Monday, December 29, 2008

An ode to Nigella: brine your turkey (...or else)

I've got to hand it to her.
Nigella came up trumps.

I bought her
glossy, shiny Christmas book and loved browsing through the gleaming pages. But I didn't actually think that I'd cook that many things from it. After all, I thought, it is almost more lifestyle magazine than cook book. Don't get me wrong, a huge part of me wanted to be the person who made edible Christmas presents and tied them up with perfect ribbons. I wanted to lay out a 'Welcome Table' for hoards of glamorous guests. I even considered buying a silky red negligée so that I could waft round the kitchen in a similar state of seasonal undress. But in reality, I knew that food-splattered apron and furrowed brow are more my style when catering for the masses.

In all honesty, I also wasn't sure that I liked the sound of that many of the recipes. They were all just a bit too.... Christmassy!

Whilst I'm all for festive kitsch (plastic holly on top of the brandy butter is a MUST), I'm just not sure that I want cranberries with everything. I'm not certain that I want my gravy to be flavoured with festive spices or that a rib of beef really needs Stilton gravy in order to make it more... seasonal. Just call me Scrooge.

But I'm taking it all back. I've made at least six things from this book and I've loved them all. First there were the Christmas tree biscuits. Brilliant. Next up were the mince pies. Or rather the pastry for her mince pies. Perfectly crisp and lovely. Then there were the sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta. Finally, sprouts that I was happy to eat. I even had seconds. Please note: this has never happened before! There was also the superb turkey hash that I cooked up with some of the leftover turkey. A messy medley of turkey, onions, olives, red peppers, almonds and other bits all bound together with a creamy sauce - it sounds a bit... unlikely, but it was a huge hit. We all had seconds.

However, the biggest hit by far was the turkey. I don't think that I'll ever cook turkey another way now that I've discovered brining. In her red-and-green-themed tome, Nigella does insist that this is the very best way to deal with turkey. In fact, she even goes as far to say that she will not rest until she's convinced every last one of us. Consider me one of her little messengers.

I was skeptical as I filled the huge bucket with water, salt and festive spices. I launched the turkey into its colourful sea, popped the lid on and set it outside overnight.

There is one major downside to this brining method as far as I can see and it is this: there is work to do on Christmas morning. I usually like to get the turkey oven-ready on Christmas Eve so that all that needs doing in the morning is pop it in the oven, leaving us time to open stockings, go to church, drink Champagne and open other presents before lunch. You'll note that all those handy time-plans found in food magazines at this time of year leave no time for any festivities other than cooking. In our household (especially with young children around), things simply can't work this way! So, I set the alarm a little early and snuck down to the kitchen with my mother to haul the bird out of its brine, dry it off, stuff it, cover the breast with bacon and lay it on top of a bed of chopped vegetables.

You may think that you don't want this extra hassle on Christmas morning. Now that I've tasted a brined bird, I'm certain that I don't give a hoot. The meat was wonderfully succulent and juicy. My (extremely particular) father even declared it the best he'd ever eaten. Anyone reading who happens to know my father will know what this means. 'Extremely particular'? I'm being polite.

Anyway, not only was our bird tasting good when it had just been cooked, but it was even delicious and moist when cold.

I didn't follow her cooking method post-brining, choosing instead to go with the method that worked well last year. I pushed butter under the skin of the breast and then covered with streaky bacon. I then sat the bird on a bed of chopped onions, carrots and celery and roasted at a high temperature for the first half hour. I then poured half a bottle of white wine into the roasting tray and covered to lot with a foil tent. At the end I removed the tent to brown the skin. The juices, mingled with the wine and vegetables made for an excellent base for the gravy along with giblet stock.

Alongside the bird, we had all the trimmings. Two kinds of stuffing, pigs in blankets, liver wrapped in bacon, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta, roasted parsnips, roast potatoes and peas (a perversion peculiar to me). We all agreed that my mother's lovely plates are too small. It couldn't possibly be that we are just too greedy.

Would you believe that I ate all this and managed to squeeze in seconds?!

After all of this, it is amazing that I had space for Christmas pudding. But, of course, I did. I used
my usual recipe and made it back at the start of November to give it time to mature.

Slight disaster this year in that it was less set than usual and didn't turn out too well - I think that some water might have got in whilst I was steaming. My brother insisted that it was all-the-better for its gooey texture. I wasn't convinced but it did taste fairly good. My brother was in charge of flaming the pudding and did a startlingly good job - something to do with making a well in the top and pouring an alarming quantity of vodka over the already very boozy pud! Needless to say, we were all fairly snoozy in the afternoon.

So there we have it. Our Christmas feast. All over for another year. A successful feast I think. And thoroughly enjoyed by us all. I hope yours was just as sumptuous!

My thanks to the Domestic Goddess herself; Nigella!

I'm still enjoying being home with family on the Isle of Wight. After a couple of days of serious excess, I finally braved the bitterly cold wind for a walk by the sea. Purely to make room for more food, you understand! As the sun started to set soon after setting out we had to turn back and warm ourselves up with cups of steaming tea. And slices of Christmas cake of course!

I hope you are enjoying the final days of 2008. I'm currently plotting and planning exciting kitchen adventures for 2009.


Jules said...

All the food looks wonderful. Glad you had a wonderful day. I think I may have to try the brine method with the turkey next year.

Peter M said...

Ahhh, Nigella the bosomed one...saw that episode and I'm so glad you finally brined your's tops!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I am already in the brining camp for the most tender turkey imaginable.Depending on how many you're feeding though depends on how large a container you will need. I have a friend who has a huge storage chest with ice, duct tape, etc in the garage for a 25 pound bird.

Anonymous said...

Brining is all the rage this year - my friend did the same recipe and they all said it was the best turkey they had eaten for many years!

Joanna said...

That all looked delicious ... and a lovely walk on the beach later

Now it's all go for the New Year celebrations :)


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful day Antonia, it certainly looks that way from the food!

We've had a couple of comments about brining but it's not really a concept I'm familiar with, I'll give it some thought though as you obviously seem converted!

Sam said...

Everything looks really delicious! I'll have to try brining next year.

Abitofafoodie said...

Jules - I'm sure I'll be brining next year again too. I was really pleased with the results!

Peter - there is no going back for me now that I've discovered brining! It is just not something we do much over this side of the pond.

Val - We bought a big chest meant for storing toys with a snap on lid. It was pretty big but we were only feeding eight so didn't need too huge a container!

GBVC - I was a bit skeptical about the method but it really did work well.

Joanna - I do love being here by the sea. So nice to have a blustery walk along the beach after over-indulging!

Ginger - I became aware of brining when I started reading American food blogs around Thanksgiving. Brining seems to be the norm there so I thought I'd give it a try. Worked really well.

Sam - I was a pretty good feast, I have to admit. Brining will be my method again next year, I'm so sure!

Lucy said...

It sounds like you had a glorious Christmas. All the food looks delicious!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

It all looks like a feast to behold indeed!

Have a great food-filled 2009!

Nic said...

All looks fantastic!
I did my turkey breast side down this year and it was delicious. Glad you had success with the brining.
Happy New Year Antonia!

test it comm said...

That looks like a tasty meal!

Anne said...

It all looks so delicious, I bet you were fit to burst after all that!