The Techniques That Saved Turkey

Whew! Thanksgiving is over and now it’s time to talk about all the wins, missed, and everything I learned. Of all the things that I couldn’t wait to blog about the turkey was the biggest. Today I blogged about finding the Ferndale Turkey but this post is about what I did with it. I wish I could take the credit and say it was all my idea but this was a result of the perfect pieces aligning. It started with a great bird, it then was made better with a fantastic technique and a secret ingredient, and it came together with the recipes and flavors I have tried to use for years. 

Before I can tell you how this beauty was made, I have to tell you a bit about the journey. Turkey and I have a rocky relationship to say the least. Over the last 20 years I have cooked many. For most of those years the turkey was always the same. It was a whole bird, roasted in the oven, and finished with a maple glaze. I stuck with this for so long because it had special significance for me. This was the first turkey I had ever made and I made it for my grandmothers memorial service. My mom was already dealing with a lot and most of her siblings were going to be depending upon our house for a memorial so out of the blue while grocery shopping with her I said I would be happy to do a turkey if that would help. It happened to be October and the issue of Bon Appetite was on the news stands with this glorious looking turkey on the cover. It was a Maple Glazed Turkey with Orange Parsley Stuffing. I point to the issue and said I would make that.

Now, my mom knew I had never cooked a turkey and knew they could be problematic but she also knew that I loved to cook, I was fearless in the kitchen, and she was happy to off load some the responsibility. The turkey came out beautifully and everyone loved it and so my connection to this recipe was immediately and deeply intertwined with family, memories of my grandmother, and learning it pays off to be fearless in the kitchen.

Over the years I took on the family Thanksgiving. Each year it got bigger and more elaborate, until in 2001 I finally took on too much and totally burnt myself out on all the work. That year I had huge plans and with more than a dozen family members coming I decided I was going to keep everyone out of the kitchen by preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This wasn’t too well thought out. I ended up cooking from about 7am to 9pm. After that I swore off Thanksgiving. This wasn’t a huge loss to me as I was never a fan of the meal. It was always way too much food. Nothing stayed the right temperature to be properly enjoyed. Everything seemed too rich, heavy, dense, and fattening.

When I met my husband I discovered holidays and especially holiday meals are deeply important to him. Our first Thanksgiving together after becoming Domestic Partners was while we were living in London. Trying to find turkey was a bit of a challenge as it would only be the two of us I didn’t want to do the whole bird. That year I ended up just doing the crown and a few sides. This got me back into the swing of things and forced me to pair it way down. I still didn’t love the food but I did love trying new recipes and techniques.

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The most recent evolution of my thanksgiving cook came about 2 years ago when I tried to do a stuffed turkey roulade. The idea seemed clear enough so I gave it a go. It was OK but it least a lot to be desired. I still had issues with the meat getting over cooked, I had issues with there not being much stuffing in the roulade to the point it was barely noticeable, and it lacked the wow factor that turkey usually has visually.

Last year I gave it another go. At the time I was really into brining. I de-boned the bird, brined it, stuffed it with a different stuffing. This attempt looked like someone trying to fit into clothes 5 sizes too small. It was loose, bulging, and stuffing was coming out everywhere. After it was cooked the stuffing was so soggy it was off putting, the meat just fell apart to the point that it was not great either. In the end it was just a mess. At that point I was ready to right off the idea of a roulade and especially a stuffed roulade.

Stuffed Turkey Roulades

Then this year I am all about sous vide, where appropriate, and was curious if it could save the turkey. Thankfully Chefsteps.com had fantastic ideas, techniques, and tricks. These all seemed promising enough so I got the secret ingredient and gave it a go. What do you know, it was amazing!

An Evolution of Turkey

So what is this secret ingredient? Activa RM. It’s commonly referred to as “Meat Glue” although there’s nothing “meaty” about it. This is an enzyme that is used to bond protein based ingredients together when cooked. This may sound way too weird but I have to say even just after my first use I am totally sold. It allowed me to not only cook perfect cylinders but they stayed together when served. It’s simply a powder that you sprinkle or “dust” over the surface of the meats you want to join or over one surface and roll.

When you combine the Active RM with Chefsteps clever way to make a perfect cylinder you end up with a beautiful piece of meat that is an absolute wow when served. So now are you curious on what the recipe and techniques are?

Turkey Breasts Stuffed with Porcini, Sausage, and Artichoke Hearts

(This recipe is based on one from the 2015 Fine Cooking Holidays issue.)

Ingredients:

  • ¾ ounce Dried Sliced Mushrooms, such as porcini or shiitake
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 8 ounces Italian Sausage
  • 1 cup Yellow Onion, finely chopped (160 grams)
  • 2 Garlic Clove, minced
  • 4 ounces Artichoke Hearts, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon Fresh Thyme, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon Fresh Rosemary, chopped
  • ½ cup Bread Crumbs, day-old, coarse
  • 2 ounces Parmesan, freshly grated
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Jumbo Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 Turkey Breasts, boneless, with skin
  • Active RM
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 fl ounce Olive Oil

Directions:

Make the Stuffing:

  1. Put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain the water and place the mushrooms in a small food processor or chop finely by hand.
  2. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook. Keeping an eye on the sausage break up the chunks as it cooks until it’s small pieces and browned. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Stir in the chopped mushrooms, artichokes, thyme, and rosemary and cook until well combined and the herbs are fragrant.
  3. Transfer the sausage the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the breadcrumbs and the Parmesan. (I subbed this out for some Garrotxa which worked really well so feel free try try any cheese you might prefer.) Season with salt and pepper, and the stir in the egg. Cover and chill in the fridge, preferably over night but a minimum of a couple hours.

Stuff the Turkey Breasts:

  1. Lay the breast skin side down. Butterfly the breasts and even out the thickness with a mallet. (My bird was 23 ½ pounds and the breasts were huge so after butterflying them and pounding them flat I split them in two.) Once you have a large flat piece of breast sprinkle with the Activa RM. Spread the stuffing in a thin layer covering the entire breast and sprinkle again with the Active RM. Carefully roll the breast, trying to keep from pushing out the stuffing.
  2. Roll the breasts in plastic wrap. Lay out the plastic wrap so that it unrolls away from you. Place the breast on the plastic a few inches from the edge, pulling the plastic up start rolling. Keep the plastic wrap taught. As you roll pull on the ends of the plastic wrap, crimping it, and gently pushing the turkey on the ends.  After several go arounds poke with a toothpick to let the trapped air out. Roll some more. Tie the ends with a long piece of kitchen twine, wrapping the extra length around the plastic under your knot over and over to tighten the plastic wrap.
  3. Place the cylinder in a ziplock bag and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook them.

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To cook the breasts:

  1. Heat the Joule (sous vide) to 131º f. Once at temperature add the bags of stuffed breasts and cook for 12 – 24 hours. Remove from the water bath 30 minutes before you want to serve. Let it rest just until it’s cool enough to handle.
  2. With a pair of scissors cut off one of the ends between the meat and the string. Angle the open end downward to a plate and form the closed end carefully begin to push until the cylinder slips right out of the plastic.

You can either just slice it and serve if or you can pick your preferred way to finish it. Everything from a boiler, to a hot oven and basting, to a sauté pan and searing the outside(on the right), heck I even deep fried one (on the left).

Turkey Leg Roulade with Maple Glaze 

Ingredients:

  • 2 Turkey Legs
  • Salt (.5 percent to the total meat weight)
  • Activa RM (5 grams to 1.2 kg meat)
  • Thyme
  • Sage

FOR THE GLAZE:

  • 208 grams Maple Syrup
  • 82 grams Dijon Mustard
  • 28 grams Unsalted Butter
  • 68 grams Worcestershire Sauce

Directions:

  1. Lay the legs out flat, skin side down, and season with salt.
  2. Using a fine sieve dust legs with activa RM. If there is excessively loose skin use it there as well. Be sure to get it into the nooks and crannies as this will help it hold together.
  3. Season with fresh minced herbs. Don’t over do it or the meat will not hold it’s shape.
  4. Roll the legs in plastic wrap. Kind of like wrapping a piece of candy. Keep the plastic wrap taught. As you roll pull on the ends of the plastic wrap, crimping it, and gently pushing the turkey on the ends.  After several go arounds poke with a toothpick to let the trapped air out. Roll some more. Tie the ends with kitchen twine. Place the wrapped turkey into a ziplock bag and refrigerate until ready to cook.

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TO COOK:

  1. Heat the sous vide to 151º f. Once it comes to temperature add the dark meat roulades into the water bath. Cook for 3 – 6 hours. Remove from the water bath 30 minutes before serving. Once cool enough to handle cut one end off the plastic and slide the roulade out. Place the roulade into an over safe pan and turn on the broiler.

FOR THE GLAZE:

  1. Combine the ingredients in a small sauce pan, over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the butter melts. Set aside.
  2. Thoroughly brush the glaze onto the roulades. Place under the broiler and cook for 1-2 minutes. Using a pot holder remove the pan from under the broiler and re-apply the glaze and cook for another minute. Do this until you have the desired finish or it begins to char in places.
  3. Slice and serve.

One last tip. If you plan on having leftovers and want to reheat or you want to sous vide all your meat ahead of time and rewarm the day of both are totally doable. Just bring the sous vide back to 131º f and place the wrapped cylinders, in their ziplock bags, back in the water for 2 hours. If it’s leftovers just place the pieces you would like to reheat into a ziplock and place in the water for about 30-60 minutes depending on how much you’re reheating.

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