Sunday, November 29, 2015

Best. Turkey. Ever.

So I think I mentioned in a posts several months ago that my blogging friend Stephen Andrew Jones ( ) wrote a post that sold me on buying a sous vide system for cooking, due to his gorgeous, magazine-worthy pictures of his perfect Thanksgiving turkey. The other option was to show up at his house for the big day and just enjoy all his hard work, but since that's technically stalking (but is it still stalking if you bring really good wine?), instead I bought a sous vide system for myself. Stephen Andrew has several good posts on making a perfect Thanksgiving turkey on his blog, so if you've suffered through the curse of dry meat this year please check out his holidays posts from years past, as well as a couple of links I'll post below. It will change your life.

The sous vide uses vacuum sealed bags with the food inside, cooked at very precise temperatures, to cook meats and poultry to perfection. They cook at a lower temperature, for a longer time, making them safe to eat. I will never, for the record, knowingly eat a dry, briny, 165 degree bird again. 

Here at the homestead we've seen more than our fair share of dried up breast meat and under-done prime rib around the holidays and the stress of not knowing if we'd have another disaster every year was making restaurant reservations in town look extremely attractive.

Ollalieberry mimosas using my favorite sparkling Marsanne!

And so it's especially nice to be able to report that our home-cooked Thanksgiving turkey was, by far, the best any of us had ever had, whether at home or dining out. And for me, it was, by far, the easiest Thanksgiving prep I'd ever had. Thank you Stephen Andrew!

There were several factors working towards making this -- bar none -- the most delicious but also the easiest Thanksgiving ever.  The vacuum seal system I bought alongside the sous vide allowed me to vacuum seal anything, and so I used that opportunity to pre-make ALL the side dishes in advance and hold them in the fridge without fear of spoilage or flavor changes (including stuffing, which stayed moist and delicious despite not being cooked in the bird).  So all the side dishes were done by Wednesday.

Behold the stuffing cooker.

Thursday was Pie Day (we celebrated dinner on Friday, so Thursday was a prep day), using pumpkins I'd harvested a couple of months ago and Olallieberries harvested and fast-frozen in spring.  All I had to do was make two pie crusts and cook it all up, which wasn't hard.

Then our Friday Turkey Day arrived, and it was time to cut the raw bird up into pieces. I decided to only cook the breasts in the sous vide system and sear and then braise the legs in the oven, in a red wine reduction sauce (I got 99 problems, but lack of wine ain't one of them). I also pulled all the breast skin off (sous vide cooking means no crispy skin sadly, but there are alternatives for making this happen!). I slathered the peeled-off skin in bacon fat and a little salt  and popped it into the oven on a sheet of parchment to roast by itself. I roasted up nicely, but shrunk a lot, so next year I will be covering it with another baking sheet to hold it flat and help keep it's shape and size.

I then seasoned the two breasts and trussed them together to make a kind of "turchetta," popped it into a vacuum bag and dumped it into a stock pot with the sous vide cooker. Both the breasts and the legs were scheduled for exactly 2 1/2 hours of cooking. With about an hour left in the cook time, I took out all the side dishes out of the fridge and stuck them in the oven too. The stuffing I cooked outside in the solar oven to help keep it moist.

EXACTLY two and a half hours later, I had a perfect Thanksgiving dinner -- no stress whatsoever. What a cooking revolution. So nice to be able to tell people you're going to eat at 2 pm and MEAN IT. Commitment kept! There was literally no guesswork at all, which was so helpful to me as I started heating up side dishes and getting the table ready.

Generation Two, minus our son Groceries who is stationed in South Carolina.

We had two of our three kids home and I'm happy to say they absolutely loved the meal! So did Big Ag, even though he's not in this pic because he's off in the kitchen somewhere getting himself a drink.

Here is a link to the two recipes I used for this year's feast:


  1. I am so so happy to read this! It's the most wonderful thing, isn't it? I've never cooked mine this way, might need to try it out! Love the skin idea. I pop mine in a 500F oven with salt sprinkled on the skin and it crisps quickly. Can be a dicey dance with not letting it dry though. The mimosas sound so, so good. Maybe next year if my family spends Thanksgiving in SC, you all can convene at my rental house for Thanksgiving! Bring the wine and the olallieberries! isnt it wonderful to set a time and really be able to keep it?! I always tell my guests "we'll eat one hour after you get here" and it's wonderful to actually be sitting down sixty minutes later!

    1. It was a first for me, I have literally never served holiday dinners on time before. My kids are pretty suspicious of new stuff they haven't seen before but they said this was the best bird they'd EVER had. And they were still talking about it two days later! Leftovers are already gone. It was really a game-changer and I can't thank you enough for sharing your knowledge. Hmmm, do you think TSA will let me on the plane to S.C. next year with a few bags of olallieberries and a case of wine lol?