Cooking nerds, this one’s for you. Years ago Nikki and Ed introduced me to America’s Test Kitchen, and my life has never been the same. On this food science series they take a dish like mashed potatoes, try dozens of different recipes and methods, compare the results, and keep testing until they come up with the cooking method that produces exactly the taste and texture they want. They also do blind taste tests of different brands of ingredients and product tests of everything you would every use in a kitchen. This year we’re gathering with the usual suspects, four families, and instead of the whole meal, I am only cooking turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, mashed white sweet potatoes, and maybe couple of pies. Most of the recipes and methods come from America’s Test Kitchen.
Monday, I drove all the way to Silver Spring, Maryland to Shalom Kosher deli to buy an Empire Kosher turkey which is the perennial winner of the turkey A.T.K. taste test. They love the salt content—no need to brine–and the natural turkey flavor as opposed to the injected Butterball-type varieties. This better be the best frigging turkey that ever roasted because it was inconvenient and expensive. At least I don’t have to brine this year.
I’m also cutting out the basting. It’s hard to let go of these old traditions once they are scientifically disproven, but if I don’t, I’m no better than that lady in Ukraine who told me to slather my feet in mustard and wrap them in cabbage to cure a head cold. No basting! I’m a little excited because the basting always washed off the herbs in my usual recipe. Thank goodness I at least take the trouble of sliding herbed butter under the skin and over the breast meat.
I love herbed turkey. I once spent Thanksgiving with the Shakers of Sabbath Day Lake. They killed the turkey on the farm the day before. That morning they picked fresh herbs from their garden and mixed them with butter made on the premises to flavor the turkey. It was superior to any other turkey I’ve had. Shakers do Thanksgiving right.
The hardest part is going to be dismembering the turkey and cooking the breast and legs side by side. I’m assured this is going to balance the cooking time of white and dark meat perfectly so we can all enjoy the delicious non-dry white meat, and the perfectly cooked but untouched dark meat can be thrown away the next week. I also have to cook the breast skin-down for 1 hour before flipping it over. It will be a little sad not to present the perfectly browned turkey all trussed and crisped on a bed of veggies and greens, but this year, I’m going for TASTE over presentation. I’ve considered browning a Butterball for the presentation and then taking it back to the kitchen to carve and swapping it out with the Test Kitchen Empire Kosher, but no!
Mashed potatoes a la Test Kitchen are so easy and so, so good. You boil the potatoes (2lbs) in their skins which protects the flesh from turning glue-y and also gives that delicious dirt flavor that I love about potatoes. I know the proper term is earthy. But you know you love the smell of dirt. We all do. Then you cut them in half, pop them in the potato ricer which is like a giant garlic press and squish them out while the skin stays in the ricer. You don’t even have to peal them. Ever! Next comes the melted butter (one stick). Coating the starch in fat first will protect it from turning goopey and glue-y when you hit it with the liquid, i.e. heated half and half (1 cup). Oh and salt (1.5 tsp). The major scientific discovery on America’s Test Kitchen are that things taste best when they are salty and fatty. It’s a bit obvious like my clean house tips, but 100% true. Keys to success are to heat the dairy piping hot and do not over stir.
My new Test Kitchen method this year is to keep the mashed potatoes in a warm crockpot since we are eating off-site. A.T.K has altered their recipes since I bought the book Perfect Vegetables. Now they’re using Yukon Golds instead of Russett, and adding more cream/milk to the mashed potatoes, but I’m sticking with the old Perfect Vegetables recipe this year.
Have you tried mashed white sweet potatoes? You should. You really should. You just cut them in fourths lengthwise and then slice them ¼ inch thick. Cook them (2lbs) in a pot with 4T butter, 2-3T heavy cream, 1/2t salt and 1T of sugar on low until they disintegrate into the loveliest thing. Mash a bit, salt and pepper if you like. For some reason everybody goes wild over these when it is white sweet potatoes, not the yellow or orange kind. Some friends and family would like to abandon regular mashed potatoes completely for the sake of these babies, but I need both.
I may also contribute a couple of pies, though with all four families bringing desserts, I think there is going to be almost one pie per person. Fluffy has requested pumpkin pie (her favorite), candy pie, princess pie and My Little Pony pie. I might make a pumpkin.
Please compare this to the Thanksgiving dinners I grew up with, and LOVED.
- Turkey roast (a log of turkey bits held together with a twine net and braised in water until any residual flavor is thoroughly sapped)
- canned turkey gravy
- homemade potato salad (I came this close to making it this year. My mom’s potato salad is the best.)
- potatoes mashed with a hand mixer in their own starchy cooking water until they are so glue-y you could weatherize your windows with them.
- StoveTop pork flavor stuffing (I may make some on Friday or Saturday because it’s hard to ever top the StoveTop.)
- canned cranberry sauce
- canned corn
- canned green beans
- Salad made of ice berg lettuce, tomatoes and garlic salt
- relish tray
- ambrosia (drained canned fruits mixed with Cool Whip)
- Kool Aid made with the syrup from the canned fruits
Jenni is making Grandma Lorna’s stuffing this year which is kind of like a savory bread pudding with evaporated milk and butter in it. I hope I like it as much as I did as a child.