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"That’s what culinary tradition is – making the harvest season last all year long," Judy Rodgers, chef of San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe, said about the practice of preserving food. "My God, the most unique holiday we have is Thanksgiving. If you really ponder what Thanksgiving is all about, you would really understand food. But so many people think it’s about gluttony, the beginning of the ‘eating season,’ as opposed to truly revering this, your great harvest celebration, and then . . . putting stuff up so you don’t starve over the winter."

I always think of Judy Rodgers because of those words she said to me a few years ago.  Judy is one of the most observant and articulate chefs I’ve ever met, and is also one of the best writers about food and cooking I know (her Zuni Café Cookbook  is one of my favorites, worth the price for the intro alone).

The above turkey (Donna took a quick shot before it went into the oven, thanks Donna!), rests on a bed of mirepoix and  is now in the oven, Donna, the kids and I are about to bakes some pies and some cornbread to bring to my father’s, who, bless him, is doing the heavy lifting because of my travel schedule.  (We’re roasting our own turkey just to smell—a house has to have the smell of a roasting turkey on Thanksgiving—and to look at, and to eat straight from the oven, because it’s so good.)

But I’ve also got a couple hog bellies that I’ve got to get on the cure for next week’s Demo at Macy’s, and that, of course, is even more what Thanksgiving is about.  Last year I wrote this post, linking to a chef’s plea that he be able to dry cure his own meats, and included an editorial I’d written about the impact of preservation techniques on a culture’s culinary traditions, which had been on my mind because of Charcuterie

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Thanksgiving, the one holiday all Americans share regardless of creed,  is about revering our food, about not wasting it.  It is not about stuffing our bird or ourselves, it’s about having food, through our own care and ingenuity, all year round.  And that is why putting the cure on the hog bellies today is perhaps an even more powerful metaphor for Thanksgiving.

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I can’t eat the hog bellies today, but I can eat this turkey!

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42 Wonderful responses to “Happy Thanksgiving 2007”

  • Claudia

    You’re an awesome woman, Jennie, my friend. I’d love to be able to serve pheasant for TG, but the rioting would last until New Year’s. The game-loving sister and I will have some pheasant on the side as we labor through our all-day Buche de Noel preparations in a week or so (sighhhhh).

  • Eilish

    Happy Thanksgiving to the Ruhlman family! I hope you had a great one. My two soups for the Thanksgiving feast were all made with my newly honed stock-making ability (thanks, Michael!) and were a huge hit at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Thank you for the wonderful comments on the meaning and traditions of Thanksgiving. Having recently committed myself to buying the majority of my food locally from producers in my community I have found new joy and challenges in my cooking, as I am limited and challenged to find seasonal recipes and supplies. Luckily, I came from a long line of very practical and frugal women so the idea of “putting away” food is pretty well established in my family.

    The heritage and history of food preservation is very meaningful and gives us a new appreciation for our ancestors. It is a great pleasure to me to continue and expand the knowledge that was given to me in hopes that some day my children and grandchildren will be able to use that heritage for their own table. Plus, it’s just darn tasty!

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Okay, late to the party but what the heck:

    Opted for a whole pheasant and duck breasts this year.

    Separated the skin from the bird and piped in butter with chopped sage. Rubbed the skin with hefty amounts of salt. Roasted. Instead of m/p used red potatoes, pearl onions and h. verts coated in duck fat, and finely chopped rosemary & thyme, fleur de sel, pepper.

    Yes, I trussed the pheasant.

    Also made four duck breasts.

    Served with smoked salmon stuffing made with my own camelized onion/fennel stock.

    Sauced with a Dijon cream sauce (used more of the stock in this).

    Even washed the dinner rolls with half butter/half duck fat before popping them in the oven.

    Dessert was a Tarte Tatin made with yams and sweet potatoes (and pecans) instead of the traditional Granny Smith apples. Served with vanilla bean ice cream.

    Fresh cranberry/strawberry sauce on the side.

    A nice dry champagne went with all of it.

  • sailorgrrl's dog Peetie

    “Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! Rowlf! ”

    Loosely translated:
    “Roasted mirepoix kicks serious ASS!!! My ‘mom’ fished them out of her roasting pan while I watched intently…I could see she was deliberating whether to toss or use them…especially since she just finished reading ‘Soul of a Chef’ and had even peeled the carrots and celery this time….then suddenly she says, ‘Hey Peetie! Check this out!” and dumps them in my dog bowl!!! Christmas in November!! WHOO HOO!!”

  • Ted Samsel

    FYI: The non-traditional Thanksgiving Day Buffet at The Gardens in the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art in DC was exceptionally good.

    Mushroom quiche, heirloom bean vinaigrette, roasted winter squash w sage, a mesclun/beet sallet, smoked salmon witha caper/dill sauce, spoonbread, peekytoe crab bruschetta(never heard of peekytoe), and a wonderful cheese course, with a walnut & brandied dried pear/walnut compote for dessert.

    And there were no crowds to speak of.

    I also ran into you new tome at Kramer Books in Dupont Circle.. there were only two left. Or so it seemed.

    T

  • Claudia

    Ahhh . . . pork bellies headed to Macy’s in a few days . . . and just as I was marinating my kecap manis/nouc nam braised and palm sugar glazed pork belly . . . this is going to be a great end to the week (!)

  • Bob delGrosso

    Ruhlman

    I’ll go a step further than you and endorse trussing wholeheartedly. The only thing “bad” about it is that it is an extra step that might be anathema to cooks who like shortcuts that yield inferior results. (No offense intended Ed, I’m not dissing you. The cooks I have in mind are hypothetical.)

    Trussing is a brilliant technique that makes a huge difference in the final quality of any roasted poultry. All other things being equal, a properly trussed bird will be 7-10% heavier than an untrussed bird at the end of the cooking and resting cycle.

    I’ve tested this many times in controlled experiments (at CIA) , and I would be appalled if anyone could prove me wrong on this.

    The reason why the trussed bird comes out heavier is pretty straightforward.
    Water, like heat, always follows a concentration gradient from where is it most abundant to where it is least abundant.

    If you close up the body cavity by trussing you reduce the flow of hot dry air from the oven thereby making the interior of the cavity more “humid.”

    This makes the gradient less steep or extreme and so there is less water lost from the meat via the body cavity.

    Trussing is dope.

  • ruhlman

    i like the string marks–shows it’s been trussed. if it doesn’t go across the joint, ed, where does it go? and if it doesn’t matter where the string goes, what’s the point of trussing.

    I do agree that a chicken is perfectly fine if you don’t truss it. I think it’s better trussed. The breast is juicier. Depending on the chicken, I often cook the legs longer, often in the pan i’m making a jus in. I also roast the turkey legs longer–you almost have to if you want a moist breast and tender leg meat.

  • Ed

    Thanks for the response, I don’t want the string to go anywhere per se…but the line the string makes on the leg sort of mars the final presentation. I am sure you have seen the method I am an advocate of, I had to ask…mainly because I have been clobbered for doing it the way you showed here.

    There are pros and cons to any method really. The other problem with tying the legs in this manner is that it tends to keep the inner leg meat rarer longer. One could argue that it also protects the thinner part of the breast, thus keeping it moister. Perhaps a test is in order…

    I’m sure you have also heard the argument that trussing actually yeilds a lesser quality bird as far as eating goes. The best result (obviously) being moist white meat with legs that are cooked enough to break down the conective tissue. I have not gone down this road (tradition or whatever) but I could see how this might work. Anyone out there try this?

  • Bob delGrosso

    IdahoRocks

    Ruhlman and Polcyn’s book (Charcuterie) got me so worked up that I’m en route to devoting myself to the craft full time. I’ve been working with a raw milk dairy farmer who raises (and has raised for him) hogs, lambs, beef cattle et al.

    Over a period of about a month we have made hundreds of pounds of sausage, fermented and fermented “salami,” pork and lamb pancetta, air-dried lamb legs, and more.

    The learning curve is not too steep because I did quite a bit of charcuterie back in the 80′s but still, the aspect of discovery is pretty cool. And then there’s the challenge of getting my middle-aged body up to the task of being on it’s feet all day and breaking down entire carcasses…

  • IdahoRocks

    Thanks, Bob. I figured that may be the reason. Your blog has inspired me to work my way (randomly)through Charcuterie. It’s those delicious results you’ve had with pancetta, lamb sausage, confit de pork belly, and that lard for breakfast! Yum! Anything charcuterie is my “junk food” downfall. I’m an absolute pig whenever I get over to Seattle to visit places like Salumi or Le Pichet…..

  • misterybus

    After my mother died, my daughter and I started a new Thanksgiving tradition – hamburgers on the grill outdoors (We lived in So.Cal. at the time). As we moved about the country looking for a new place to call home, we moved to Vir. where a movement was afoot to convince people that the first thanksgiving was in Virginia not Mass. Historical evidence says two years earlier (there was a big todo about it this year in some of the newspapers on “non-news” days)
    Forget that dried out turkey breast! Join the pork of the first thanksgiving revolt. Your love of pork belly will lend itself to this great tradition. Think of all the great leftover meals thah can be made with cooked pork. Forget tetrazzini(sic) and bring on the stir-fries, pot stickers, and baos!
    Happy belated holiday to you and yours.

  • ruhlman

    as ever, thanks for all these great comments.

    ed–i’ve seen three interesting and different ways of trussing a bird. when i truss a bird, i want the string across the joint of the leg/thigh, to keep the bundle as compact as possible. where did you want the string to go?

    and i dont’ know if there are online demos–but books like the cia pro chef have a process shot.

    bob: i don’t wear a ring–it gives me a rash. I’m allergic to gold! A curse!

  • Bob delGrosso

    IdahoRocks
    I think that the reason you got less liquid was that brined and dry-rubbed meat loses less water during cooking. If that sounds like a tautology it isn’t. The sugar and or salt in the brine/rub
    raise slows down water loss. (long story there)

    Ruhlman
    Do you always take off your wedding ring when you make pork? :-)

  • Ed

    I gotta ask, because you are such a purist about such things…what is up with your trussing technique? Is that how TK does it? I would have been clobbered by a number of chefs I worked for if I trussed a bird like that…accross the thigh. Just wondering if there is a reason.

  • IdahoRocks

    I roasted a 14 lb. Amish raised turkey (from Montana), after it had brined via the recipe in Charcuterie. However, I substituted fennel for the tarragon and parsley. I also put the fronds on the bottom of the roasting pan. I found that although the bird was tasty and moist, I didn’t get all the liquid that I usually get on the bottom of the roasting pan. Is this from the brining or from the day of post-brine “drying” in the fridge?

    By the way, I made my own dressing with fennel, onion, celery, my own bread, and Italian sausage. What a hit and what an aroma!

  • A Avallone

    Sorry we missed you in Cleveland, have been very busy with our new little restaurant in Sandusky! Went to visit our family for Thanksgiving day, and alas no leftovers when we got home! I was in the kitchen at home Friday cooking up a storm, and we had a feast last night! Today… stock! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, hope you get a nice break. Safe travels!

  • DrBehavior

    Reading ‘Food Blogs’ has become almost as much of an obsession as developing recipes and cooking themselves. The fact that I’ve recently retired and taken down my professional shingle doesn’t hurt either vis-a-vis time to learn and play. I must admit, however, that one aspect of reading most food blogs, yours excepted, is that the grammar and spelling coupled with the tendency toward pontification and dicta drives me crazy at times. Hence, for whatever it’s worth, I for one want to thank you not only for your superb content and photography but also for your exquisite use of the English language.

  • S. Woody

    As usual, Mr. Ruhlman, your book recomendations get me itching to add to my collection. I just wish my budget was more accomodating. Even at 40% off at Jessica’s Biscuit (www.ecookbooks.com), which beats the Amazon price, it’s a little beyond what I can afford right now.

    But that’s what wish lists are for!

  • lux

    I spent Wednesday and Thursday cooking my butt off, then eating as much of it as I could hold. Today was recovery day.

    I hope everyone had as good a time as we did!

  • Lisa

    A belated Happy Thanksgiving. I so enjoy a day where I spend all my time at the stove and at table with loved ones, and declare a holiday from the keyboard.

    Thoughts on preserving and celebrating food, not wasting or gorging on it, are apropos, even more so today, “Black Friday.” How has it come to pass that we initiate Christmas–a sacred season–with a competitive orgy of materialism? Our relationship to food, in America, has become similarly distorted.

    Nice to be part of a community seeking a more meaningful relationship to food and cooking!

  • Sandy

    Belated Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Michael, and to everyone here at the blogs as well. I appreciate the words about what the holiday means to cooks and chefs.

    My broth? A thing of beauty, as was my meal. Now they’ll expect this every year! :)

    Thanks, Mr Ruhlman! :)

  • Claire

    Your turkey looks good, and and I bet it tasted pretty good too. But my husband smoked our turkey this year -hands down the best I’ve eaten in my life. We will never, ever, roast our turkey again. It’s labor intensive, but man, is it worth it.

    Thanks for your stock making tips. I can’t wait to try it. While I didn’t muster the courage to completely abandon the use of commercial stock this year, I cut what I normally use in half and used water for the rest. I’m happy to report everything still tasted great!

    Happy stock making to all.

  • veron

    I agree, Judy Rodgers is one of the best culinary writers out there. I wish she’ll write another book. Her roast chicken recipe with warm bread salad alone is totally worth the price of the book!

  • Skawt

    Michael:

    I hope you and Donna and the kids had a great Thanksgiving this year.

    (No snarky comments this time.)

  • piper

    Little late, but happy thanksgiving. Will be spending tomorrow making stock and hoping I don’t need to go to the store for anything!

    I totally understand about roasting a turkey for the smell, every nook and niche of our house still smells wonderfully like turkey. For me, the smells of cooking are half the fun.

  • ktdid747

    nice-lookin’ turkey!… whewww! I’m tired–but happy!..put on a huge feast for my family today (two big turkeys and a duck!–lots to work with for my stock!) and it was such a GREAT day but I’m ready to put my feet up now (finally, at 11: 53 pm! LOL!)… hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! :)

  • stephanie

    Happy thanksgiving! I brought my Charcuterie book with me on my trip to the “in-laws” and it’s keeping me good company and making me excited about creating meaty masterpieces. Bacon day is Saturday. I’m excited to see (taste!) how it turns out…

  • pdhenry

    That’s an interesting looking trussing job. Is there a link to the technique somewhere?

  • carri

    Did I spot a pop-up thermometer on that bird?…just kidding! We are lucky to live in a culture with such abundance that we have the luxury to forget how and where our food comes from. I’m thankful you have given us a sounding board as lively as this to bring it back to our collective consciousness. Happy Thanksgiving to you and to everyone out there who makes this blog so interesting! Roast on people!

  • Jeff

    One more reason to love Thanksgiving…a damn good excuse to be in the kitchen and eat all day long…Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  • Miguel

    Michael, nice to meet you in Cincinnati, our turkey is in the oven and should be done soon. Hope you have a great holiday with your family.

  • Sakurako

    Happy Thanksgiving. My turkey’s been brined with juniper berries and is nestled in its little mirapoix bed. I’m hoping for the best.

    Funny you mentioned Charcuterie. It was one of the ones I wanted to buy at your Dayton stop, but they didn’t put it out with the others. Who decides what goes on the rounds?

    Have a happy and restful day. You and your family deserve it.

  • Kal

    A few years ago, I began roasting a turkey on/near Thanksgiving no matter what my celebratory plans were, for the same reasons you list here!

    Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for all the culinary knowledge given on this blog — my turkey day is better this year for it.

  • Ms.Anthrope

    You are all making me hungry!
    Being on the left coast, our turkey just hit the oven. By the time you all are in to Sandwiches, we should be sitting down to dinner. But on the other hand, the weather is so glorious, we are going to eat out on the patio.
    I am off to collect some loaner tables for our “Couldn’t Get a Better Offer” Thanksgiving Feast.
    Enjoy the day everyone, however you celebrate it!

  • Tags

    Happy Thanksgiving

    And thanks for reminding me to put my wedding ring back on after the brining was done.

  • ks

    Good thanksgiving it was.

    So, for making stock, is it good to include all the juices that cooked out of the bird? I saved them along with the bones because I didn’t know, so what is the verdict? Thanks.

  • Jason b.

    ks,
    YES, put it in the stock. Though for me, the pan gets deglazed w/ apple cider and goes into my “giblet gravy.”

  • JoP in Omaha

    My roasted turkey turned out only so-so (first, not done, despite what the instant read thermometer had to say; then overcooked), but I, too, roasted it on a bed of mirepoix, and I got a great gravy as a result.

    Here, we talk about the fine points of great ingredients and how to cook them well. We debate what ingredients are aromatic, ponder whether the water source (tap or otherwise) makes a difference, and weigh the merits of homemade stock vs. water vs. commercial stock. All this while many others in the world are greatful for anything to eat at all. I give thanks for the luxuries of being able to care about fine food and fine cooking and being able to experiment and learn, remembering that results I consider less than successful would be gratefully accepted as high cuisine by others less fortunate both in our own society and elsewhere.

    Happy Thanksgiving Day to all!