Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Debrief

So, how was turkey breast sous-vide and the stuffed skin?  Just ok and absolutely delicious, in that order.

What I did for turkey
Removed the skin, cut the breast into manageable pieces about 2 inches thick, salted for 2 days, dried with paper towel, seasoned with pepper and sealed in vacuum bags with garlic herb butter.  Cooked in a 141F water bath for 3 hours, then removed, dried, and seared.

How was it?
Moderately juicy, but way more dense than I expected.  Different than roasted turkey breast, but not significantly better.

Here is my best guess as to why I didn't get the stunning sous-vide turkey everyone talks about.  I bought my turkey at Savenor's and paid the price that is embarrassing to say out loud (Jason and I were joking that at that price, we could be serving prime rib-eye from Costco).  This bird had a long resume with buzz words that included locally raised in Lancaster, MA, free-range, organic, and every other accolade you can imagine.  It's been a long time since I handled turkey, but when I was cutting up the raw breast, I thought it was extremely firm.  That probably explains the density of the finished product since it's impossible to overcook something using the sous-vide method.

As far as the lack of juiciness goes, I guess that's what I get for not brining.  I prefer to salt my proteins in advance, but not brine them.  Salting them helps them retain the moisture naturally present in them.  Brining makes them absorb extra moisture resulting in more juiciness, but the brined proteins always taste a little spongy to me.  I can usually get away without brining simply by pre-salting for a day or two and being very careful not to overcook.  But when it comes to turkey, I should have pulled out the big guns, especially that I was dealing with an "all-natural" turkey.  Most supermarket ones, like Butterball are already pre-brined from what I understand.

Now the good part...

What I did for skin
Removed skin from a whole turkey breast in one piece.  It was a big rectangle and I sewed the long parts together and one of the short sides to make a long stocking.  I used regular cotton thread and sewing needle.  The trick is to not make it too tight since the stuffing expands and can rip the thread.

I made stuffing following the basic instructions from Cook's Illustrated (you might need a membership to see this link).  I added chopped chestnuts and port soaked dried cherries.  But what really made it was using good bread (I used Iggy's French pullman) and using homemade chicken stock.  Cherries were fabulous in this stuffing.  Somehow chestnuts got a little lost.  Not that they weren't yummy, but I wanted to taste them a little more considering the fact that I spent $11 on them (I used the ones from a jar).  Next time, I'd try pecans.

I stuffed the skin stocking with the stuffing being careful not to pack it tight and sewed the short end.  Sprinkled with salt and pepper, coated with duck fat, and roasted in the oven at 400F for about 45 minutes flipping half way through.  We let it rest 15 minutes before slicing.

How was it?
Crispy, flavorful, and absolutely delicious!  It's such a bummer that I can't think of any good way to repeat the stuffed skin since I can't imagine myself cooking turkey this way again.  I just don't have it in me to find the tastiest turkey to buy and the best way to cook it.  Even the tastiest turkey isn't as good as the tastiest chicken.  I wonder what happens to the skin from the skinless chicken breasts so ubiquitous in stores nowadays.  Maybe there is a pile of poultry skin sitting somewhere waiting to be stuffed and roasted.

The basic idea of sous-vide for Thanksgiving was great.  I had my oven free to bake 3 tarts and could delegate the water maintenance responsibility to the 3 engineers in our family (we were using a beer cooler since I don't have an immersion circulator).

If any one has any suggestions on how to make a stunning sous-vide turkey, do leave me a comment.

[here is what vacuumed sealed cooked turkey looked like before searing]


Anonymous said...

H-Mart in Burlington has good, reasonably priced plain peeled chestnuts in vacuum bags. No syrup, no sugar, no salt.

And chestnuts often melt into stuffing unless they are kept whole or (at most) in halves. But the stuffing is sweeter and less bready for their presence

Helen said...

Thanks for the H-Mart tip!

Kate/Massachusetts said...

Helen, I'm guessing here but if your turkey came from Lancaster, it was probably from Bob's Turkey Farm. I suspect it might be far cheaper to buy directly from him!

Helen said...

Thanks Kate! You are probably right about the origin of our turkey. The problem was that I didn't like it that much. Of course, it's quiet possible that I simply don't like turkey :)

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the skin is repatriated into chicken nuggets...maybe you already knew that but didn't want to say it out loud!

Helen said...

No, I didn't know that, so thanks for the info.

Irina said...

I used to love stuffed chicken skin ("sheika" in Russian) that my mom and grandma used to make! It was probably one of my favorite things to eat as a child. They used a mixture of flour and onions sauteed with chicken fat for the stuffing. I believe sometimes chopped gizzards and the like were added if they were available.

Helen said...

Wow -- never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that one of my readers would know about "sheika." That was the inspiration for this dish and my grandma used to make it exactly like what you described.

retro sweets said...

i prefer buying pre-brined coz they tend to get the solution right. the last time i tried brining my turkey it didn't turn out good. but i guess practice makes perfect.

Helen said...

it's not just that they get the solution right. most likely they inject the turkey meat with the brine instead of having it sit in the brine bath. at least that's my guess. This helps the meat become more juicy, but doesn't effect the skin. One of the reasons I hate brining poultry is that it's impossible to get a crispy, but not burnt skin. The brine prevents it from getting crispy, yet makes it burn very quickly if it uses sugar.

Irina said...

Helen, I Googled around and "sheika" appears to be more common than you and I might have thought. It seems like it's a familiar nostalgic sort of dish in many Russian-Jewish families as well as some Russian and Ukrainian families. I also just realized that it's closely related to "kishke" - have you ever heard of this traditional Ashkenazi dish?

Helen said...

Of course, I even have fond childhood memories of eating kishke. Just like sheika, but made with intestines. I thought it was the yummiest thing in the world, but I hear many people don't find the concept very appetizing.

emiglia said...

I am not a huge turkey fan and always serve chicken... but I love this idea, especially the turkey skin! I'm trying to come up with other ways to cook the breast to make this worthwhile... though the skin looks so good I can imagine making just that and eating turkey sandwiches for a week :)