One of the strongest messages of Thanksgiving hit home for Jeremiah Bacon, perhaps appropriately, while he was far removed from his native Lowcountry.
Chef: Jeremiah Bacon
Restaurants: The MacIntosh, Oak Steakhouse
Resume: 1996 CIA grad; The River Cafe, Le Bernardin and Per Se (all in New York City).
Thanksgiving faves: “My mom's cranberry sauce and her sweet potato casserole.”
Tidbit: Dottie the bulldog has Jeremiah wrapped around her paw tighter than a trussed turkey.
It was about midway through a decade of working in the Northeast. The chef spent most of those years working on Thanksgiving Day, but this time, he was at Le Bernardin in New York City, and the restaurant was closed for the holiday.
That opened the door for a Thanksgiving feast among friends and colleagues.
“What a great day,” Bacon says.
He recalls one 22-year-old from Indiana who came whose mother was worried about what her son was going to do for Thanksgiving. She called, and Bacon assured her he was taken care of.
From that point on, even after his return to Charleston in 2007, Thanksgiving became a day of sharing a meal with both family and friends.
“It's such a fun way to do it, and a fun way of sharing traditions,” the chef says.
Jeremiah Bacon's Roast Turkey and Gravy
Yield: 12-14 servings
The key to this recipe is to brine the turkey the day before to give it extra flavor and truss the turkey when you roast it.
For the turkey brine
2 gallons water
2 cups Kosher salt
1 orange, peeled and zested
1 cup apple cider
For the turkey
18-pound heritage turkey; neck bone, liver and heart removed
¼ cup olive oil
Lowcountry Cajun (or Cajun) seasoning, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups carrots, chopped
2 cups leeks, chopped
2 cups onions, chopped
2 cups parsnips, chopped
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
1 bunch thyme, rosemary and sage
For the gravy
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
½ cup Sauvignon Blanc
1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 5 whole black peppercorns, 5 parsley stems)
6 cups turkey stock (or low-sodium chicken stock)
Reserved turkey liver and heart
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
⅓ cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 sprig fresh thyme
½ tablespoon whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
For the brine: In a stockpot, add water and salt. Bring to a low simmer to dissolve salt. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the liquid to cool. Add the orange peel and zest and the apple cider.
When the brine is cold, add the turkey to the liquid, making sure it's completely submerged, cover with the lid and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
(Editor's note: If you plan to brine, don't buy a self-basting or kosher turkey. Submerge the turkey in a large pot, as directed above, or in the brining solution in a bag — there are bags specifically for this — or other clean container. Refrigerate or keep in an ice-chilled cooler, keeping the temperature below 40 degrees.)
For the turkey: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Remove the turkey from the brining liquid and dry it completely. Truss the bird (tying its legs together and pulling the wings into its body). Cover with olive oil and sprinkle it all over with Lowcountry Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper.
Place the chopped vegetables and the turkey neck in the bottom of the roasting pan. Season them with salt.
Place the turkey in a roasting pan with the breast facing up on top of the vegetables and turkey neck. Roast the turkey in the oven for 45 minutes. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 375 degrees and continue roasting until the internal temperature reads 152-155 degrees on a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, about 3 to 3½ hours more.
Remove the bird from the oven and allow it to sit, covered loosely with foil. The carry-over cooking when you remove the turkey from the oven will bring the turkey to the proper temperature of 165 degrees and you will avoid overcooking it.
Garnish and serve with turkey gravy.
For the gravy: In a saucepan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter and the chopped onion and saute until the onion is translucent. Add carrots and celery and cook until tender. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Deglaze pan with white wine and cook until most of the wine has evaporated. Add bouquet garni and the turkey stock and bring to a low simmer.
Slice the turkey heart and liver in pieces and season with salt. In a saute pan over medium heat, cook the heart and liver pieces in olive oil until cooked through. Deglaze with dry red wine and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the heart and liver to the turkey stock.
Allow stock to reduce by two-thirds to fortify in flavor while continuing to skim any debris off the top to make a clear liquid. This will take about 4 hours.
Strain the reduction and reserve the liquid. Dice up the heart and liver and reserve for garnish.
In a new sauce pan placed over low heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and melt. Add the flour to make a roux. Simmer over a very low flame for about an hour, until the flour flavor is cooked out. Add the reduced stock liquid and the fresh thyme sprig and stir until the mixture is combined. Cook until the gravy becomes the desired thickness and viscosity (it should evenly coat the back of a spoon). Remove the thyme sprig. Add the reserved chopped cooked heart, liver and ½ tablespoon of whole grain mustard. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve warm with the turkey.