Chef Clay’s Best Thanksgiving
Clay Purcell has been cooking professionally for 27 years, and his career has included stints at Hyatt Hotels in San Francisco, Hollywood, Palm Springs, Monterrey, and Sacramento. He has been Executive Chef at Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront Promenade for over 6 years and has won numerous awards including best chefs of Sacramento, Vegan Challenge, Pork Counsel, and the Ultimate Club House Sandwich Contest to name a few.
He is married to MyFolsom’s own Kimberly ‘Amethyst Organizing’ Purcell and has been living in Folsom for over 6 years.
I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner professionally for the last 26 years. Some were lavish catered affairs, some large buffet in excess of 2000 people, others plated dinners for fine dining restaurants. Needless to say there is no shortage of ways to cook a moist, flavorful turkey. Certainly there is panache in bringing a beautiful golden brown bird to the table and carving it table side and I will include tips for making a whole bird if you want to present it that way.
I find the most full proof way to cook a turkey, however, is to butcher the breast globes, leg and thighs away from the carcass and roasting separately. This allows you to cook the breast meat, legs, thighs and wings for different time intervals insuring moist and tender white meat and thoroughly cooked dark meat. It also allows you the extra time to roast the carcass, make stock and best of all prepare your gravy well ahead of time. Nothing worse than having the whole meal ready and hot only to have to sweat over the stove to make roux with fat and flour and whisk in the drippings for the sauce. You can do all this ahead having the beautiful golden gravy simmering along while you slice the bird.
As for sides I think cranberry sauce is must. The sweet tart combination goes great with all fowl and breaks up the fatty flavors of mashed potatoes, stuffing, buttered vegetables and all the other favorites. I prefer whole berries in my sauce but my wife likes the smoother kind. Either way is great and I will provide a simple recipe that will be sure to please. As with most dishes less is more. Keep the ingredients list small and you will have a much better chance at success.
Vegetables any time of year should be a seasonal choice. Just because you love zucchini and bell peppers doesn’t make it the ‘be all to end all’. Thanksgiving time is about hard squash, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and green beans. One of favorite things in the world is a plate full of Blue Lake green beans with the tops snipped, gently boiled in salt water then tossed with whole butter. Add some crunchy toasted Sacramento almonds and cracked black pepper and you are good to go. They couldn’t be easier to prepare, taste amazing, have a great mouth feel and the vibrant green looks fantastic on the plate in contrast with the cranberry sauce.
I hope you find these recipes helpful. Enjoy your holidays which ever they may be and give thanks for all life has to offer. Cheers!
Whole Roasted Turkey
By rule I have always had success cooking whole turkeys for 12 minutes a pound at 425 degrees(unstuffed) . So it you have a 15 pound turkey cook for 180 minutes or 3 hours. If you are a believer in a brine soak go for it, I suggest overnight. Whether you brine or not make sure to baste approximately every 15 minutes or so. I use the drippings and whole melted butter. Another tip to insure moist breast meat is to cook the bird inverted (our breast down). The leg and thigh fat will melt down into the breast meat and help with moisture retention.
I cook my turkey lightly covered with aluminum foil and remove it only for the final 30 minutes to help the skin turn golden brown. Let the turkey rest out of the oven for about 15 minutes before carving while you finish up any other dishes and call guests to the table. If you have a probe thermometer, calibrate it and insert into the deepest part of the bird. For safety cook until 165 degrees is reached.
Other things to watch for to insure success is make sure your oven is actually is the temperature you set it to by having a working oven thermometer. If you haven’t used your probe thermometer in a long time calibrate it by inserting it in a glass with crushed ice and just a little water. Your thermometer should read 32 degrees , if it doesn’t adjust it before using.
I use whole berries easily found at most markets, I go with 2 ounces of berries per person. Simply put in a sauce pot and cover with just enough water to reach the top of the berries. Depending on how sweet you want it will depend on how much sugar you add to the pot. Add about a ¼ cup at a time to the pot and stir in. Taste for sweetness and add if more sweetness is desired. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Let simmer until the berries begin to pop. Taste again for sweetness and add now if more is desired. To thicken make a cornstarch slurry (water and cornstarch to make a pasty solution) and add to the simmering berries a tablespoon at a time until the consistency you like is reached. I always go a little loose as the sauce will tighten up when cooled. Remove from heat and cool. This can made days ahead to save time for other dishes.
If desired you can use orange juice instead of water for a different flavor profile. Other little nuisances include lemon peel, sliced ginger , brown sugar, honey and even chili flakes. Again, I like simple and clean but this is your day and do what makes you happy.