Munchies With Max: Turkey? What Turkey?
By Max Gilbert ’13, Staff Writer
As one of my friends aptly wrote on my Facebook wall for my birthday, it was certainly a convenient coincidence that the anniversary of my birth fell on the biggest food day of a year. I did my best to take full advantage of the unique opportunity, and designed an entirely unconventional Thanksgiving meal for my family.

The first thing that had to go was the turkey. Despite coming from a family with a history of working with poultry that makes what is reputably a fantastic bird, I just don’t like it. It was my birthday, I would be doing most of the cooking and I broke the news to my family that I was not going to make a turkey for Thanksgiving. As a consolation, I granted each family member one request for a side to the new main course: a filet roast.

My sister wanted gourmet macaroni and cheese; my mom said it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without stuffing; and my Dad wanted my recipe for homemade baked beans. The beans, which had originally contained bacon, presented a problem because I stopped eating pork this summer. This challenge, however, inspired creativity that carried over to each dish.

The filet was purchased as a massive, shrink-wrapped slab of meat. In the process of freeing the succulent tenderloin from its fat and connective tissue cells, there was a lot of extra meat left over. Due to its fat content and fibrous texture, this meat was very flavorful but needed to be slow cooked to be palatable. I typically make a beef stew with these scraps, but instead I used them to flavor the baked beans. I floured and seared the meat pieces, then filled the pot with honey, molasses, maple syrup, tomato paste, onions, garlic, mustard, some spices and a lot of beans. I baked the mixture in the oven at a low temperature for a total of ten hours, and it was incredible. Sweet and salty, smoky and savory, the chunks of filet meat made this side dish more like a stew itself.

I saw the stuffing and the macaroni and cheese as an opportunity to sneak some turkey into the meal. I took a pound of turkey sausage out of its casing and slowly cooked it to render out the fat. To this, I added chicken fat, which is a traditional ingredient in old-fashioned Jewish cooking. I figured the chicken fat would give the stuffing that incredible from-the-bird taste. I added onions, shallots, garlic and celery to the fat and cooked it until everything became caramelized and aromatic. Then I poured this mixture over the cubed, stale challah, tossed in some fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, and finished it off with dried cranberries. Finally, I topped it with pats of butter and baked it. The chicken fat did what I intended it to — the stuffing was bursting with that traditional fowl flavor. The fresh herbs complemented the salty sausage, and the sweet cranberries provided both tartness and a textural element to the dish that was delicious.

Turkey found its way into the mac-n-cheese through turkey bacon. After dicing up a pound of turkey bacon and slowly cooking it with onions and shallots, I added butter, flour, eggs and milk to the pot. After bringing this liquid up to temperature, I seasoned it with smoked paprika, mustard powder, salt and pepper and then melted in a wheel of Camembert, a brick of smoked Gouda and a hunk of Gruyere cheese. I mixed in the cooked macaroni, transferred it to a casserole dish, topped it with breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and crispy chopped turkey bacon, and then baked it. The crispy topping went amazingly with the gooey, cheesy sauce that covered the pasta. The Gouda, bacon and paprika all worked very nicely together to add a sweet smoky flavor that permeated the side dish. This was a huge hit at the table, as would be expected of anything with that much bacon and that much cheese.

Lastly: the filet. I reduced a bottle of red wine down to about a half cup, melted in some butter and added a fresh garlic and whole grain mustard. I rubbed the roast with kosher salt, black pepper, mustard powder, onion powder and garlic powder and then seared it on all four sides in a skillet over a high heat. I then basted the meat with the wine reduction sauce, and roasted it for only 20 minutes in a very hot oven. I then basted the meat again and covered it with foil to let it rest. After a thin slicing on the bias and a final application of the wine sauce, the meat was ready to eat.

The filet was a perfect medium-rare with a crunchy seared crust and a pink interior the consistency of butter. The wine and mustard glaze infused the steak with flavor, and it was absolutely delectable. There were no leftovers from the massive roast, as it was quickly devoured by my appreciative family. The steak was the clear star of the meal, and everyone had his or her own favorite side-dish.

I would declare this unconventional Thanksgiving a success. We ended the meal with homemade pumpkin pie (it’s my grandfather’s favorite and I couldn’t refuse him) and an ice cream cake for me. With all of the carb and fat loaded side dishes and an overall abundance of food, no one even missed the turkey. Thanksgiving is about getting together with friends and family to enjoy each other’s company and bond over good food. I think it is about time the turkey stopped dominating Thanksgiving tables everywhere, and I encourage other families to explore and experiment with their traditional menus.

Issue 10, Submitted 2010-12-01 00:45:45