Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thanksgiving Ossobuco

I decided to reshoot and repost a couple of older posts. I suffer from an elevated attention to detail and something just did not feel right there. The pain of having to live with the posts I am unhappy with was overbearing. So I took them down. And will reshoot. And rewrite. And repost.

OK, let’s admit it, I am an anal perfectionist. Please take my word for it. It is terrible to be me and I suspect even more terrible to be my family, because they need to deal with my perfectionist agonies all the time. Case in point. About two weeks ago, Miss Pain, age six, brought home her science homework. It entailed making a parachute according to instructions provided by the teacher, flying the parachute, observing the flight and writing a sentence or two about it. “Use thin cloth of paper and ask you parent to help you assemble the parachute”, the instructions said. The parent in charge was not sure which material would perform better in this task and since the parachute had to be perfect, the parent in charge built two, one from gauze and one from wrapping paper. It took the parent in charge a while to execute the second parachute – we had many colorful papers and the parent in charge could not decide which one to use. The parent in charge finally set on magenta. The parent in charge then test flew the parachute from our sleeping loft, discarded the gauze one due to its inferiority, and then proceeded to determine the optimal length of the suspension lines for the remaining parachute. The parent in charge started with 18-inch strings and kept gradually reducing the length by two inches, while Miss Pain recorded flight duration and parachute movement into a spreadsheet. I bet you are dying to know and I will tell you – the strings on the winning parachute were 12 inches long and it completed its journey from the loft into the living room in 4.2 seconds with the most elegant swings. The parent in charge then decorated the parachute in white flowers, swirls and hearts and sent it to school, together with the spreadsheet.

I think you get the point.

Being an anal perfectionist is a very good thing in the kitchen, except during the Thanksgiving holiday. The very thing behind Thanksgiving is the perfect turkey and the process of attaining the turkey perfection is too much for a perfectionist like me to handle. There are way too many decisions to be made, and way too many parameters to vary, and way too many things to consider. For the normal kind, this all is a part of the holiday hoopla. For me, it is a decision-making agony, which turns the journey of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey into a road to nowhere before the journey has even begun.

To start with there is a choice of whether to brine or not to brine. Two great minds, Jeffrey Steingarten, the man behind “The Man Who Ate Everything”, and Sam Sifton of “Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well” take orthogonal views on this issue. Steingarten brines, Sifton does not. I recently read that chef Michael Symon, who I love dearly, prefers dry-brine, a process of rubbing your bird with salt and keeping it in a fridge for a day or two. So let me ask you the following, if these culinary giants cannot agree on this crucial first step, how will a layperson like me ever attain turkey greatness?

And we have not even tackled the matter of temperature, both for the oven and for the bird. Cook at low heat or high heat, start high then finish low, or do the opposite? Cook for the internal temperature of 155°F for the breast and sacrifice dark meat, or aim for 180°F at the leg and forgo the white. Maybe attempt to achieve both, by covering the breast with foil while in the oven, or with icepacks before roasting.

Then there is the choice of stuffing or not, rubbing or not, or perhaps glazing or not. Bourbon glazed, apricot glazed, cider glazed, soy sauce & honey glazed, mango glazed, tangerine glazed, Madeira glazed, paprika glazed, teriyaki glazed, these are all viable options, at least according to the first seven pages of search results for “thanksgiving turkey” on foodandwine.com. And I have not even made it through the remaining seven, let alone Bon App├ętit or Saveur.

Considering the three choices for the brine {brine, no brine, dry brine}, four for the baking process {hi, low, hi to low, low to high}, two techniques for achieving the ideal meat temperature {foil, icepack}, two options for stuffing {yes, no} and assuming no glaze, there are 48 possible combinations for achieving the best bird, all valid, at least according to the great authorities who wrote the recipes. Assuming a conservative approach of roasting one turkey per year at Thanksgiving, it would take me 48 years to find perfection. Under somewhat accelerated schedule of one turkey per week, it would still take me over a year -- yes, I know there are 52 weeks in a calendar year, but I do not roast when on vacation -- plus an upfront investment of $4511.04, according to the current price of $93.98 for a 10-12 lb organic turkey at Lobel’s.

Neither option is acceptable. Contrary to my yogic upbringing, I cannot wait 48 years to discover divine reality, and would much rather spend four grand on a new camera then on endless quantities of white meat. This leaves me with a saddening conclusion – I will never discover the makings of the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.

And thus I give up. Year over year I give up, because the prospect of not having the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving is not something I can live with. Instead, I turn to this dish, which over the years I drove to a state of remote perfection I can live with. (Although it is still evolving, albeit in tiny steps, because every year I find an imperfection or two that need to be corrected.) And yes, I know that roasting a bird in all its glory is THE point of the holiday, but there are exceptions to the rule and there are situations when one might find this dish handy. Such as, when you do not secure your turkey in a timely manner. Or when you are planning a romantic dinner for two. When your friends do not like white meat. Or simply, when you are up for something a little bit more adventurous than the good old roasted bird. This is a dish that preserves the spirit of the Thanksgiving meal, without really having to solve the enigma of the perfect roast.

Thanksgiving Ossobuco

* 2 lbs turkey drumsticks, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch thick pieces. (Ask your butcher to do it unless you have a chain saw, or like to suffer. The cut will very much look like osso bucco, minus some of the smallest pieces, which I reserve for a soup) 

* 1 finely chopped yellow onion 
* 2 diced carrots
* 2 minced garlic cloves
* 8 diced Turkish apricots
* 16 dried cranberries, halved
* 2 cups hard cider
* 1/4 teaspoon allspice
* 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 325°F. 

2. In a large cast iron casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the turkey pieces with salt and pepper and brown them nicely, about two minutes per side.

3. Remove the turkey from the pan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, until the onion is very soft and slightly caramelized, for about five minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the carrots and cook for another five minutes. Stir in the apricots, cranberries, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cider. Place the turkey pieces back into the casserole, coat with the sauce, and bring to simmer.

4. Cover the casserole with a lid and put it in the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender and begins to fall of the bones, for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. (If it becomes dry during cooking, feel free to add a bit more liquid.)

5. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Serve warm with mashed potatoes and the sauce spooned on top. 

Serves 4-6


  1. I have this recipe saved from food52 blog. You just reminded me , and I will give it a try soon...Will probably have to replace apple cider with some other acid. Thanks for great post.

    1. Instead of hard cider, I used apple juice once or twice and it worked well -- actually a cup of juice and a cup of water or broth, since juice is sweeter than hard cider (which is not to be confused with cider vinagar, so be careful). This year I also increased the quantity of cider compared to the recipe on food52, because I wanted more sauce. Hope it works out fine!


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