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    Eat & Swig

    I Remember My First Turkey
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    We’ve all been there, anxiously hovering over the oven, eyes wide and senses on high alert in an effort to avoid turning the holiday turkey into a dry carcass that only cousin Eddie will eat. Sometimes, it takes years of practice to provide the family with a perfectly moist, delicious bird. Maybe that’s why we love and admire our grandmothers so much.

    Even our favorite cooks know the struggle of serving up a good bird: here are the turkey tales of eight local chefs. 

     

    Jesse Huot (left), Grind Burger Kitchen 

     

    "My family has never been a traditional Thanksgiving meal family. The Huot family is a beef family. My dad typically prepares a ridiculous size prime rib. The turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing plate was a more distant, fuzzy memory from some aunt’s house in Grand Forks, North Dakota where I grew up. My dad’s perfect med-rare rib roast with shiitake mushroom gravy, while amazing, never replaced that 'draw a line connecting the holiday to the meal' thing a classic Thanksgiving meal invokes.

    Five-ish years before I had ever considered a cooking career, my parents were out of town freeing up their nice, clean East Louisville kitchen. I bought a small turkey and all the Thanksgiving essentials with a plan to ruin a lot of perfectly fine food and it eat alone. For the turkey, I opted to use the rotisserie function on my dad’s grill, harking back to the ol' 'set and forget it' mantra I learned from Ron Peopeil’s Ronco 4000 infomercials I was raised on. After about an hour of watching the turkey twirl, things were looking good. The rest of the meal was coming together surprisingly well. At that point I as seven beers into the late afternoon and started to think it’d be a shame to pull this off and have nobody around to see it. I called my brother and some friends to come over. Everything went about as well as it could have. I caught my first buzz off of the moaning from a meal well executed. I have not cooked a whole turkey since." 

     
    Tavis Rockwell, Louvino

    "The first turkey I ever cooked was at my grandma’s house when I was 18. Grandma was sick and I wanted to learn how to do it so that I could help her out. She told me how to baste it, how she started it hot then dropped the temperature down. The most important things was to stuff butter up it’s butt. Ha, okay mamaw. I’ll always stuff it with butter, “not margarine,” as she would say. Yes ma’am! It turned out great. I still cook it that way for the family."

     

    Matt Weirich (left), The Exchange Pub + Kitchen

     

    "After attending Culinary School and working in the industry a couple of years, my wife Kristin and I decided to host Thanksgiving at our house. My brother and sister came into town from Indy, my parents from Northern Indiana. Having recently purchased an Immersion Circulator, I decided I could just break down the Turkey, sous vide it ahead of time, and all I would have to do would sear each part and warm it in the oven all the way through.
     
    Being a chef, I naturally decided to go overboard. I placed herbs, butter, salt, pepper, and my favorite, duck fat, in the bags. I cooked the turkey for about three hours at 165 degrees a couple days ahead of time to really let it marinate in that duck fat. Come Thanksgiving Day, family is arriving to the house, dogs are running around, everyone is having a good time, and everything is coming together very nicely. I know the dressing and potatoes are my longest items since the turkey is already cooked, just not warmed.
     
    I start searing the breasts and thighs in a hot pan just the potatoes are coming off. I get [turkey pieces] going, throw them in the oven, finish up the potatoes, and plate everything. We get everything on the table, open the wine and I go to check on the turkey. I take the temperature and the internal temp is only about 85 degrees. 'Crap!' I think to myself, 'how can I still pull this off?' Being my first turkey and the fact that I am naturally over ambitious, I didn't think about how thick everything is and how long it would take for all of it to heat up.
    I pull them out of the oven, flip the pieces, and start butter basting as fast as I can in an attempt to heat it up. Everyone is still sitting, waiting. I check the temperature again. It had risen! It was now 95 degrees. Crap! I throw them back in the oven and crank it.  It took another 10 to 15 minutes while everything was sitting on the table cooling down for the turkey to finally finish. We sat down and said grace to a warm turkey and cold stuffing."
     
     
    Peng Looi, August Moon Chinese Bistro

     

    "Frankly speaking I have never cooked a whole turkey by myself, but I have assisted others. Turkey was not part of my diet growing up in Malaysia. I had my first taste of the protein in the States during Thanksgiving. My preference would be duck."

     

    Michael Crouch, Bistro 1860

     

    "I cooked my first turkey and ONLY turkey for Thanksgiving 18 or 19 years ago. I stuffed it with the normal mirepoix, added apples, fresh thyme and sage. In addition to that, I brined it in a simple sea salt, brown sugar with fresh herbs. It turned out great of course, but I didn’t enjoy my holiday/day off near as much since I was cooking. I haven’t done a Thanksgiving since, not even a bag of ice."

     

    Fernando Martinez, Olé Restaurant Group

     

    "My first experience with turkey was horrible. In Cuba we don’t eat a lot of turkey, so when I first came to the States I wanted to make my first Thanksgiving dinner. I bought a turkey with a little plastic thermometer, but I didn’t know that by the time those pop, the turkey is already overcooked. Through the years, I’ve gotten better at cooking turkey. Now I skin the turkey, confit the legs, and make a savory mushroom, confit turkey bread pudding. I stuff the turkey with chestnuts, pancetta and figs. Using Activa meat glue I bring the two breasts together and reattach the skin. Then I sous vide and finish it in the oven at a really high temp to crisp the skin. Almost like a porchetta."

     

    Erika Chavez-Graziano, Cellar Door Chocolates 

     

    "The first turkey I cooked was about 12 years ago. I wrapped it entirely in bacon and dressed it with a sage sausage stuffing. I did it on my own, it was delicious!"

     

    Patrick Roney, Harvest 

     

    "I have wracked my brain to remember the first turkey I cooked. All of them seem to blend together, except one. My wife and I were hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in our new condo. We were expecting our first baby and during the Thanksgiving festivities we planned to reveal the gender. When we picked up the Heritage Breed turkey from Rainbow Blossom they handed us a turkey that was named Rose. After dinner was finished, my mother (who has the duty of keeping the gender secret) handed us the envelope that would change our Thanksgiving memories forever. The envelope revealed a girl was on the way. No, her name was not going to be Rose."

     

    Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock/Leszek Glasner

    Katie Molck's picture

    About Katie Molck

    Loretta Lynn is the best country music singer of all time and if you don't like pickled foods, you can leave.

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