How ironic that as I write this Thanksgiving story, it is still Sukkot, our very own Jewish thanksgiving holiday. In a Jewish home even secular holiday menus bear the stamp of Jewish tradition. In fact, some scholars believe that when the Pilgrims sat down for that first Thanksgiving, they were thinking of Sukkot. We’ll never really know, but no doubt those religious settlers were familiar with the ancient texts and commandments, and perhaps it is no coincidence that a joyful celebratory meal of thanks would take place at the time of the fall harvest.
Now for our annual Thanksgiving dilemma: to slice the turkey at the table Norman Rockwell style or in the kitchen. My friend Arnie Kamrin advocates the latter, but has devised a carving method that ends the yearly wrestling match of you vs. bird.
Sunset magazine printed Arnie’s instructions in its “Chefs of the West” column in the mid ‘80s. “I used to carve turkeys for a homeless shelter,” he recalled. “Sunset called and said, ‘We heard you had a unique method for carving turkey. Would you come in and show us?’ So I did, and they wrote that story. I learned it from my children’s mother’s aunt Violet. It was her dying gift to me.”
Slicing the turkey with the meat completely off the bone is so much easier than carving from the frame, dare I say, a life-changing tip. “I arrange the stuffing in the center with the wings sticking out,” Kamrin noted. “I make a tomato rose and insert parsley in the gaps.”
Kamrin is an ardent cook who grows his own horseradish for the Jewish holidays and owns five or six smokers and an automatic marinator. “I’ve loved cooking as long as I can remember,” he said. “I lived with my grandparents in Brooklyn and can still remember horse-drawn wagons delivering ice. Later in their tiny Queens apartment, every square inch would be taken up with family. I carry that memory and created that for my family. From the time my children could sit up, they were helping me in the kitchen. Sometimes there was more food on them than in the pot.”
Serving his mother’s stuffing is de rigueur—an unusual blend made with instant oatmeal and Rice Krispies. “Coincidentally both my mother and stepmother used similar recipes.” (Another coincidence: Both Kamrin’s step-grandmother and maternal grandmother were survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. “They lived in tents next to each other in Golden Gate Park,” he said.) Kamrin still has his mother’s recipes on index cards. “You can see the meals on them in her handwriting,” he said. “It brings back great memories.”
Anyone can bake a cake, but what is it about baking a pie that fills the baker to overflowing with pride? Alas, it was a skill that eluded me for decades.
“I’m just not a dough person,” I would lament. Then I wrote a cookbook. Recipes needed to be tested. I had to face my fears.
My daughter-in-law Tracey’s recipe for the luscious Pecan Pie we look forward to each Thanksgiving, complete with pie-making tips from her cooking class instructor, Barbara Shenson, put that last notch in my belt. I called Shenson for some after-school tutoring.
“My crust always shrinks,” I whined.
“Refrigerate your pie shell for at least 30 minutes before baking,” she advised. “Also, the edge of the crust can overbake if it is too thin. Leave an extra half-inch overhang of pastry, and then fold it under itself along the edge of the pie plate.”
For a really professional touch Shenson suggested using leftover dough to decorate the top of the rim. “Roll some dough to a quarter-inch thickness, and cut out one- to two-inch-wide leaf patterns or other shapes with a paring knife or a cookie cutter.” Adhere the leaves with an egg wash (1 tablespoon water with 1 egg yolk), lightly brushed on the back side of the leaves. Then attach them to the horizontal edge of the pie shell.
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt (preferred) or table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small, even cubes
5 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
3 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark rum, or 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (preferred) or table salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1. To prepare crust by hand: Combine flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Using pastry blender, cut in butter and shortening until mixture is crumbly. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough begins to come together. Handle dough as little as possible. To prepare crust in food processor: Place flour, sugar, and salt in processor bowl and process 5 seconds to combine. Scatter butter and shortening evenly over flour; process until mixture looks like coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture. Process again, adding water through feed tube, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture just begins to come together, about 45 seconds.
2. Gather dough into a ball and flatten slightly to form a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes; or wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil or a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.
3. On lightly floured surface, roll dough out to form an 11-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Roll pastry around rolling pin and then unroll it onto 9-inch pie plate, gently easing it in with your knuckles. Use paring knife to trim edge of dough 1/2 inch wider than outside edge of pie plate, and turn excess under. Crimp edge, using your thumb and forefinger, or gently press with tines of fork. Use leftover dough for decorations. Cover crust with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before filling and baking. (You can refrigerate it up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw crust overnight in refrigerator, not at room temperature.)
4. Preheat oven to 375 °F.
5. Filling: Using a fork (not mixer), whisk eggs in large mixing bowl until light colored and fluffy. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, rum, and salt. Stir until ingredients are thoroughly mixed and sugar is completely dissolved. Add melted butter and combine well. Stir in pecans.
6. Pour filling into unbaked pie shell; bake until cake tester inserted into filling comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Don’t panic if top appears cracked; it will settle down on cooling. Cool on wire rack. Let cooled pie set up, covered with plastic wrap, at least 6 hours before serving.
Source: “Cooking Jewish” by Judy Bart Kancigor.
Arnie Kamrin’s Carved Turkey
1. Let turkey stand at least 20 minutes to settle juices. On rimmed carving board, cut wings and thighs free at joints. Cut into breast meat as little as possible; include with thighs the “oysters” from hollows in backbone. Cut wings apart at joints; cut drumsticks from thighs at joints.
2. Hold turkey upright (for more secure grip and to protect hands from heat, wear rubber gloves). Cut closely down along keel (center) bone to separate breast half from carcass. Repeat on other side. Keep breast sections whole; avoid tearing skin. Use your fingers to pull and ease meat free. Lay breast sections skin up. With electric knife or sharp long-bladed knife, cut each breast half lengthwise into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices, keeping slices in place. Using wide spatula, place cut breast halves on large platter.
3. Turn thighs skin side down. With sharp short-bladed knife, cut lengthwise along bone in 1 thigh to expose it, then slide knife around bone to release it, keeping thigh intact; turn thigh skin side up. Repeat with remaining thigh. Cut thighs lengthwise into about 1/2-inch-thick slices, keeping slices in place. With wide spatula, transfer thighs to platter. Fit drumsticks and wing pieces between sliced meats. Garnish with parsley or watercress.
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.