- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

As an American bred but not born, I take an oblique approach to Thanksgiving. I’m usually in Europe for the holiday, and locals look at me pretty oddly if I suggest celebrating the foundation of such

a rambunctious Colony. But never will I pass up the chance for a good meal, so I take a twist on the traditional feast with birds such as duck, goose and guinea hen.

One of my all-time favorites is sweet-and-sour Renaissance duck, a 500-year-old recipe from Italy featuring duck (the original was wild) simmered with dried fruits, including prunes and cherries, and lots of red wine. Soft polenta is the ideal accompaniment.

I was born in Yorkshire, England, goose country, and I still have a special fondness for its dark meat and delectably crisp skin. I serve the whole goose triumphantly on a great platter, surrounded by a garnish of rutabaga and brussels sprouts. (If you don’t like them, simply leave them out.) The whole apples used for stuffing come out cooked just right, a sweet surprise.

As for turkey, I have always liked to dress it up, and this Moroccan recipe, with its glossy honey-and-almond glaze, is spectacular. The meat is rubbed all over with a generous mix of spices: cinnamon, coriander, cumin and cloves picked up with dry ginger — wonderfully aromatic for both the turkey meat and the gravy. I have suggested using a crown roast of only breast meat, but the recipe does equally well for a whole turkey. (It will need longer cooking, of course.)

Once you have the main dish established, other seasonal accompaniments are easy to devise. Fruity sides such as baked pears or quince are good with dark-fleshed birds. More generally, I associate Thanksgiving with the fragrance of butternut squash and pumpkin, the musky spice of chestnuts, the bitter tinge of turnip. Think, too, of fruity condiments such as red currant jelly, cranberry sauce, chutneys of summer peaches or apple. Enjoy the feast with a glass of red wine, of course. Here’s the chance to display your treasured bottle, the more robust, the better.

The following recipes are adapted from my new book, “Good Food, No Fuss” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang).

Roast Cornish hen with whiskey and raspberry gravy

“Stovies,” simply “stoved” potatoes, thinly sliced and fried in butter, would be the Scottish accompaniment.

6 to 8 sprigs thyme (use fewer if they are large)

4 to 5 tablespoons Scotch whiskey

4 small or 2 large Cornish hens

1 pint raspberries

2 tablespoons butter, softened

Salt, pepper

8 thin slices bacon

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup strong veal or chicken stock

1 tablespoon red currant jelly

Stovies (recipe follows)

Set aside 4 sprigs thyme for decoration and pound the rest with a rolling pin to bruise and release flavors. Pour whiskey over thyme on a plate, reserving 1 tablespoon for gravy, and leave to soak. Crush about a third of the raspberries and put them inside the hens.

Spread birds with softened butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and lay whiskey-soaked thyme on top. Wrap birds in bacon, securing thyme inside the bacon slices.

Set in a roasting pan and pour over any whiskey left from thyme. Roast birds in 425-degree oven, turning from time to time so they brown evenly, about 45 minutes for small birds, up to 1 hour, 15 minutes for larger ones. Baste occasionally, and if juices in pan start to burn, add a little water. When done, the hens should be well-browned, and when lifted with a fork, no pink juices should run from cavity. Transfer birds to a carving board and cover with foil to keep warm.

To make gravy, discard all but 1 tablespoonful fat from pan, stir flour into juices and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes until browned.

Add stock and bring gravy to a boil, stirring to mix well. Simmer 1 to 2 minutes or until concentrated, then strain into a small pan. Whisk in red currant jelly and heat until melted. Stir in remaining raspberries and remaining 1 tablespoon whiskey and cook 1 to 2 minutes until just soft. Taste gravy and adjust seasoning.

Discard string from birds and cut them in half. Arrange them on a serving dish or individual plates. Spoon raspberries over along with a little gravy, serving the rest separately, and decorate with reserved thyme sprigs. Serve “stovies” separately, tipping them roughly into a serving dish so browned bits show. Serves 4.

STOVIES:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 thinly sliced onions

4 medium potatoes (about 1 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced

Salt, pepper

1 cups chicken stock, more if needed

Heat vegetable oil and butter in a shallow saucepan. Add onions and fry, stirring often, until lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in sliced potatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper and spread potatoes flat in the pan.

Add chicken stock, cover tightly and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are meltingly tender.

If they get dry during cooking, add more stock. At end of cooking, if the potatoes have not browned, turn up the heat and brown them on the bottom.

Sweet-sour Renaissance duck

Instead of salt, the duck is flavored with ham in much the same way Italian cooks today season with grated Parmesan cheese.

Everything is simmered together in one big pot until the duck meat almost falls from the bones. Skim the sauce often during cooking because the ducks will release lots of fat. I use raisins here, but the original recipe calls for dried cherries.

4 medium onions, quartered

1 cup pitted prunes

cup dried cherries or raisins

8 ounces cooked lean ham, finely chopped

1 bottle robust red wine

cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon chopped sage

teaspoon ground black pepper

teaspoon ground cinnamon

teaspoon ground cloves

teaspoon ground nutmeg

teaspoon ground ginger

2 small ducks, trussed with string

Soft polenta (recipe follows)

Combine onions, prunes, cherries or raisins, ham, wine, vinegar, brown sugar, sage, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger in a large casserole with a lid or Dutch oven, stirring to mix them well. Immerse ducks in the pot, breast down, pushing them down among other ingredients. Cover and bring to a boil on top of the stove.

Transfer to 350-degree oven to simmer, stirring occasionally, until ducks are very tender when pierced with a two-pronged fork, 1 hour, 15 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes. For the last half-hour of cooking, remove lid and set birds on their backs so skin browns and sauce thickens.

Transfer birds to a board and cover with foil to keep warm. Spoon onions, fruit and ham onto a platter and keep warm also. If sauce is thin, boil to reduce it until it is rich and quite thick. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve in a bowl.

To cut up ducks, first discard strings. Cut along breastbone with poultry shears. Turn over bird and cut along each side of backbone, discarding it. The ducks can be carved at the table or cut up in the kitchen and laid on top of the fruit and vegetables. Makes 4 servings.

SOFT POLENTA:

Salt

1 cup yellow or white polenta

2 to 3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces

About cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Bring a quart of water to a boil and add a teaspoon of salt. Slowly pour yellow or white polenta into the rapidly boiling water, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon so it does not form lumps.

Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring often, 30 to 40 minutes, until the polenta is soft, creamy and just falls easily from the spoon. Finished consistency of polenta, whether soft and almost runny or stiff enough to hold a shape, depends on your taste, but it should never be sticky. Toward the end of cooking, you will need to stir constantly to prevent sticking. Take the polenta from the heat and beat in 2 to 3 tablespoons butter and, if you like, up to cup grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4 to 6.

Roast goose with apples and vegetables

Goose with whole apples cooked inside the bird is a banquet in itself, with vegetables flavored with goose fat. No more accompaniments are needed except, perhaps, some oven-roasted potatoes.

Look for a goose that is white and plump with plenty of breast meat. Generous fat is a good sign, too — don’t worry because it will melt and be spooned off during cooking. Dark-skinned birds with a prominent breastbone are scrawny and tough, no good to anyone.

I like my goose very well done, almost falling off the bone, with crisp skin, and that’s how I’m cooking it here. If you prefer it pink, simply roast the bird for a shorter time.

1 10-pound goose

Salt, pepper

6 whole tart apples such as Granny Smith (about 2 pounds)

1 cups dark beer, more if needed

1 pounds rutabagas

1 pounds brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons butter

3 to 4 tablespoons goose fat (from roasting pan)

2 cups chicken stock

Pull any loose fat from cavity of the goose and wipe inside with paper towels. Season it inside and out with salt and pepper. Peel and core apples, leaving them whole, and stuff them into the goose. They will be cooked just right when the bird is done.

Truss the bird and set it, back down, on a rack in a roasting pan. (The rack allows fat to drain into the pan.) Pour half the beer over the goose, rubbing it well into the skin; reserve the rest. Roast in a 400-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, or until skin begins to brown. Lower oven heat to 350 degrees.

Prick skin all over with a fork so melted fat escapes, and baste the bird thoroughly.

Put a shallow pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven so that it steams and helps crisp the skin. (Refill pan when necessary.)

Continue roasting about 20 minutes more, until the goose is well-browned. Turn it breast side down and baste well.

Continue roasting for about another hour, basting often and adding more beer if the pan gets dry. (When fat accumulates in the roasting pan, spoon most of it into a bowl.)

Finally, turn the bird breast-upward and continue roasting another half-hour, for a total of 2 to 2 hours and 15 minutes. If skin starts to brown too much, cover it loosely with foil. When done, the bird will be very brown and the legs will feel loose if you wobble the drumsticks. Poke the thigh with a two-pronged fork. It should feel quite tender, and juice running out should be clear, not pink.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Peel rutabagas and cut them in 1-inch chunks. Put them in cold salted water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes until tender but still firm when poked with a knife. Drain them. Trim brussels sprouts, halving them if large, and put them in a large pan of boiling salted water. Boil uncovered until they are just tender when pierced with a knife, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain them, rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly.

When the goose is cooked, spread it with butter and increase the oven heat to 450 degrees. Put the bird back in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes to crisp the skin. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved goose fat in a large frying pan, add the rutabagas and brussels sprouts with salt and pepper and fry them until lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the goose to a platter, discard trussing strings and keep it warm.

To make gravy, pour all remaining fat from the pan, leaving pan juices. Add stock and reserved beer and bring to a boil on top of the stove, stirring to mix well. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes, then strain gravy into a small saucepan.

Bring it back to a boil, taste and adjust seasoning. Spoon vegetables around the goose and pass gravy separately. When serving, don’t forget the apples inside the bird. They will be deliciously tender and flavored with the juices. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Moroccan crown roast of turkey with honey and almond glaze

A crown roast of turkey consists of breast meat on the bone with no tough legs; when roasted, the meat stays juicy and easy to carve. A crown roast cooks much more quickly than a whole bird, but you do need to keep an eye on it, as the honey topping scorches easily, especially toward the end of cooking. If the pan dries, add more stock, and if the turkey browns too much, cover it loosely with foil.

Instant couscous is fine. A salad of sliced oranges adds a seasonal touch of color when overlapped in layers with sliced sweet onions or tomatoes.

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

cup finely chopped blanched almonds

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

teaspoon ground cloves

teaspoon salt

teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 5-pound crown roast of turkey

2 heaping tablespoons honey

1 cup chicken stock, more if needed

Saffron couscous (recipe follows)

Spread sesame seeds and chopped almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan and dry-roast them on top of the stove, shaking the pan occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes or until they are golden. Set them aside to cool. In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, cloves, salt and pepper. Wipe the turkey roast all over with paper towels, then rub the upper surface and the cavity with spice mixture.

Put the turkey, breastbone up, in a small roasting pan and spread the skin with softened butter. Melt the honey with half the stock and pour it over the turkey.

Roast in 350-degree oven for 1 to 1 hour, 15 minutes, basting often to keep the meat moist. When the honey glaze starts to brown, add the remaining stock. The turkey roast is done if it feels very firm when you pinch the breast between finger and thumb. When you poke the turkey meat with a fork, the juice should run clear, not pink, and a meat thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the turkey roast should register 170 degrees.

About 15 minutes before this stage, take the turkey from the oven and strain the pan juices into a small saucepan. Skim off any fat and boil the juices to reduce them, if necessary. There should be about 1 cup of this glaze. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds and almonds.

Return the turkey to the roasting pan, spread the glaze over the top and continue roasting, basting every 3 to 5 minutes, until the skin is dark golden brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully as it colors quickly at this stage. Transfer turkey to a platter and arrange your chosen accompaniments around it. The more colorful they are, the better. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

SAFFRON COUSCOUS:

Ounce for ounce, saffron is half the price of gold — what better time to indulge than Thanksgiving?

1 cup (about 8 ounces) couscous

Large pinch of saffron

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 thinly sliced onions

1 teaspoon ground coriander

teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt, pepper

Put couscous in a large bowl. Pour the amount of boiling water indicated on the package over couscous, cover and leave to soak and soften, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile pour cup boiling water over a large pinch of saffron in a cup and leave to infuse at least 10 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry sliced onions until brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in coriander and nutmeg with salt and pepper to taste and fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir spiced onions into couscous with the saffron and liquid and mix well.

Spread couscous in an oiled baking dish, cover with oiled foil and heat in a low oven, about 300 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes. Makes 6 servings.


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