The most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, is about spending time with family and friends and giving thanks for the good life -- even during tough times. The main event is the feast, traditionally a roasted turkey with stuffing and gravy, mashed potatoes, vegetables, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie for dessert. It's the ultimate comfort food.
Of course, the menu is not set in stone and each gathering will have its own variation, with selections for vegetarians having become a welcome addition. However, a golden brown turkey is still the centerpiece of the celebration in most American homes.
Maintaining a treasured tradition doesn't mean that you can't try out a new twist, though. Turkey's mild taste makes it ideal for a wide variety of different flavors. Some people are perfectly happy with a simple salt-and-pepper seasoning, turkey gravy and French bread stuffing. But as Americans continue to embrace a wider variety of tastes and cuisines, it's only natural that our beloved Thanksgiving turkey starts to sport a little spice.
To add a little spice, start with the stuffing. Adding chorizo, red peppers, chili powder and a finely chopped jalapeno to a cornbread stuffing will give your turkey a south-of-the-border spark, advised Mary Clingman, director of Butterball's Turkey Talk Line. Including a mole sauce or salsa as an alternative to gravy can make it even more of a fiesta.
Clingman also recommended adding a few simple ingredients to give your stuffing an Italian flair. "You can make a stuffing using Italian turkey sausage and throwing some mozzarella in the stuffing. And you can add a little garlic, a little onion and throw in some Italian seasoning. Most people like the traditional type of menu, but throwing in a little kick here and there, I think, is a lot of fun," Clingman said.
Applying herbs and spices directly on the bird before cooking will not only add flavor to the meat, but also to the gravy made from the drippings. Since the skin is such an effective barrier, keeping the turkey moist, simply rubbing spices on the outside will keep a lot of flavor from getting into the meat. Clingman said it's worth the time and effort to separate the skin from the turkey, without removing it, and getting your hand in there to rub any herbs and spices directly onto the meat in addition to on the outside skin. Apply any seasoning the day before to allow it to permeate.
"That way it will incorporate much more into the meat than if you just lay it on the outside," she said.
Bruce Mattel, chef and associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, recommended adding Cajun spices to the turkey and serving braised collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread stuffing to warm up your Thanksgiving table with some Southern comfort.
"You can make up a Cajun spice mix, just like they use for blackening," Mattel said. "It's usually a mixture of several different peppers, like ground black pepper, cayenne pepper and white pepper. Add dried thyme, some oregano and salt."
Brining a turkey involves soaking the bird in a mixture of water, sugar, salt and seasonings, and injecting some of the mixture directly into the meat, enhancing flavor and moisture. For every 10 pounds of turkey, inject one pound of the brine into the turkey. That way the turkey brines from the inside out and the outside in. But it can also change the texture a little bit, which some people don't like, Mattel said. Deciding whether or not to brine a turkey depends on personal preference.
"It makes it a tiny bit different -- not rubbery, but getting along those lines where it has a little more elasticity to it," Mattel said.
TURKEY WITH CHORIZO CORNBREAD STUFFING
1 pound fresh chorizo sausage
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 package (16 ounces) cornbread stuffing crumbs
1 can (14.5 ounce) chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (14 pound) Fresh or Frozen Whole Turkey, thawed if frozen
Nonstick cooking spray
Yields 14 servings
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Crumble chorizo into large skillet. Cook on medium heat 5 minutes, or until cooked through, stirring occasionally. Drain; set aside. Wipe skillet with paper towels to remove grease.
Melt butter in same skillet on medium heat. Add onion, celery, red pepper and jalapeno pepper. Cook and stir 7 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir in sage and thyme. Set aside. Combine dry stuffing, chorizo and vegetable mixture in large bowl. Stir in broth. Combine chili powder, garlic salt, oregano and black pepper. Set aside.
Remove neck and giblets from body and neck cavities of turkey. Refrigerate for other use or discard. Drain juices from turkey. Pat turkey dry with paper towels.
Fill neck cavity with part of the stuffing. Turn wings back to hold neck skin against back of turkey. Fill body cavity with stuffing. Place turkey, breast up, on flat roasting rack in shallow roasting pan. Spray turkey with cooking spray. Sprinkle with seasoning mixture. Place small pieces of aluminum foil over skin of neck cavity and over the stuffing at body cavity opening to prevent over browning during baking.
Bake 4 hours, or until meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees when inserted in center of stuffing and 180 degrees when inserted in thickest part of thigh. Cover breast and tops of drumsticks with aluminum foil after 2 1/2 hours to prevent over cooking the breast.
-- Recipe courtesy of Butterball