Having grown up in western PA, Thanksgiving means eating a lot and a lot of that being starch. Stuffing aka dressing, mashed potatoes, homemade noodles (of course on top of the mashed potatoes with plenty of gravy), rolls, and of course various desserts. Pie for me, thank you! Or maybe a piece of that pumpkin roll. Rugelach? You shouldn’t have….
My husband and I enjoy chicken a bit more than turkey so we often have roast chicken dinners all through out the year and we will have one for Thanksgiving ourselves a day or two late. Visiting the relatives does not make for easy snacking at home (it also makes for a splitting headache for me since relatives are largely conservative Christians who are sure that Obama will “git their guns”). One of our chicken dinners makes a pile of leftovers since there is only the two of us and it’s relatively cheap. At this point, I probably could make a roast chicken dinner with all of the fixins in my sleep. However, if you think you cannot cook, get yourself a copy of The Joy of Cooking (TJOC) and it will teach you all you need to know. I prefer the older copies that still have the turtle soup recipe in them. You can often find them at your local thrift store.
On a typical day I will start with the chicken, one fat roaster (I usually go for around 7 pounds) whatever you can get from the supermarket. As I’ve said before, I don’t care if it’s organic, free-range, kosher, fed marigolds to make it yellow, etc. As long as it’s dead, plucked and gutted, I’m good. I pull out the giblets and throw them in a pot for broth. I also pull out any lumps of fat in the cavity and into the pot with them too. Finally, I inspect the cavity and remove any extraneous innards. You’ll often find what I think are kidneys still hanging around, they won’t hurt but they don’t need to be in there. Give it a rinse and stick it in your roasting pan. (note: what I do might not be completely draconian “food safety” approved. I have the cert; I know what it says. And you have been warned.)
I’ve used everything from a 9” square metal pan, a 9” x 13” glass pan and a classic “your grandma has one” black speckled roaster with lid. I like the roaster the best. First, I slice onions in fat rings (1” plus) and make a bed for the bird. I then plop it on top, and stuff at least a couple of tablespoons of squishy but not melted butter under the skin over each breast. I do not put anything in the cavity except, well, more butter, a couple of tablespoons worth. Diet? What is this word d-i-e-t?
Here’s Vel’s tip: Don’t truss that bird! Let it splay out in all its glory. This started long ago when I made my first turkey in our first apartment. I didn’t think to tie its legs when I roasted it and when it came out my husband decreed it the “slut turkey”. One thing we noted, and appreciated, was that all of the skin (except the back of course), not just the top of the breast, was golden brown and delicious. Both of us like poultry skin when roasted, and we’ll strip a bird clean if given the chance. No, a non-trussed bird will not look like something out of Norman Rockwell or the Food Channel. You are to be eating this, not framing it.
No spice rubs, no soaking the poultry in water, or I’m sorry “brine”. 😛
Now for the instructions from TJOC with my own additions. Roast the chicken at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes, lid off the roaster. Then reduce temp to 350 and roast for 20 minutes per pound of bird, with lid on roaster. Baste with butter, chicken drippings or broth when you think of it. After I hit the time period indicated by poundage, I often cook it quite a bit longer. Raw chicken doesn’t impress me. I usually roast until the legs are loose when you wiggle them. I have no trouble with the bird drying out at all, even the breast. Must be all of that butter….. FYI, the instructions for roasting a turkey are slightly different in the TJOC, thanks to the larger cavity.
While the chicken is roasting (and the husband is asleep on the couch in a roasting poultry-scent coma), I make everything else.
Broth – add around 2 quarts of water to your giblets, fat, an extra leg or wing, whatever else you are making a broth with. I usually throw in some less than pretty onions and celery and a few sage leaves. Canned chicken broth, stock or bouillon (Better than Bouillon is indeed that) can be used to stretch things if you need more broth. Bring to boil, then simmer for at least 45 minutes. I use this for adding to the pan drippings for gravy, moistening the stufring, cooking my noodles in, basting, etc.
Mashed potatoes – Peel the potatoes, assume a potato per person plus leftovers, chunk them up in about 1.5” pieces, place them in water until ready for cooking so they don’t turn gray. It takes about 15-20 minutes at a rolling boil to cook them and they can be reheated with a zap in the microwave. Mashing is a matter of desired texture. I technically whip my potatoes using an electric hand mixer, putting in butter and milk until they look “right”. Start with small amounts of milk. My husband, trying to make me mashed potatoes on his own for the first time, made what amounted to a potato milkshake, tasty but not quite what he expected.
Stuffing/Dressing – I used a loaf store-bought Italian bread, toasted (some browner than others) and left to cool. Rip it up in around 1” bits, size doesn’t matter too much (or use a knife to cut them). Take three cups of finely chopped celery and 3 cups of finely chopped onions and cook them in guess what, more butter, until soft. See, it’s not *all* protein fat and starch for the meal.
Add sage to your taste. I use fresh leaves from the plant I have in the back yard, about 6 good sized ones, rolled up and finely sliced. Add salt to your taste and black pepper. When the veggies are soft, mix them with the bread. Add enough broth to moisten well enough to stick together. I then put scoops of this into a well-buttered muffin pan aka the infamous stuffin muffins. This gets put in the oven with the chicken for at least an hour. Husband and I like crispy bits on the muffins.
Noodles – I have made homemade noodles for this meal before. Any recipe for a homemade egg noodle will work. But, honestly, a bag of “kluski” noodles works just as well. They’re pretty common at stores here in PA, one brand being “Pennsylvania Dutch”. They’ll be the somewhat ugly noodles, not all pale and thin like regular egg noodles. I cook these in the broth per the directions.
Other veggies – My husband usually requests beets or carrots. I get fresh, peel them if necessary (the “baby” carrots work well), boil them in as little water as possible until tender, and then coat with a little honey and yes, butter. I do love the classic greenbean casserole but the husband hates ‘shrooms.
We occasionally have sweet potatoes with this. I’ve made them from scratch, but Bruce’s Yams are just about as good (or whatever brand you have in your area. There are even some frozen ones). Add a blanket of mini-marshmallows, bake them and you’re good to go.
Okay, we’re at the home stretch. We pull the chicken out of the roaster and place in microwave to keep warm (it’s empty and keeps the cats out of it).
Then the Gravy…..
We take the soft onions from under the chicken, the pan drippings and put all into at least a three quart sauce pan. No, we do not remove the fat. And yes, both of us have decent cholesterol readings. Broth is added to make enough to make lots of gravy (more broth, more gravy and maybe a larger pot). We then take our stick blender to it, pureeing the onions into the liquid. If it is not thick enough, bring this to a boil. At the boil, I add a slurry of milk and cornstarch. Cook til thickened. How much of that depends on how thick you like your gravy. I don’t like it pudding like, so I find that about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, a quarter to a half cup of milk does a 3 quart pot of gravy well. Incidentally, the pureed onion gravy sans starch is great for high-protein diet people. We invented it when we were doing South Beach. Which does work by the way. Maybe in January, I’ll go back on phase 1 again….
Since it’s just the two of us, no serving bowls are needed, just help yourself at the stove and eat at the coffee table. Husband takes an entire breast, I grab the wings. We share the skin, reluctantly. We generally get a chardonnay to have with this since it cuts the large amounts of fat well.
Dessert is going to have to wait for another day. Eat well, my friends!
Postscript: Husband loves cranberry orange sauce on the bird. I take a can of gelled whole berry cranberry sauce (the stuff in the can), put it in a small saucepan. Take one orange, zest orange skin to pan. Squeeze juice into pan. Warm through.