A Modernist Thanksgiving

MCNovember 22, 2010

Thanksgiving holds a special place in most U.S. kitchens because, of all the holidays, it is certainly the most food-focused. Indeed, while we have much for which to give thanks from the passing year, on a more visceral level, we celebrate the abundance of deliciousness that graces our tables on this particular day.

Now, much has been written about that centerpiece of Thanksgiving deliciousness: the turkey. Whether one is bemoaning the painful experience of eating a dry chewy bird, or analyzing the best way to remedy that failing, cookbooks both old and new are bursting with opinions on how to master a succulent and tender roast turkey. Rather than mastering the classic interpretation, the recipe in Modernist Cuisine flips it on its head by focusing on refining the flavors of a roasted bird and applying Modernist techniques.

In this case, we have chosen the turkey wing to be the primary vessel of Thanksgiving flavor. Specifically, we take the radius and ulna of the turkey wing (the middle portion with two bones running through it), cure it, and then cook it sous vide for the most tender result.

First, after chopping off the joints to expose the two bones inside the wing, we cure the turkey wing segments in a dry rub of salt and sugar for 24 hours.

The turkey wing as it cures in the sous vide bag.

After a day of curing, we rinse the cure off of the wing and vacuum seal it with a bit of clarified butter. Then we cook it sous vide at 58 °C / 136 °F for 12 hours. Immediately after pulling the wing out of the bath, we pull the bones out of the wing while its flesh is still warm. If the wing has been properly cooked, the bones should just slide right out. Once the segments have cooled, they are ready to be dusted in potato starch and panfried.

The cured and dusted wing prior to being panfried.

The finished pan fried wing.

Once we have a deliciously crispy and tender piece of turkey, it’s time for the gravy. There is only one primary Modernist twist to our turkey gravy, but it is crucial to the overall flavor concentration of the sauce.

A traditional gravy requires quite a bit of roux to thicken a flavorful poultry broth to the right consistency. Instead of roux, our gravy has a small percentage of Ultra-Sperse, a pre-hydrated starch from National Starch. The Ultra-Sperse is whisked in to thicken our broth. The advantage here is in flavor concentration: Because Ultra-Sperse is more efficient than fat and flour in thickening liquid, we use significantly less of it, so the concentration of turkey flavor in our gravy is not diluted, as is what happens when roux is used.

Finished with a bit of diced cranberry and picked sage, our small bite of Thanksgiving turkey bursts with flavor.

The sauced and garnished wing.

How would you refine Thanksgiving turkey? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


11 Responses to “A Modernist Thanksgiving”

  1. Debone the whole chicken and seperate the skin, white meat, and dark meat. Use transglutaminase to glue skin to white meat and white meat to dark meat. Cook sous vide in duck fat, orange zest, sage, salt, pepper at 145 degrees. Remove and crisp up in duck fat.
    Make an ecapuslation of cranberry and orange.
    Perfect Mashed Potatoes and Reduced stock (from carcass and wings)

  2. Which version of Ultra-Sperse did you use?

    the website has multiple options:

    ULTRA-SPERSE® 2000
    ULTRA-SPERSE® 3
    ULTRA-SPERSE® 5
    ULTRA-SPERSE® A
    ULTRA-SPERSE® HV
    ULTRA-SPERSE® M
    ULTRA-SPERSE® SR

    Thanks

  3. john phipps

    I have used this technique to make a single bite deconstructed chicken hot wing appetizer. Prepare the wing in this manner, Isi whip blue cheese dressing into asian soup spoon, add crispy wing meat, garnish with slivers of pickled celery and spherified hot sauce.

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