Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. It’s the one day of the year that’s off-limits on my calendar for anything other than family, dear friends and my complete and total domination of the kitchen. No work, no crazy international travel schedule; it’s all about bringing loved ones together to share an amazing traditional holiday meal complete with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, the works.
This year, however, work and my favorite holiday collided. My team and I at EarthEcho International, the environmental education nonprofit I co-founded with my mother and sister, had just taken the wraps off of a new tool for educators and students to help them explore the environmental and health impact of daily food choices called What’s On Your Fork?
In fact, the main element of this resource is a guide created in collaboration with the Meatless Monday campaign to help students start each week with options for healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives. You can see where I might be feeling a little conflicted about my poultry-centered food extravaganza.
Should the bird stay on the menu?
The fact of the matter is that while I follow a largely vegetarian diet I, like many folks, enjoy eating meat on occasion. For me, it’s all about making smart food choices with positive impact year round, including both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. I can’t think of a better place to start than one of the most celebrated food-focused holidays of the year, turkey and all.
With names like American Standard Bronze and Bourbon Red these birds are as flavorful as their names are colorful. You’re also helping support local farmers working to preserve these amazing breeds and bring diversity back to the table. We found our heritage turkey source at our local farmers market. Organic and free-range turkeys are also great options.
Leaving it overnight in the refrigerator gets a nice coating on the bird and by the next morning it is ready.
Philippe Cousteau's Perfect Turkey
Note that I don’t put traditional stuffing inside the turkey, my mother makes that separately, instead I place a mixture of herbs, butter, and vegetables into the body cavity that season the bird beautifully and then discard them after cooking.
1 onion, coarsely chopped
Combine the onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, herbs de provence, thyme, rosemary, parsley, one stick of butter, salt and pepper into a mixing bowl and mush together by hand. Then stuff the mixture into the turkey.
Leave at room temperature for 2 hours before putting in the oven. Turn the turkey upside down on the roasting rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees until ready.
Place turkey in lowest rack of the oven upside down for one hour, this allows the juices from the stuffing to soak into the turkey. Add half the bottle of dry vermouth and one stick of butter to the bottom of the pan along with another bay leaf or two and some of the leftover herbs. Then turn the turkey over right side up and turn heat to 350 degrees.
The key is to cook them slowly. As the drippings collect in the bottom of the pan the vermouth will slowly evaporate but the butter will not. The vermouth will cook down or reduce so add the other stick of butter after an hour and a half and the rest of the vermouth.
Use a baster to suck up the juice and regularly squirt over the body of the turkey throughout the cooking process. If the juice level gets too low you can add a bit of water, turkey stock and/or more vermouth to keep it moist in the bottom of the pan.
If the skin of the turkey gets too dry and crispy, put a sheet of aluminum foil, oiled parchment or buttered cheesecloth over the top of the body. Cook time depends on the weight of the bird. Internal temperature should be 180 degrees when thermometer is put into the thickest part of the thigh not touching the bone.
After 4-5 hours (depending on the size of the bird) use a cooking thermometer to make sure the turkey is the right temperature and remove from oven. Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the body and let the turkey sit for 10-15 minutes for the juice to absorb back into the meat, the foil will keep it warm.
In the meantime take a fat separator container (you can find them at many cooking stores) and pour the drippings from the bottom of the pan into the separator. Pour off the juice leaving the fat behind and voila - perfect gravy.
Carve the turkey and enjoy.
Remember, heirloom means food that was commonly grown in the past but which has fallen out of favor in our industrialized farming system. In fact, in the past it people had access to a myriad of foods that we would scarcely recognize. Thomas Jefferson for example grew a dizzying variety of vegetables that many people haven’t even heard of including over 80 different types of apples!
Carrots come in every shape, size and color from purple to pale yellow. A little poking around online reveals staggering numbers of unique varieties of potatoes.
Like our friend the turkey, seeking out and eating heirloom varieties helps preserve them for future generations. One word about choosing spuds: selecting organic is particularly important when eating "regular" potatoes because of the toxicity of the inputs used in conventional production.
Potatoes are ranked ninth on the Environmental Working Group's dirty dozen list (ranking of pesticide residues found on conventional fruits and vegetables). This is an important point for our family as we like them baked and mashed.
I think you get the idea. My point is that when it comes to food, we can make choices every day, even on the best food holiday of the year, that are good for people and the planet. Locally grown and produced, heirloom varieties, heritage breeds, organics, vegetarian options, free-range poultry, grass-fed beef – there are a range of options to fit into any lifestyle.
When we started collaborating with our friends at the Toyota Foundation, Participant Media, Discovery Education and the teams at the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and Meatless Monday to create the Water Planet Challenge What’s On Your Fork? resources, I had no idea we would launch right before my favorite feast of the year.
It turns out Thanksgiving is a great holiday for reflection as well as for giving thanks. Bon appétit!