Friday, December 3, 2010

All about the bird

     If your family is anything like mine, the bird is the star attraction at any holiday gathering. Goose, duck, chicken or turkey, wild or domestic; they cook them all.

     Unfortunately, I don't have a definitive answer for cooking your holiday fowl. I fast cook mine, both my grandmothers slow cook their's, Grandma Fisher cooked her's breast down to keep it moist and my aunts are split down the middle. All I can share is how I cook mine and more importantly how I choose mine.

     The real secret to a good finish is a good start. To that end, pick you bird with some care, or at least some knowledge. A lean bird is a dry one, or one that needs a lot of basting. For that reason I am not a fan of the free range or organic options. Cringe Before I get inundated with hate mail, let me explain. Free range birds and I mean true free range, uncaged, get a lot more exercise while foraging so are leaner, tougher and have a gamier taste. I find the same for any of the organic birds I have tried. They are much more high maintenance to cook and I have had spotty results with both. I am also not a fan of pre-basted, if I'm going to go to the work of basting my bird I'll do it with what I choose. The best results I have had personally have been with regular utility birds or from fresh local ones. I am a huge booster of buying local. You don't have to spend a fortune to have a great holiday turkey. I also never buy a stuffed bird, that's just holiday sacrilege. LOL

     I cook mine covered at 350 degrees, 20 minutes a pound for un-stuffed, 10 pounds and under, 25 if stuffed. If the bird is over 10 pounds, 15 minutes un-stuffed and 20 stuffed. It is a sliding scale with the weight so I usually check mine about an hour before it should be done to check how everything is going. To brown, I uncover for about 15-30 minutes and brush with a little butter, honey, maple syrup or sugar water depending on how I'm feeling that particular day.

     Stuffing also varies depending on my mood, but I always use bread as my base. No, stove top isn't really stuffing at least not if you have ever had either of my grandmother's. It's called dressing in the Ottawa valley, by the way. My favourite is potato and onion stuffing. It is; cooked potato, onions, bread, savoury, thyme, poultry seasoning, celery and peppers, a classic in my family. Having worked in restaurants for so long I have also had stuffing with wild rice or roasted corn that was also very tasty. My friend Agy, crazy Hungarian woman,

Agy, Ferd threatened to cook her dog LOL

her mother made a traditional liver stuffing. Yech, was my reaction. I loathe liver, but it was delicious. She was also the first person I had seen stuff under the skin of the bird, at the breast and around the legs.

     The latest thing around home has been deep frying turkey and a couple of my relatives do that. I haven't tasted it yet, but it just seem wrong somehow?? Wild turkey is also back on the menu. My father helped to re introduce them to the area over a decade ago and they are thriving. I haven't tried that either but have been told they are fantastic.

   I have also had brined turkey. Ferd made it. It is turkey that has been soaked over night in a flavoured brine and it was also very good.

    As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so try whatever strikes your fancy when cooking your holiday bird. The worst thing that can happen is you know better than to do that next year. LOL Better yet, try new recipes or ideas on a smaller roasting chicken to see what you think before committing yourself.

     A friend relayed this story to me years ago. His step monster, his words, not mine, decided to try a new recipe and cook the Christmas turkey in a paper bag. It was all the rage about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, the bag was resting on the top element of the oven, caught fire, ruined the turkey and burned the kitchen. So take heart, as long as the kitchen is still standing when you are finished, you've come out ahead. Enjoy

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