SINCE THESE are the traditional turkey months, now is the time to say the turkey is a greatly maligned bird. First, it suffers from having lost much of its original glamour by allowing itself to become too common.
The turkey's second major problem is that it has allowed itself to be mucked about by the genetic biologists, the experimental breeders. Its wings are now so small, so flabby with non-muscular flesh, that it no longer can have the fun of flying. Its legs are now so short, in relation to its huge, out-of-proportion body, that it no longer can have the joy of running, except with difficulty and mental tension. It can't even splash around in the water with the ducks and geese. No wonder the turkey is ill-tempered and sad. w
Nonetheless, I'm always on the look-out for new turkey recipes that will give some aromatic qualities to the flesh, while providing a flavorful juiciness and an overall rich, velvety softness -- exactly the qualitities that normally are lacking in the average, everyday turkey. Now, I believe I have found the near-perfect cooking combination. The recipe comes, unexpectedly, from Morocco, by way of Brussels.
One of the main Moroccan features of this dish is that it uses the famous North African wheat grain with the fantastic name, couscous, which, I believe, simply represents the sound of the bubbling, hissing steamer, a couscoussiere, in which the grain is cooked. You can get a real couscoussiere, or you can use a Chinese steamer, or even an improvised colander or strainer fitted into the top of a saucepan of boiling liquid. To achieve the chewy nuttiness of authentic couscous, you must use a coarse-grained, hard wheat, preferably from Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia -- never the packaged so-called instant or precooked kind, which is likely to mash down into a soft and flabby pudding. If there is a choice between fine, medium and large grain couscous, I always choose the coarsest.
This turkey is first poached in an aromatic bouillon, which keeps it beautifully moist and tender, while injecting spice flavors into the flesh. Then the bird is browned in the oven and its skin is crisped and glazed with honey and the delicate flavor of orange-flower water. The spices should be absolutely fresh; it is best to grind them just before using them, in an electric spice mill, or by hand in a mortar with a pestle. Powdered spices kept in storage, lose most of their flavor oils by evaporation.
Once the skin is browned, you can keep it hot in the oven with the door closed and the heat turned off, for up to 20 minutes.
Then, when it comes to the table, its skin glazed in shades of gold, its flesh perfumed with the spices of Casablanca or Marrakesh, its body a veritable cornucopia of fruits, spices and buttery yellow grain, it makes a party dish a long way beyond the simple satisfactions of our Puritan forefathers. This is turkey at its most glamorous. HONEY-GLAZED TURKEY STUFFED WITH COUSCOUS MOROCCO STYLE (10 to 12 servings) 1 female turkey (8 1/2 pounds) not self basting and preferably fresh 1 pound North African couscous, coarse-grained, hard wheat For the bouillon: 4 pounds veal soup bones, cut up by butcher 1/4 cup olive oil for rubbing bones Few tablespoons flour for coating bones 4 pounds lean veal soup meat, cut up into 1 1/2-inch cubes by butcher 4 medium carrots, scraped and chunked 4 good stalks green Pascal celery, with leaves, all coarsely chopped 3 leeks, white parts only, washed, de-sanded, chunked 5 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered 1 bottle dry white wine 2 teaspoons dried basil 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger root 1 teaspoon dried marjoram 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns 1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper For the couscous: Coarse salt 1 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates 1 cup seedless raisins 12 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon 2 tablespoons superfine white sugar 1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seed 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger root 4 tablespoons orange-flower water 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Fresh ground black pepper to taste For the turkey: 1 1/2 cups shelled, skinned, and slivered almonds 8 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon saffron filaments or 1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron 4 tablespoons fine-quality honey Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Available at a Middle-Eastern grocery or fancy food shop.
Average Time Required: Advance preparation -- about 4 hours of unsupervised simmering for the bouillon and about 1 hour for the couscous; then, for the final preparation, about 30 minutes to grind the spices, stuff the turkey, and truss it; plus 2 to 2 1/2 hours to poach and bake the turkey and 15 minutes to sauce and serve it. Total active work; 3 hours.
The Poaching Bouillon: This is best done a couple of days in advance. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the soup bones, then rub them lightly with the olive oil and dab them all around with the flour. Set them in an open roasting pan at the center of the oven and let them brown to a dark tan -- usually in about 25 to 30 minutes; turn them once during browning.
Now spread the bones across the bottom of a very large soup pot (10 to 12 quarts) and loosely pack down among them the veal meat, chunked carrots, chopped celery with leaves, chunked leeks, and quartered onions. Wet them with a bottle of wine and turn on high heat under the pot. Add 9 quarts of cold water. Stir in the herbs and spices and heat it to gentle simmering. Just before it reaches the gentlest simmering, skim off all foam and scum, then keep it lightly bubbling, almost fully covered, for about 4 hours.
Cool, strain, and refrigerate the bouillon. Next morning the fat will lift off in a single sheet. [The veal meat used to make this bouillon would be saved by a thrifty North African housewife, marinated in an oil and vinegar dressing, then coarsely diced into salads.]
The couscous: This is best done one day in advance. Assuming that you have good quality couscous wheat grain, the advance separating, washing and wetting are all-important. Put your pound of couscous into a colander or sieve lined with 3 or 4 thicknesses of cheesecloth, rub your fingers through the grains to separate them, then wash them under running cold water, continuing to work them around with your fingers. Every grain must, in theory, be washed and wetted.
Now spread the grains out in a single layer on your large platter and continue to work them with your fingers, separating them, unsticking them, rolling them around to separate them, for about 5 minutes. At the end of this time, they will have absorbed most of the water, and have begun to swell and be almost dry. Thoroughly sprinkle them, on the platter, with plenty more water, then lightly salt them and continue to work them with the tips of your fingers. After a very few more minutes, the grains will visibly have swollen and will refuse to absorb any more water. They are then ready for the next step and you can forget them for the moment.
Now get your steamer going. Fill its bottom compartment about a third full with your prepared bouillon and heat it up to a strongly-bubbling boil, so that it gives off plenty of nicely perfumed steam. Line the top compartment (with the holes in the bottom) with 2 or 3 thicknesses of the cheesecloth and spoon the wet couscous into it. Bring the edges of the cheesecloth together, completely enclosing the grains, and place the top compartment over the boiling liquid. Wait until plenty of steam is coming through before putting on the lid, and set the timer for 15 minutes.
While waiting, plump and warm up the one cup each of chopped dates and seedless raisins. Put them together into a 1 1/2-cup saucepan and just cover them with more of the prepared bouillon. Heat them up, gently, just to the boiling point, carefully lifting them and separating them with a wooden spoon. The moment the bouillon shows the first sign of bubbling, turn off the heat and leave the fruit to soak until it is needed, later.
When the timer rings for the couscous, open it up and gently prod the grains with a wooden spoon to break up any and all lumps or sticky bits. Check the liquid in the bottom and add more bouillon, if needed. Then re-cover with the cloth, put back the lid and steam for 15 minutes more.
Turn on your oven to 200 degrees and set in it the large platter on which you wetted the couscous. When the timer rings again, taste the couscous. It should be done and edible, but still excellently chewy and nutty. If not, continue steaming it a few minutes longer. Finally, turn off the steamer, carefully lift out the cheesecloth, and pour the couscous onto the warm platter, spreading it out.
Dribble over it about a cup of the hot bouillon from the bottom of the steamer, spreading it around with the wooden spoon while the hot liquid is being absorbed by the grains. Cover everything with the cheesecloth and put the entire platter into the still-warm over. This will encourage the grains to absorb and expand even more -- becoming continuously bigger, more flavorful and lighter. The longer you continue the game, the better the grains will be.
When you think the couscous has absorbed its proper quota of aromatic liquid, drain the dates and raisins (pouring any excess bouillon back into the steamer) and lightly incorporate the fruits into the grains. Cut up the butter into 12 tablespoon pieces and work them into the hot couscous. Every grain should be buttered. Then add and work in, in turn: the cinnamon, sugar, coriander, ginger root, orange-flower water (but don't let the grains become too wet), the lemon juice, and a teaspoon or two, to your taste, of salt, plus some freshly ground black pepper. The couscous is now ready for the stuffing of the turkey, but it can be allowed to cool and held for several hours, or overnight. Any remaining liquid from the steamer should be poured back into the main bouillon pot.
Stuffing and Poaching the Turkey: Be sure the turkey is at room temperature. If the couscous has been allowed to cool down, warm it up again in a 200-degree oven, in a covered dish. The grains need not be hotter than about 100 degrees. At the same time, reheat the poaching bouillon to the same temperature. Stuff both the turkey cavities quite full with the warm couscous. Close up each end by flapping over the skin. Pin with the trussing pins or sew the opening closed. Also tie the legs together and fold the wings back.
Gently lower the turkey into the warm bouillon. It must never be boiling or the turkey might burst. Now gradually heat everything up to the gentlest simmering; regulate the heat so that bubbles are just breaking the surface. Now, cover the pot and keep it all going until the turkey is almost, but not quite, done -- usually, depending on age and weight, in about 55 to 70 more minutes. A meat thermometer, preferably an instant-reading one, should read 170 degrees when placed in the meatiest portion of the thigh.
While the bouillon is heating up, withdraw from it 2 measured amounts into the 2 waiting saucepans. Into the first put 3 cups of bouillon. Heat it to a hard boil, uncovered, so as to begin reducing it by about half. This will be the basting sauce. Into the second saucepan put 4 more cups of the bouillion. Also boil this hard to reduce it by half.Be sure the turkey is totally immersed in liquid at all times; add hot water to cover if not. This will be the baking-pan deglazing sauce.
After the turkey has been gently simmering for about 45 minutes, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees and have ready an open baking pan with a v-grid ready to hold the turkey. While the oven is heating up, spread the slivered almonds in an even layer across a dry cake pan and place them in the center of the oven. After 4 or 5 minutes, shake them around. After 7 to 8 minutes, they should be a nice shade of golden brown. Then hold them at room tmeperature until serving time. If any couscous is left after filling the turkey, place it in a buttered dish, cover with foil, and heat in the oven with the turkey.
As the basting sauce reduces in the first saucepan, stir into it: 8 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, the saffron filaments, and the 4 tablespoons of honey. When the liquid in both saucepans has been properly reduced, turn down the heat under both to just keep them warm.
Gilding and Glazing the Turkey: Very carefully lift the turkey out of the poaching pot. Support it underneath. It is now so tender that it could easily come apart. Gently place, breast up, on the stand in the baking pan and slide it into the center of the oven. As the skin begins to gild, thoroughly baste every millimeter of it with the honey-glazing sauce about every 5 minutes.The saffron will give the bird a lovely orange color and the honey will make it shine. In my oven, the turkey achieves its beautiful color for serving and its final perfection of the flesh after about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the oven.
Carefully transfer the turkey to its serving platter and put it back in the turned-off oven to keep warm. Place the baking pan over a top burner and deglaze it with any remaining basting sauce, plus as much as you need of the deglazing sauce. Season the gravy with salt, pepper, and lemon juice; strain and put it in a sauce-boat and keep it warm. Bring the slivered almonds to the table in their own small serving dish.
The turkey will look magnificent when it is served and, as you cut it open, the buttery, fruity, and perfumed couscous will come tumbling out of it in a festive and rich stream. Spoon the delicately honeyed gravy over the slices of turkey. Sprinkle the almonds over each serving of the couscous.