Well, it is THAT time of year, students and friends ... a variety of fowl will show up in our kitchens over the next few months and we'll be asked to do something with them.
A few months ago my partner (whom some students have just called "Mrs Chef") was reading through the autumn edition of Canadian House and Home. This magazine is frequently full of wonderful ideas for cooking, serving and generally creating a good home without going bust dong so. Each edition features a variety of excellent recipes. This recipe for roast turkey (or chicken, or duck) featured a cheesecloth veil with a hard cider infusion. Mrs Chef was interested! So, I tried it a few times at home, and decided to share it with my students just before Christmas holidays. It is simple, cost-conscious and a lovely no-fail recipe.
Here is the technique and rough go-through:
I have to be honest with students and tell them that I am NOT in favour of stuffing a bird (any sort) with anything and roasting it. My sense is that it is safer to make a separate dish (call it 'stuffing' if you want to) and co-roast it using some pan drippings or previously-made chicken stock. All I do with most birds is rinse the inside well with cold, cold water, then pour in quite a bit of salt and push it around with my fingers into all the cavity crevices. The bird is then put onto a rack in the roasting pan and about 4 - 8 slices of fresh lemon are put into the bird's cavity, and sometimes a few onion slices, too, but nothing else. These are not designed to be eaten. The lemon and onion are quite loose; the cavity should not be packed tightly at all. Then the veil goes on (or however I choose to do my bird) and into the oven it goes!
At the end of the roasting time, test the bird by trying to wriggle the drumsticks up and down a bit.
Remove the veil carefully, not pulling hard at all. It will come off as one piece of cheesecloth and leave you with a tender, succulent bird. Let it rest on the counter for 15 minutes or so while you make gravy.
First, make a bit of a rue by melting some butter and whisking some flour to make a sloppy sort of ball you can push around in the pot. Add some of the roasting juices to this rue and thin it out, a bit at a time, whisking until the right consistency is achieved. Your hand-whisk is your friend for making a good gravy! Correct the taste with S/P. A dear friend sometimes adds a tiny bit of sherry. Serve this and mmm ... mmm ... good!
To give, someone once said, is more blessed than to receive. Our students had the opportunity to be wonderful givers just before their Christmas holidays ... the photo above shows a couple of large birds and two (of three) students who came out to work with Chef to make and feed Christmas dinner to the clients of H.O.T.T. (Housing Opening Today, Toronto).
On Saturday morning of 06 December Chef Susan Plummer met in the Monarch Park Kitchens with Chef Aller-Stead at 09h00 and together they got 4 huge turkeys (see photo again) into ovens, along with 5 smaller halal chickens, all with a delicious cider glaze set over them in a cheesecloth veil. Then the roasted vegetables were organized, then the potatoes. The cranberry sauce was made and when Chef Plummer left at just before noon everything was done. The delicious gravy was made with pan-drippings, per; tradition. Students had made the required creme anglaise the day before, and the dessert cookies (to be dipped into the creme anglaise). The salads were made on site at the last minute and all the equipment was lined up on counters to be stacked into Chef's creaking Subaru.
Tayson came in at 15h00 and helped with all the loading and the removal of the birds from the ovens and lifting of the veils. By 16h00 everything was loaded and Tayson scooted over to the event site on his own, to meet with Crystal and Steven there.
Chef's fabulous-smelling car rolled into the parking lot and backed into the loading dock, and in about 20 minutes everything was taken up into the kitchens for the HOTT family and community dinner!
All the HOTT staff and volunteers decorated the room with festive garlands and lights, and the guests started to drift in W-A-Y before the appointed time. This always happens, though, so we are ready for them. The music was on and the punch was made.
Almost 70 people finally came to table. Erin, a former student in the kitchen with Chef, kindy volunteered her time. It was just lovely to see Erin so well launched into her own career helping young people. We got the serving tables set up, plugged in our hotplates ... and ... blew all the fuses.
After a few bits of electrical juggling, the serving line-up started and everyone came to the groaning banquet tables. The chatterboxes talked a blue streak, the very quiet people came and nodded to our inquiries about more turkey, and did they wish gravy? For quite a few, home-made cranberry sauce (made with cranberries, oranges and a little sherry) was something they'd never had, ever, and a few were reluctant to try. Chef said "Just try it! If you don't like it, bring it back and you'll get a refund." A few young kids tried it and then dragged their parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles and cousins over to have some. We ran out of 12 litres of home-made cranberry sauce in about 30 minutes! Kids tore around, and music filled the air. It was a huge, riotous family doing what families do ... making memories together and lengthening the story of their days. It was tender, unruly, loud and quietly reflective.
It was, truly, the merriest of Christmasses.
Epilogue (written in January 2015): One of the senior HOTT staff came into the kitchen today with personal, hand-written thank-you cards for the students who had so generously given their time to HOTT (Tayson, Crystal and Steven), and Chef Plummer (who was honouring us again with a visit). There was even a card for Chef! In addition, a $100 donation was made by HOTT to our program.
Thank you, HOTT ! Your kind and generous support for our students and program is VERY appreciated. Happy Christmas and New Year to each of you, Bernadette, Lisa and Erin.