Category Archives: Cooking badly

Christmas Turkey: a Retrospective

It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s almost time for my annual roast turkey feast. Except that this year, I don’t have an oven. Little bit of Korean household trivia for you: the kitchens in this country generally don’t include ovens. It is partly a space issue but is also due to the fact that while Koreans like to fry, steam, braise, boil and pickle, they do not bake or roast. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest shortcomings of Korean society. A messed up education system, rampant gender inequality, and ovenlessness is what is really keeping us back as a nation.

So to help me grieve over the fact that I can’t roast a turkey this year (it actually really upsets me and makes me not want to celebrate Christmas at all), I thought I would write a “turkey retrospective” of sorts and also share the tips and techniques that I have learnt in the art of turkey roasting over the years.

As you will have seen from the few cooking posts I’ve published on this blog, as much as I love food, cooking is not something that comes naturally to me. But there is one notable exception: turkey roasting. I OWN turkey roasting. I would happily and confidently go against Martha, Nigella, Maggie, and Jamie in a turkey roast-off and I would SLAY THEM ALL. My annual roast turkey is famous. By famous I mean renowned and praised amongst family and friends which is as famous as anything I do will ever get, so yes, FAMOUS. My dad even spoke about my turkey in his Father of the Bride speech at my wedding. My turkey is the shiz and ya’ll should listen up to everything I have to say because I am the definitive WORD on turkey roasting.

But before I impart my sage advice with you all, I should probably provide some photographic evidence of my turkey roasting prowess. So here it is, 2008-2014 A Turkey Retrospective.

2008: “Challenge Accepted!”

1476_518380830691_7865_n

In Australia, Christmas dinners traditionally involve barbequed steaks, snags, and skewers and a big bowl of fresh prawns. Roast turkey isn’t actually that common, and is an idea that has been completely stolen from the Amuuurrrcans. In 2008, a group of friends and I had the wild idea of making turkey dinner for Christmas. It was novel, it was ambitious, it was a challenge to make a Christmas dinner that would slaughter all other Christmas dinners. And I took it on with gusto. The above may look a bit rough, but it was a result of hours of research, about ten combined recipes, a full day in the kitchen, and pure, extravagant love. Serving around twelve people, it’s the biggest turkey I’ve ever made, and the most memorable. We made it and ate it not even knowing what a roast turkey was meant to taste like, but it blew all our minds and ruined all future Christmases because we all knew that no Christmas dinner in our remaining lifetimes would taste as glorious as this one did.

2009-2010: “The Dark Ages” 

No photo records exist of these turkeys because we were too hungry and excited to eat them to waste time taking photos. They did exist, you need to trust me on this one.

2011: “InstaTurkey” 

2011-12-25_1324813319

This year I followed a Neil Perry recipe that introduced me the miracle of stuffing a turkey’s skin as well as the cavity. I never looked back. This is why the turkey looks so swollen and bloated, like it just binged on its own Christmas dinner.

2012: “Crispy Skinned Chicken Turkey”  

425494_679773822841_1194252729_n

I used a stuffing recipe for roast chicken because it included parmesan and parmesan makes all things better. The cheese also had the pleasant side effect of making the turkey skin deliciously crispy. Oh, and perfectly roasted potatoes.

2013: “Mastering the Art”

1468517_753815976771_408066602_n

One of the best things about roast turkey is how photogenic it is. Look at that heart shaped breast, those shapely thighs, the red-brown glow of the skin.

1476514_753816101521_7688306_n

From all angles, she is a beauty.

Now, I send you forth to cook your own turkeys in remembrance of me, who will be spending this Christmas ovenless and turkeyless. To help you on your journey, I will generously impart my invaluable expertise with you all.

1. Don’t be intimidated. 

There is an urban legend going around that roasting a turkey is “difficult” or requires “skills.” DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIES. Preparing and stuffing the turkey takes less than an hour and the oven does the rest of the work. Yes, you do need be at home to monitor the bird and baste it at regular intervals, but most of the time is just spent waiting. Use it as an opportunity to read a thick novel or binge-watch The Mindy Project. You could even do something more productive, like prepare sides and dessert.

2. Buy a good bird. 

The frozen turkeys at the supermarket do the job, but if you want to take this seriously, you need to see your local poultry specialist and order a fresh, free range turkey. To help you decide how big you need the bird to be, you can use one of many size guides available online. I usually get a 6-7kg turkey regardless of the number of people I’m serving because when it comes to turkey, SIZE MATTERS, and the bigger the bird, the bigger the impact. It takes longer to cook, but who cares, carrying the finished product out of the oven and having all your guests bow down to your domestic goddess status makes it totally worth it.

3. To brine or not to brine? 

Most Americans I talk to seem to think that brining the turkey is an essential step. I can see how brining can add to the flavor and moisture level of a turkey, but I’ve never brined and I’ve never had any problems. Prepping and cooking a turkey already takes a FULL day, so spending additional time making a luxurious salt bath for your bird seems to be taking the joke too far. My advice is, don’t bother. You can make a perfectly delicious and moist turkey without it.

4. Go nuts with the stuffing 

Stuffing is something that is foolproof, easy to make, and for which there are THOUSANDS of recipes online. This means you can just have fun with it and experiment. A quick review of a few stuffing recipes will help you realize that stuffing is basically just whatever you want + stale bread. Seriously, anything goes: from gourmet (wild rice and goat cheese stuffing) to dude-food (tortilla chip chorizo stuffing), to gluten free (quinoa stuffing). Sausage-based stuffings seem quite popular, and I’ve tried it once but didn’t really like it because I feel like heavy meat in your stuffing distracts from the taste of the turkey. Bacon, however, is completely acceptable. As are all bacon-like cured meats such as pancetta and prosciutto. Also, CHEESE. My current go-to stuffing is based on this recipe and includes all the classic components plus parmesan cheese and chopped pancetta. I’m not a huge fan of nuts, but I’ll add some walnuts to please the crowd. My favorite herb for stuffing is sage, because it smells heavenly.

5. Stuff EVERYTHING 

When I learned that you could stuff the skin of a turkey as well as the cavity, this really changed the game. It elevated my turkey from amazing to mind-blowing and I’ve never looked back. You need to be little bit careful when separating the skin from the breast to create a pocket, but the fatty turkey skin is pretty resilient. Stuffing the skin has the quintuple effect of:

1. Adding flavor to the breast meat.
2. Making people more excited about eating the meat meat, which has a hard time competing with the dark meat.
3. Keeping the breast meat moist.
4. (If you use my parmesan recipe) Causing the skin to crisp up and go a gorgeous brown color.
5. Acting like breast implants and giving the turkey a plump, fuller, more youthful look.

One year, I used Neil Perry’s ricotta stuffed turkey recipe and it was a real hit. It wasn’t quite salty enough for my liking, but this was one of my more popular turkeys.

6. Trussing is NOT optional 

If you do not truss your turkey, you will end up with wings splayed, legs spread-eagled, with a crusty bulge of stuffing bursting out from the cavity. Luckily, I did not learn this the hard way, I learnt this from laughing at other people’s mistakes. Your turkey is meant to be photogenic, not pornographic. Please, protect your turkey’s modesty. Plus, trussing a turkey is super easy if you follow a helpful instructional video like this. I would always kindly ask the butcher next to my poultry supplier for a length of butcher’s string, but really, any clean, strong, string will do.

7. The Three “B”s: Bacon, Butter, and Basting 

The no.1 fear that people have about cooking a turkey is the fact that it “dries out easily.” And I’ll admit, dry turkey meat is nasty. It tastes like a hybrid construction material made from cardboard and rubber. But keeping the meat moist is really not as hard as people make it out to be. A lot of recipes will give you different tips and techniques on how to do this, but the key is to just do all of it at once. Everything that anyone tells you about keeping the turkey moist and tender: do it all. This will guarantee succulent, juicy turkey every single time. Here’s what I do:

1. Cover the turkey in bacon. This will flavor the skin as well as keep the breast from drying out. Also, you can eat the baked bacon as a snack later on.

1476_518380506341_4034_n

2. Go to town with the butter. People talk about how turkey is a “lean meat” but you need to un-lean that baby until its fattier than a Krispy Kreme donut. I usually buy two sticks and melt one down to pour and brush over the bird before it goes into the oven, and then I chop up the other one and squeeze as much of it under the skin of the breast as will fit.

3. Baste every 30 minutes. This is probably the hardest part of cooking a turkey, because just getting a 6kg bird out of the oven every half hour is a big effort, but don’t get lazy. It’s essential. Most Aussies don’t have access to a proper baster, so I just used my pastry brush to cover the turkey with the fatty juices and butter pooling at the bottom of the pan.

4. Keep the turkey loosely covered in foil until the final hour of roasting, when you can take it off to let the turkey brown. This is a bit fiddly, especially when basting, but I believe plays a big part in preventing dry-out.

5. Roast at the correct temp for the correct amount of time. BBC Good food have this really nifty roast time calculator that looks pretty accurate. To test that it’s fully cooked, just stab it with a skewer and if the juices run clear, it’s ready!

8. SAUCE!  

When I made my first turkey, I wanted cranberry sauce because it’s traditional, but I also wanted gravy because GRAVY. Then I came across this recipe for cranberry gravy and I loved it so much that I have used it every single year since. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much it. Merry Christmas and happy turkey roasting! And in times of doubt, always remember:

julia-child-keep-calm-add-butter-602x778

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Super Quick and Easy Tamago Udon

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned my love for the hand-made tamago udon that I had for breakfast in Japan. Well I found a couple of decent recipes online and thought I’d have a go at it myself. This is almost too simple to call a “recipe” as the difficulty level is probably only one step up from instant ramyun. But that’s the beauty of it, super simple, quick and easy to make for those lazy, lonely nights at home. You only need four ingredients:

1-IMG_6104

First, the eggs. I did some research online about salmonella poisoning and the internet recommends that you use fresh, organic eggs to minimise the risk.

2-IMG_6106

I’m not actually sure whether these eggs are organic… I just assumed they were the safest available eggs because:

1. I bought them at a health food store

2. There are green leaves and grass on the packaging.

3. They were expensive.

How bad could a bout of salmonella poisoning be anyway? Nothing a few days on the toilet and a course of antibiotics won’t fix.

3-IMG_6107

Fresh udon noodles – conveniently sold as a single serving size. Koreans like putting udon noodles in a lot of things, so these are really easy to come by. If you’re living in a non-asian country, fresh udon shouldn’t be too hard to find if you can access a Korean grocery or other asian supermarket.

4-IMG_6108

This is hon tsuyu. I figured this would do the job since I don’t want to bother making a dashi from scratch just for one bowl of noodles. Hon tsuyu is normally used as a dipping sauce, and is diluted when used as a soup stock. However, since I just want to add flavour to my noodles, I will simply add a couple of tablespoons to my cooked noodles.

5-IMG_6110

Spring onion. WAY more than I needed, but the store didn’t have a smaller bunch.

And here is the cooking process in three ridiculously easy steps:

1. Cook udon noodles (for however long it says on the pack… around 4 minutes should do)

6-IMG_6112

3. Drain noodles. Do not rinse because you want the warm noodles to cook the egg slightly.

7-IMG_6113

3. Crack an egg on top, throw in a handful of chopped spring onion, and add two tablespoons of the hon tsuyu.

THE END!

8-IMG_6115

Looks pretty boring from here, but let me tell you, the simple combination of raw egg, hon tsuyu and spring onion is like an umami explosion in your mouth. It confirms that raw egg is the world’s greatest condiment.

9-IMG_6117

The egg white gets a bit foamy, which sadly makes the dish look a bit soapy. Next time I’m going to try and track down some tempura flakes (tenkasu) and use wider spring onions, so they are more easily caught by the noodles and chopsticks.

This now officially one of my favorite things to make when I am home alone and don’t feel like cooking. It is much easier and quicker than cooking rice or making a sandwich and I think it would be hard to beat in terms of the cost+effort+time to taste+enjoyment ratio. That is, assuming you don’t get a nasty salmonella infection.*

* Has anyone actually ever contracted salmonella from a raw or undercooked egg in recent history? I would really like to know. I’m starting to think it’s an urban legend.
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Easter Eggs

It is very rarely that I cook something worth posting on this blog. But on Saturday of this Easter weekend, I had a stroke of genius.

egg05

The baked eggs at Element 6 reminded me of the clay plates I bought a while ago for a failed tapas night I hosted. With the tapas plates and the very little we had in our fridge… I felt I had just enough to pull something off.

So I did something I never do in the kitchen… improvised.

We had a few overripe tomatoes and half spanish onion (from salads I never made), half a bulb of garlic (I have learnt to ALWAYS have garlic handy), eggs (of course, eggs are like water to me), and a chorizo sausage, parsley and curry powder left over from a sweet potato and chorizo soup Matt had made a few days before (which is an entirely different story…)

I chucked everything (except the eggs) in a saucepan.

egg06

When things got nice and mushy, I transferred the tomato mix into the tapas plates and made a big hole in the middle for the eggs.

egg01

And then into the oven at 150 degrees.

egg03

We also had some “unleavened bread” left over from our Good Friday holy communion. Is that weird? Not at all right? I mean, why waste perfectly good bread! And without this, we only had a couple stale pita pockets to use for bread. So I saw this left over bread on our kitchen counter and thanked God for his daily acts of provision.

egg02

Finished product after about half an hour in the oven. Looks pretty good for a dish made from scraps!

egg04

The perfect Easter brunch.

WELL…. perfect looking. It wouldn’t be Heather’s cooking without at least one major stuff-up. The eggs were over-cooked and pretty much hard boiled. I should have kept them in the oven at 150 – but after 20 minutes and the egg whites were still clear, I got impatient and cranked the temp up to 220. Stupid move.

Still delicious though – and so easy! Baked eggs will from now on be a regular on the Hong kitchen table.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: