Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Three elegant alternatives to a traditional turkey dinner at Thanksgiving (part I)
Holidays are about food for us, which is why Thanksgiving has always been a favorite. Historically, it has been the only time of year that we roast a turkey. And a decade ago I discovered brining as a means to facilitate an aromatic and succulent turkey.
Buttermilk brine for a tender turkey
I came across a buttermilk brine recipe some years back that has become our preferred brining method. There are about a dozen spices/ingredients that get boiled down and then added to a few quarts of buttermilk. I have no idea where I sourced it from, but it facilitates an extremely moist bird.
The past couple of years, however, have been quiet Thanksgivings for my wife and me. So having a big turkey makes no sense – I usually have had my fill after a couple days of turkey sandwiches. So this past year we decided to switch to a smaller bird – Cornish game hens.
Cornish game hens
The hens are brined overnight in the same buttermilk brine recipe and then grilled on the ceramic cooker very simply, with only lemon and thyme in the cavity. The roasting time is less than an hour and the brine produced a succulent and flavorful hen. We served the whole bird on the plate with two traditional sides of homemade maple cranberry sauce (ingredients discussed below) and creamed spinach.
We have considered tea smoked duck breasts as an alternative, as well. I definitely recall where this recipe came from – another product of the Williams Sonoma "Grilling" cookbook.
Smoked duck breasts
These duck breasts are first seared to render the fat, then smoked over a low temperature on the ceramic cooker. We prefer our duck meat on the rare side, so the smoking time isn’t very long. The dish shown above involved a brining paste of earl grey tea leaves, star anise, red pepper flakes, orange zest and juice, soy sauce, cinnamon, salt and a dash of vinegar.
Venison medallions with cranberry sauce
This year we will likely turn to venison medallions pan seared in butter, also on the rare side, and served with a perfect complement of homemade maple cranberry sauce. The sauce is dead easy, consisting of a 16 ounce bag of cranberries, half cup of maple syrup and half cup of brown sugar boiled until the berries pop. This is finished by grating the zest of one orange over top.
Happy Thanksgiving and bon appétit!