Why must New England steal the thunder every November? Some historians say that the first Thanksgiving-like meal—a harvest-time event attended by settlers and Native Americans—may well have taken place in the American Southwest. As luck would have it, the flavors of that blessed gastronomic region play extremely well with Thanksgiving staples. And since the brilliant chefs of the Southwest are busy evolving a truly regional cuisine based on their novel ideas, it seems appropriate to support them in November—or anytime!—with this creative menu.
Two-Stage Roast Turkey with Southwestern Honey-Pepper Rub
This new recipe includes a technique I’ve been using for years: roasting the turkey in two stages. I do this because of the Big Turkey Problem: while you’re waiting for the turkey’s dark meat to cook (which takes longer), the white breast meat dries out. My solution: cook the bird until the breast is still juicy, remove the bird from the oven, and carve off the two sides of the breast. Put the bird back in the oven, and while the dark meat’s finishing, serve the white-meat first course. Twenty minutes later, you can serve a dark-meat second course. And you get to drink two wines with the main course: I always like to serve a white wine with the white-meat course and a red wine with the dark-meat course. For the Southwestern meal, I’ve taken the two-course concept a step further: recipes for a sauce to go with the white meat and a sauce to go with the dark meat follow the turkey recipe. By the way: the honey-pepper rub burnishes the big bird beautifully.
Yield: At least 12 servings
3 sticks unsalted butter
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
½ cup ground cumin
4 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground clove
2 teaspoon salt
¼ cup honey
1 (14-pound) turkey, well chilled
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Prepare the rub: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Pour the butter into a large mixing bowl. Add pepper, cumin, oregano (pulverizing it with your fingers), chili powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, clove, and salt, mixing well. Drizzle in the honey and blend well.
3. Rub mixture all over the cold turkey—both on and under the skin, as evenly as possible. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan in the lower portion of the oven, legs toward the back. Roast until the turkey starts to turn golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325°F and roast the turkey for about 1½ hours, basting with the pan juices every 20 minutes or so. (The white meat is done when a quick-read thermometer reaches 150°F.)
4. Remove the turkey from oven and (at table, if desired), remove the large breast fillet frome ach side of the turkey. Let the fillets rest a few minutes before carving into slices. Serve white meat with Cilantro-Poblano Cream Sauce (recipe follows).
5. Meanwhile, return the rest of the bird to the 325°F oven. Cook until the dark meat reaches 175°F, about 20 minutes more. Remove, let rest a few minutes, and serve the dark meat with Smoky Chipotle-Mushroom Gravy (see below).
Cilantro-Poblano Cream Sauce
Here’s an ideal sauce for the white meat, brimming with the sophisticated tastes of the modern Southwest. It’s also delicious on chicken, veal, even fish.
Yield: Enough for 12 diners
½ pound (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups coarsely chopped leeks (about 2 large leeks)
3 cups coarsely chopped celery (about 3 ribs)
12 poblano chilies, seeded and coarsely chopped (about 3 pounds altogether; you may substitute green bell peppers)
3 cups cilantro root and stems, coarsely chopped (cut from about 6 bunches of cilantro), plus ¼ cup finely minced cilantro leaves
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
12 cups chicken stock
Pinch of nutmeg
Tabasco green pepper sauce (optional)
1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the chopped leeks and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the poblanos and the chopped cilantro roots and stems. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the flour, stirring well to coat the vegetables. If the pot seems dry, add a little more butter. Sauté the roux for 2 minutes.
2. Add the chicken stock, stirring vigorously to blend well. Raise heat, bring mixture to a boil, then let simmer for 30 minutes. The sauce should be a medium-thick consistency.
3. Strain the solids out of the sauce, reserve them, and return sauce to saucepan. Finely mince some of the solids until you have ¾ cups. Return those to the sauce and add the minced cilantro leaves. Stir well to blend. Add the nutmeg and, if desired, a little Tabasco green pepper sauce. Taste for seasoning and serve.
Smoky Chipotle-Mushroom Gravy
I love this deep, smoky sauce with the dark-meat turkey—but it’s also terrific with other long-cooked meats. If you had, say, some leftover pot roast in the fridge—a second-day reheat with this sauce will probably be better than what you ate the first day.
Yield: Enough for 12 diners
2 ounces dried mushrooms
½ pound bacon, minced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
8 canned tomatoes
1 cup canned chipotles in adobo sauce
¼ cup smoky barbecue sauce
6 tablespoons butter
1. Submerge the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water. Weight them so they stay immersed. After 20 minutes, strain the soaked mushrooms out. Reserve both mushrooms and liquid.
2. Meanwhile, place the bacon in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring. Turn heat down to medium and add the garlic. Sauté for 1 minute, stirring. Over sink, squeeze the tomatoes in your hands into a strainer until most of the juice runs out. Chop the tomatoes and add to the pot. Add the chipotles in adobo sauce, making sure the chipotles are cut into small pieces (some cans may contain whole chipotles, some may contain chopped chipotles). Add the barbecue sauce, the reserved mushrooms, and the reserved liquid. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. When ready to serve, turn heat off and whisk in the butter to velvetize the sauce.