Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Monday before Thanksgiving is always the day my meat purveyor brings our birds up the back ramp at the restaurant. At work we are able to sell out our reservations usually 3 weeks ahead of time. This is really nice as it leaves no guess work for ordering. We know that at max capacity the restaurant can feed about 350 ppl from noon until 8pm. Add a few walkins and a few no-shows and you get 334ppl this year in those hours. They feast on a limited 3 course menu, our offering for the first course are a pretty simple salad, or a mushroom bisque (crimini, shitake, chanterelle, and porcini). Second course options are our crab cakes with asparagus, and rice. Glazed pork loin with a cornmeal stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and vegetables (braised brussel sprouts, broccolini, butternut squash), and of course turkey with a apple hazelnut stuffing, and everything the pork gets. For dessert- pumpkin pie, malted chocolate cupcake, or a berry cobbler with brown sugar ice cream were the options. About 70% of our customers will chose turkey, and we focus on it pretty hard. Our birds were pre ordered in September. We also do a catering for a local RV park with stuffing, turkey, gravy, and potatoes on the Saturday afterwards for about 150 ppl.
All of that leaves me working on a Monday evening as our meat guy rolls up the back dock with about 800#'s of whole turkeys. Big turkeys. We bought 30-32 # avg this year, from a company called Norbest. The task at hand was to get them broken, brined, carcasses roasted, and get the carcasses started for stock. The best way to cook a turkey is to break the breast off of the bone, and then the hindquarter away from the cage as well. It will roast more quickly, and evenly. Breast meat should be cooked to one temperature, and dark meat a much higher temperature, leaving a technical dilemma in roasting them whole. Once broken they can be cooked independent of each other, not to mention stock can be made, cooled and used for gravy, and for stuffing. I know this sounds like a shocker to some, and people tell me that it isn't Thanksgiving with out the whole bird carcass on the table, but I would never do it any other way. It ensures proper cooking, and gives you full utilization of the bird, not a carcass for the trash can after dinner. Anything less is a horrendous waste of that turkeys life.
The carnage involved in the breaking of 800#'s of turkey is a bit reminiscent of Vietnam battlefield movie scene. No matter how I tried, I had blood to my elbows, breast and dark meat all over the table, and carcasses in every oven in the restaurant. The birds are placed in my biggest lexan bins and then brined for at least a few nights, but once full those lexans weigh about 80-100# and to get them on the cart and to the walk-in was a task in itself. The task for timing purposes had to be done that night, and for sanitation purposes I wouldn't have done it any earlier in the day. Once the stocks were rolling, and the breast, and hindquarters were all in the fridge- we scrubbed, then hosed, then sanitized the table, floor, trash cans, sinks etc, changed chef coats, and came home to shower. All in all though everything went really, really well. We continue to get families that return year after year, who have decided that going at this at home or alone isn't worth it anymore. A choice that is gaining popularity is seems. For any of you who went it yourselves I would love to hear how everything went down at your house. In a restaurant I have a hugely qualified staff, plenty of space to store and cook, plenty of seating, and plenty of silverware and china. Which makes it pretty easy in comparison to what some people are able to do at home with one stove, one oven, and a fridge. That coupled with the fact that the "thank yous" seem to be few and far between makes it pretty obvious why people are eating out more for these major holiday meals. That being said, I from my core don't think that there is any better day of the year to be in your own kitchen. Part of cooking means I will always work these days, as my boys get older, I find myself wishing I was at home more and more every year. Teaching them, and making sure they understand and appreciate everything it takes to make meals like this happen.