reserving 12 leaves for garnish. Cover the pan and cook gently until the leeks and potatoes are soft, about 5 minutes; try not to let them brown. Add the fish and chicken broth and raise the heat. When the mixture boils, puree the soup with a hand blender, or transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor to puree then pour it back into a saucepan. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Wash the mussels thoroughly. In another large saucepan, heat the oil and cook the leeks, carrots, celery, thyme and garlic for about 2 minutes, then add the mussels. Add the water and cook the mussels until they open. Remove and discard the shells and transfer the mussels and the juices to the pureed soup. Warm it through quickly and garnish with watercress leaves just before serving. Serves 6 to 8 as a first course.

wine match

Roast Turkey

Follow your favorite procedure for roasting the turkey, allowing for the extra time necessary to heat the stuffing (recipe follows) to the proper temperature of at least 150 degrees F. One method is to season the bird lightly inside and out with salt and pepper, lightly spoon the stuffing into both cavities, tie the legs together to hold in the stuffing and brush the skin with oil or melted butter. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and roast it at 325 degrees F, allowing 3 hours for a 14-pound turkey. Do not baste. Basting only flavors the skin, and it cools off the oven every time the door is opened, extending the roasting time.

Corn Bread and Chard Stuffing

8 cups crumbled corn bread (see note)
2 1/2 cups chopped cooked Swiss chard
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
6 strips bacon, browned and crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup turkey or chicken stock, if needed

Note: With an 8-inch square pan, use a favorite recipe for corn bread or use a commercial corn bread mix, but omit the sugar. If the crumbled corn bread comes up short of 8 cups, you can use ordinary bread crumbs to make up the difference.

To cook the Swiss chard, trim away the stems of about 3 bunches and boil or steam the leaves until they are wilted, 5 to 10 minutes (or microwave them), then chop them coarsely. Set aside.

Cook the onion in the butter for about 5 minutes, until softened; set aside. In a large bowl, toss together the corn bread, chard, onion, bacon and herbs. Season the stuffing with salt and pepper to taste (it won't need much salt, especially if the corn bread was salted). If it seems dry, toss in 1/3 to 1 cup of stock to moisten. You should end up with more than enough to stuff a 15-pound turkey. (Bake extra stuffing in a separate pan, basted with broth, for 45 minutes.) Makes 10 cups.

Red Wine Gravy

Turkey heart, gizzard and neck, plus any trimmings
1 rib celery
1 carrot
1 small onion
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
2 or 3 large sprigs parsley (stems are OK)
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
Enough water to cover the trimmings
3 tablespoons butter or turkey fat
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For thickening or thinning, if needed:

Additional chicken stock
Corn starch

Put the giblets, neck and trimmings in a small saucepan. Break the celery and carrot in half. Cut the onion in half and stick a clove in each cut half. Add the vegetables, bay leaf and parsley to the saucepan with the wine, the chicken stock and enough water to cover. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover the pan and let it cook for 2 hours. Strain the stock. You should have 2 cups. (If you like, chop the giblets to add to the finished gravy.)

In a clean saucepan, melt the butter or turkey fat and stir in the flour. Let it cook, stirring it constantly, until the raw flour aroma dissipates, about 2 minutes. Add the stock and cook the mixture until it thickens and begins to simmer. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. (This can be done in advance, and the gravy can be reheated. If you keep it for longer than a few minutes, rub the surface with butter to make a thin coating to prevent a crust from forming.)

When the turkey is done, pour all the juices into a tall, narrow cup or a fat separator. Let the fat rise to the top, then pour the brown juice underneath into the saucepan with the gravy. Put the roasting pan over heat and deglaze any browned bits with with 1/2 cup water. Let it boil, scraping up the browned bits to dissolve them. Add them to the saucepan and season the gravy to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chopped giblets if desired.

If the gravy is too thick, add some stock or milk. If it is too thin, dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water. Stir this into the simmering stock 1 teaspoon at a time, allowing 30 seconds for it to thicken before adding more if necessary. The gravy should be about the consistency of heavy cream. Don't make it too thick; it will thicken as it cools in the sauceboat. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Late-Harvest Cranberries

1 cup sweet white wine, such late-harvest Riesling or Sémillon
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries

Bring the liquids and the sugar to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Let the mixture boil for 5 minutes, then stir in the cranberries. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to simmer for 5 minutes, or until the cranberries pop open. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Makes 5 cups.

Brussels Sprouts With Potato and Chestnut

1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
1 1/2 pounds potatoes
3/4 pound chestnuts, shells sliced open
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter

Cut the brussels sprouts in half lengthwise. Using a 1/2-inch melon baller, cut the potatoes into balls. Braise the chestnuts in chicken stock for about 30 minutes, then peel them once they are cool enough to handle.

Cook the brussels sprouts in boiling water. When they are barely tender, drain them well and plunge them into ice water to preserve their color. Boil the potatoes for 5 minutes, then sauté them golden in the butter. (This can be done in advance.) Reheat the vegetables together in a skillet with a little butter or oil, or in a microwave oven, before serving. Serves 8.

Your Basic Pumpkin Pie
wine match

2 cups (1 pound) pumpkin puree, not
pie filling
1 9-inch pie shell, in a deep pie tin or pie plate
1 cup whipping cream
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice

To make pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkin: Cut open the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Cut it into 2- or 3-inch chunks. Put the chunks in a baking pan with a splash of water, cover tightly with tin foil or another pan and bake at 375 degrees F for 40 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. Drain it well and, when it is cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh from the shell. Puree it in a food processor, blender or food mill. This puree can be kept refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to six months.

Freeze the unbaked pie shell for at least 30 minutes. (This is important for the texture of the crust.) Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Heat 1/2 cup of cream and the half-and-half in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla, brown sugar and spices. Add the pumpkin and mix well. Gradually stir in the hot cream.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the frozen crust and immediately put it in the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking the pie for 30 to 40 minutes longer, or until a sharp knife gently inserted near the middle of the pie comes out clean. Let the pie cool on a rack. Serve the pie at room temperature or slightly warm, with a dab of sweetened whipped cream. (Use the remaining half cup of cream with 1 teaspoon of sugar.) Makes one 9-inch pie.

Wine Matching Suggestions

Bruschetta with Homemade Ricotta and Chives
First choice: Renato Ratti Dolcetto d'Alba 1997 (88, $16)

Alternate choices
Marcarini Dolcetto d'Alba Fontanazza 1997 (88, $13)
Fratelli Oddero Dolcetto d'Alba 1997 (86, $14)
Marchesi di Barolo Dolcetto d'Alba Madonna di Como 1997 (87, $15)

Potato and Watercress Mussel Soup
First choice: Hugel Pinot Blanc Alsace Cuvée Les Amours 1997 (88, $13)

Alternate choices
Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc Alsace Diamant d'Alsace Réserve 1996 (87, $8)
Albert Seltz Pinot Blanc Alsace Réserve 1997 (85, $9)

Main Course
First choice: La Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri Rioja 1996 (90, $20)

Alternate choices
Consejo de la Alta Rioja Alta Rio Crianza 1996 (87, $12)
Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Viña Cumbrero Crianza 1996 (85, $10)
Bodegas Bretón Rioja Loriñon Crianza 1996 (86, $13)

Your Basic Pumpkin Pie
First choice: Lindemans Sémillon Griffith Late Harvest Botrytis 1997 (88, $11/375ml)

Alternate choices
Chateau Ste. Michelle White Riesling Late Harvest Columbia Valley Reserve 1996 (87, $19/375ml)
Giesen Noble School Road Canterbury Late Harvest 1997 (91, $18/500ml)

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