- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

When we think of our friends in Louisiana these days, we don’t tend to focus on their rich culinary history. We think of what they’ve been through, both during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

So this Thanksgiving, let’s take a few moments to honor them and recognize their challenges and their wonderful contributions to American culture — great culinary creations among them.

After all, who else but a food-obsessed Louisianan would have had the idea to stuff sausage into a chicken, the chicken into a duck and the duck into a turkey to make the holiday dish called turducken?

And who else but someone from Cajun country would have conceived of deep frying a turkey? Even the Cajun injector, a sort of oversized hypodermic needle used for injecting liquid flavorings deep into turkey breasts and inherently dry meats, was invented in Louisiana.

Which brings us to what I call Big Easy turkey, a bird shot up with a Cajun injector and seasoned with Cajun seasonings prior to being smoke roasted on the grill.

I know a true Louisianan would probably deep-fry the bird. But smoke roasting offers at least four advantages over deep fried.

• It’s a lot less dangerous. (Every year, newspapers report that a few careless souls have set fire to something — usually their garages — while frying turkeys.)

• It’s a lot healthier because there’s no added fat.

• The addition of wood smoke contributes a bold new dimension to the flavor.

• Smoke roasting is a whole lot more forgiving, in terms of precise cooking times, than deep frying is.

Smoke roasting combines the virtues of two popular American live-fire methods: smoking and indirect grilling. True smoking is done low and slow, at a low temperature for a long time. This method is unbeatable when it comes to turning out fork-tender beef brisket and pork shoulder you can pull apart with your fingers.

I’m not a big fan of smoking turkey because the temperature (typically 225 to 250 degrees) is too low to crisp the skin. I often find that smoked turkey skin comes out dry and leathery.

Indirect grilling is a process in which you cook the food on a covered grill next to, not directly over, the fire.

• On a charcoal grill you rake the coals into two mounds at opposite sides of the grill and do the cooking in the center over a drip pan.

• On a two-burner gas grill you set one burner on high and cook over the other unlit burner.

• On a three-burner gas grill you light the front and rear burners (or outside burners) and do the cooking in the center.

• On a four- or six-burner gas grill, you light the outside burners and do the cooking in the center. The advantage to indirect grilling is that it typically takes place at 325 to 350 degrees, which is hot enough to crisp the turkey skin.

Smoke roasting combines the virtues of both methods. You work at a higher temperature, but you toss some hardwood chips on the mounds of coals or in the smoker box of your gas grill to generate the wood smoke flavor characteristic of true barbecue. (The chips are soaked in water first so they smolder and smoke slowly, not ignite all at once.)

If your grill doesn’t have a smoker box, you can wrap soaked chips in foil to make a flat package, poke some holes in the top to release the smoke and place the resulting smoker pouch under the grate over one of the burners.

I must tell you, though, that this method produces noticeably less smoke flavor than tossing wood chips on the embers of a charcoal grill. If you’re even halfway serious about this smoking business, I recommend investing in an inexpensive charcoal grill, such as a 221/2-inch kettle for smoking turkey.

The other piece of equipment you may want to have is the Cajun injector. It looks like an oversized hypodermic needle, and it is used for injecting butter and broth deep inside the turkey. The result is extra flavor and moistness and no more dried out breast meat. Cajun injectors are available at most cookware shops and grill shops. One good mail order source is www.purecajun.com.

Here’s a recipe for Big Easy turkey, adapted from my book “BBQ USA” (Workman).

Cajun seasoning rub makes it spicy, the (optional) injector sauce helps make it moist, and smoke roasting gives you a smoke-scented bird with moist meat and a crisp skin. It’s the perfect bird for Thanksgiving.

I offer this recipe in honor of the folks who are rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

Big Easy turkey

1 10-pound turkey

3 to 4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (recipe follows)

6 to 8 tablespoons salted butter, divided

1/4 cup turkey or chicken broth (preferably homemade)

2 tablespoons brandy

Salt and finely ground white pepper

Pre-baked apples stuffed with raisins and nuts, optional

Fresh herbs, optional

Have ready 3 cups hickory or oak chips soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained.

Remove giblets and any lumps of fat from turkey (check both cavities). Wash turkey inside and out and blot dry. Season inside of both cavities with 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning.

To make the optional injector sauce, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in turkey or chicken broth, brandy and salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture cool to room temperature. If desired, use a Cajun injector kitchen syringe to inject injector sauce (broth and brandy mixture) deep into turkey breast, thighs and drumsticks.

Truss turkey to give it an attractive shape. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in another small saucepan. Brush outside of the bird all over with the melted butter and generously sprinkle skin with Cajun seasoning.

Set up grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium (325 to 350 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, toss about half the wood chips on the coals. If using a gas grill, place all chips in smoker box or in a foil smoker pouch. Run grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce heat to medium.

Place turkey on grate over a drip pan (if using) away from the heat. Indirect grill bird until cooked, 21/4 to 23/4 hours. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a clean saucepan.

After 1 hour, start basting bird with melted butter. (Use a clean basting brush.) Baste every 30 minutes. If working on a charcoal grill, you’ll need to replenish the coals and add remaining wood chips after 1 hour. If bird starts to brown too much, tent it with aluminum foil.

To test for doneness, insert an instant-read meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone. When cooked, the internal temperature of the bird should be about 170 degrees. Let turkey rest for 10 minutes before carving.

While it is resting, place baked apples on grill and allow them to absorb some of the grill smoke. (Watch carefully so that apples don’t burn.)

Garnish turkey with fresh herbs, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

CAJUN SEASONING:

1/4 cup sea salt

3 tablespoons sweet paprika

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 tablespoons dried ground thyme

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon dried ground sage leaves

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine sea salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, black and white peppers, sage and cayenne pepper in a bowl and whisk to mix or place in a jar and shake to mix.

Makes about 1 cup, which is more than you’ll need for this dish, but leftovers will keep for several months sealed in a jar away from heat and light.

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