November 8, 2011

Thanksgiving Stew

I joined the MC crew just after the book was published. While I consider myself to be at least an adequate home cook, I quickly had to learn many of the finer points of not just all 2,438 pages of Modernist Cuisine, but of the movement itself. Poring through the volumes, as well as looking at photos of Modernist restaurants online, I also noticed some recurring themes. One of them was pouring a consommé tableside, à la Ferran Adrìa.

When I was brainstorming recipes to publish on the blog this month, I naturally started thinking about Thanksgiving. One of my favorite things about the traditional American feast is how well all of the elements go together. I wondered, Could you pour a consommé over your dish and create a stew? I started writing down ideas, and later I pitched some of them to MC coauthor Maxime Bilet.

Max saw some issues with some of the particular components I proposed for the stew: meats don’t mix well with carbonated fruit, he said, and croutons didn’t strike him as the best representative of stuffing. But he liked my overall idea as well as the notion of a pour-over consommé, and he and Johnny Zhu, one of his culinary research assistants, developed these into a Thanksgiving masterpiece.

The moment I tasted their creation, I knew what I’d give thanks for this year—the chance to work with true geniuses. I didn’t know what I was eating, but I said, “This tastes like Thanksgiving.” Johnny had made a puree of store-bought stuffing mix. The cranberry liquid mingles with turkey jus. The turkey breast is cooked sous vide to a perfect core temperature. And Nathan’s comparison of Modernist cooking to architecture really clicked in my head when I watched Max arrange the various components on the plate.

In the beginning, Max jokingly calling this dish “Judy’s Stew” (whereas I referred to it as “my crazy idea”). Nathan called it “Modernist Cuisine in a bowl.” But none of those names stuck because, of course, I am not a chef and didn’t actually invent any of it, and because it is more than just Modernist cuisine. So we have instead called it Thanksgiving Stew because it is the quintessence of Thanksgiving dinner, presented in a new light.

—Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer

Recipe Tags

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When extracting juice from cranberries, the frozen variety yield more juice because the freezing process breaks down their cellular walls. We like to use parsely, but this recipe, which is adapted from Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, can be made with any fresh herb. Chicken feet contribute a gelatinous quality, so the jus thickens without the need for a long stove-top reduction. All of the flavors of Thanksgiving come together in this recipe, but you might not recognize some of them until you take your first bite. A deeper bowl results in a more traditional-looking stew. Whether you are going for a Modernist or tradition design, widely distribute each component so guests are able to get lots of different flavors and textures in each bite. A shallower dish allows you to place each bite exactly where you want it.

Additional Tips

For the Turkey Leg Confit
  • Most curing is done in the refrigerator. Because of the long cook time in this recipe, curing can be done while the turkey leg cooks in the water bath. This is known as a "hot cure."
  • Evenly spread the salt and sugar over the turkey leg when curing.
  • Because the turkey leg is first cured and then cooked sous vide for eight hours, rather than cooked to a core temperature, you do not need to hold it for extra time to pasteurize it.
  • This component will keep for up to seven days. Make extra for leftovers!
For the Cranberry Consommé
  • Frozen cranberries work best because freezing helps break down the cellular walls in the berries, which leads to better juicing.
  • Adding sugar to the cranberries also helps yield more juice.
  • Ripe cranberries float. In fact, farmers flood their fields and skim the berries off the top to harvest them. While this is great for cranberry farmers, it makes cooking them sous vide a little trickier. Use a tray or trivet to weigh them down. They will cook more evenly when completely submerged.
  • If you prefer something more akin to a sauce than a broth, then after adding the jus, add a little bit of Wondra flour, and simmer it. Alternatively, add about half a stick of butter, and blend with an immersion blender.
For the Stuffing Puree
  • We like the classic taste of Stove Top stuffing best in this recipe.
  • You could also use leftover stuffing in place of a store-bought mix. If you do use leftover stuffing, however, you might want to add extra salt to offset the milk.
  • If possible, use a Vitaprep or Vitamix. You will need a lot of power to blend your stuffing.
  • Blend until you achieve a smooth texture, similar to whipped mashed potatoes.
For the Microwave-Fried Parsley
  • We use parsley, but this recipe can be made with any fresh herb.
  • Microwaves vary in wattage. To find out your microwave's wattage, look on the back.
  • Make sure your plastic wrap is taut across the plate. It should create a perfectly flat surface.
  • Use a high-quality plastic wrap so that it won't melt in the microwave. Depending on your wrap, you may have to use a lower setting on your microwave than indicated in the recipe, and check your leaves and wrap every 30 seconds.
  • Don't bunch up the plastic wrap, as this can cause a steam bubble to form.
For the Pressure-Cooked Root Vegetables
  • For a vegetarian version of this component, use oil instead of duck fat.
  • Any root vegetable will work in this recipe, from the traditional Thanksgiving yam to fresh sunchokes.
  • The veggies should be small enough that they can be eaten in one bite but large enough that they won't fall apart when you handle them. Because they will be so soft, they will be too delicate to work with if they are too small.
  • Make sure that you start your timer after your cooker has reached 1 bar / 15 psi.
For the Turkey Jus
  • We like using wings for our stocks because they have a good meat-to-bone-to-fat ratio, resulting in great taste and mouthfeel.
  • The chicken feet will dissolve well because they work as gelatin, thickening the jus without needing a lot of reduction.
  • Chicken feet can be ordered from butchers or found at Asian grocery stores.
  • If you can't find chicken feet, use extra turkey wings. You may have to further reduce the jus to attain a proper consistency, however.
For the Turkey Breast
  • When serving this to guests, they may be apprehensive about the texture and (very slightly) pink coloration because most people aren't used to it. However, as we show on page 1·193 of Modernist CuisineSalmonella bacteria do die off at 54 ?C / 129 ?F, as long as you maintain this temperature for a sufficient pasteurization period.
  • Because we like the very low medium-rare core temperature of 54 ?C / 129 ?F, we recommend that you cook your turkey the day you will eat it. The delicate flavors will change if you cook it further ahead of time.
  • For a firmer texture, you could cook the turkey breast to medium (56 ?C / 133 ?F), medium well (58 ?C / 136 ?F), or well (61 ?C / 142 ?F). The pasteurization times will change to 35 minutes, 30 minutes, or 13 minutes, respectively. Set your water bath to two degrees above your desired core temperature.
  • The oil helps to seal the turkey. Place the turkey (with thermometer probe) in your bag, and then add oil. Keeping the top of the bag wide open, slowly lower it into the water bath. You will notice the layer of oil draws the sides of the bag closely around the turkey breast.
  • Seal the bag and clip it to the side of the bath so that it doesn't let any water in where the cord of the thermometer probe comes through the top.
  • Slice the turkey breast after you reheat it (if necessary). The turkey will keep its moisture better, though it will take slightly longer to reheat.
For the Brussels Sprout Leaves
  • Shocking the leaves helps to retain their brightness and shape.
  • For a vegetarian version, toss the leaves in butter instead of duck fat when you assemble the dish.
For the Assembly
  • Serving this stew on white dishes brings out the vivid color of the consommé.
  • We like to pour the consommé at the table because it is dramatic. If you are pressed for space, however, it is fine to present the dish with the consommé already in place.
  • Placement of each ingredient is important in this dish. For a more traditional feel, use a soup bowl. For a more avant-garde look, use a wide dish and carefully spread each component out. Either way, make sure to scatter each component so that guests can scoop many elements onto their spoons at once.

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