The Blue Strawberry Turkey Posted by Gary Locke on Nov 19, 2020 in Culture
Holiday traditions always include food. For Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the last Thursday in November, the traditional main course is roast turkey. Well, I have a recipe for roast stuffed turkey which I have made for decades. My family and friends agree with me that the results are fantastic. It is, however, a very odd recipe.
The recipe comes from a chef who ran a small but spectacular restaurant in picturesque Portsmouth, New Hampshire for several years beginning in the late 1970s. The chef, James (Buddy) Haller, liked to claim that he cooked without written recipes. He was an innovator before chefs became celebrities, creating dishes often using whatever he had available. He did, however, write a legendary cookbook named for his restaurant – The Blue Strawberry.
When I was hosting my first big Christmas dinner for my family back in the late 1980s, I found Haller’s recipe for roast turkey in his cookbook. It seemed simple enough, but also a bit eccentric. I had to try it, just to see if it would work. In retrospect, I was taking a bit of a risk with my Christmas dinner. But it was very successful.
Here We Go!
Let’s start with the bird. Whatever you do, make sure that the turkey is at least about 17 pounds. It needs to be big to handle this recipe. I’ve made this with a 24 lb. bird! Thanks to COVID-19, most of us won’t be having a big crowd around us this Thanksgiving. But, believe me, you’ll love the leftovers.
I stuff the turkey with a stuffing made from cornbread, sausage, onion, and dried cherries. Use your own favorite recipe, but be sure to make enough to fill the bird’s large cavity. Sew it shut with a needle and thread.
Pre-heat your oven as hot as it can get, up to 525 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the stuffed turkey in a large roasting pan.
Now comes the messy part. Carefully lift your hand up under the skin of the bird to loosen it, then slide a mixture of herbs, like sage, rosemary, and thyme, between the skin and the breast meat. Rub the bird all over with a mixture of melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and red wine. I combine everything in a small saucepan, then brush it all over the bird. Salt and pepper the entire turkey.
Place the pan, uncovered, on the lowest rack in the very hot oven for 45 minutes. This sears the flavors into the turkey. It’s going to smoke, trust me. Open your windows, put the ventilator fan on full blast, and watch your smoke detectors. Don’t leave this part unattended!
Take the turkey out of the oven and douse it with red wine. Now, it’s important to discuss the red wine, because you’re going to use a lot of it with this recipe. Don’t use really good red wine, but don’t use anything that you wouldn’t serve yourself. You may want a little sip.
Now It Gets Weird
You need a tea towel. This is a plain cotton towel, white or off-white, that you might use for drying dishes. Personally, I would use an old one if I can, nothing fancy and new. I call this the “sacrificial tea towel”. You will not be able to ever use it again.
Cover the now seared turkey with the clean tea towel. Pour the entire contents of a 750 mil. bottle of red wine over the tea towel.
Cover the now soaked and seared bird. If your roasting pan has a cover, use that. Otherwise, cover everything with foil. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees and cook for 90 minutes.
At the end of 90 minutes, turn the oven off and go to bed. Whatever you do, don’t open the oven door until the next morning! I know, you’re going to be curious. Just leave it. You may need some more of that wine as a nightcap.
The Next Morning
Open the oven door, pull out your pan, and set it on the top of your stove. Uncover the turkey. Pull out a garbage bag and pull off the tea towel, depositing the blackened, wine-soaked towel in the said garbage bag. There’s a strong likelihood that much of the turkey’s skin will peel off as you remove the tea towel. Just remember that turkey skin is all fat, so you shouldn’t eat it anyway. Toss the skin away with the towel.
Transfer the turkey to a large platter. You are now left with a roasting pan full of juices, pieces, and fat which needs to be skimmed away. Using a big spoon, skim as much fat as you can from the pan. A gravy separator is handy, but you’re probably never going to find one big enough to handle all the meat juices.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the turkey back in the pan and ladle the juices over the turkey. Then, put the roast back in the oven and continue to periodically baste the bird for another hour before serving.
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