After 28 years of stuffing and sweet potatoes, The Gourmand & I opted for something completely different.
Instead of celebrating the authentic American Thanksgiving meal, we made a 4 course meal, including 4 condiments, oysters, ceviche and dessert, and spent the day, just the two of us, cooking and eating and being thankful.
Our reference was Rick Bayless’ classic cookbook Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico. A new edition was just published, but I was gifted with a first edition from Bonnie Slotkick’s Cookbooks in the West Village of New York City.
The Oyster Course
On Wednesday afternoon, round 2pm, the Gourmand & I braved Grand Central Station to get to Grand Central Market, to buy oysters from Wild Edibles. It wasn’t lost on us that despite the fact that we were not traveling anywhere, we still ended up in Grand Central during the holiday crush.
At noon on Thursday, we listened to Arlo Guthrie’s classic Thanksgiving tune Alice’s Restaurant and had the first course, 1 each of 4 types of oysters.
I have revised my rule regarding shellfish. I will only eat what I’ve caught myself, or what I buy at Wild Edibles. The freshest oysters this side of the Peconic Bay. If you can find Kumamoto oysters, and you know they are fresh, buy them. Chef recommended them to me by describing the experience like “swimming in an ocean of salty cream.” He was right. And for just $2.50 a piece, how can you pass that up?
Pronounced MO-lay and created in the city of Puebla by a nun to showcase the flavors of the region for a bishop back round 1680. Like most things of over 300 years ago, the truth is forever interwoven with the myth of mole’s creation. The recipe remains, however, to celebrate special occasions with days of cooking and tons of ingredients, each handled in turn lovingly to bring out the myriad flavors on the plate.
The chocolate, some tomatoes, whole toasted and ground spices are added to a bowl. This becomes sort of the mother-bowl to which I added each subsequent ingredient, including 4 types of fried, re-hydrated chile peppers. (*Sidebar: If you make this recipe, and I hope you do, DON’T breath in the smoke that comes off the chiles when frying unless you want to feel like you’re front row at a WTO protest. Don’t ask me how I know that…)
Then you fry raw almonds, raisins, garlic, onions, bread, and a tortilla and add all these into the big bowl. Then, using turkey stock made earlier, purée all these ingredients and press through a medium mesh sieve, resulting in a smooth, earthy sauce that only needs 4 more steps to be done.
Purée the chiles, and strain into a separate bowl, then sautée the first purée, add the chile purée, and simmer until you get a deep, rich brown sauce ready to be poured over your turkey, about 45 minutes. Olé.
Quarter the turkey, brown over high heat in grapeseed oil (because it has a very high smoke point) and pour the mole sauce over to cover it. Notice that I used two pans, as no one pan was large enough to cover my 12-lb turkey. Did I mention I was cooking for 2?
Ok, then bake that and while its cooking, make your guacamole, salsa, salsa verde(using tomatillos), spicy jicama (HEE-ca-ma) salad, pickled red onions, and grill your pineapple and cactus pads. Oh! And on Tuesday, I started by marinating mackeral in lime juice for Thanksgiving seviche on Thursday. Phew!
Ok, the truth is, I can’t give you all these recipes. For a few reasons. Primarily, I really respect Rick Bayless and even though I’m not getting anything in return for saying this, I think you should buy a cookbook or two of his. They read almost like travel narratives, with history and hints for being successful at Mexican cooking. And I think he doesn’t need me to be giving away the milk for free.
Additionally, it might take days to type and I’d rather be cooking!
#1: When a recipe calls for tomatoes, unless its August and the tomatoes are heirloom and fresh off the vine, use canned. Buy San Marzano tomatoes from Italy if you can find them. If not, Muir Glen is a good brand. The tomatoes are canned at the height of ripeness and you’ll get yummy, juicy tomato-ness, not mealy, crunchy, methane-gassed, hot house specials that taste like wet rice cakes.
#2 Don’t underestimate how long your meal is going to take. Sure, the book says 6 hours. It took us days. And we loved every second.
#3 Finally, don’t get roped into tradition just because its, well, traditional. Try new stuff and experience other people’s authentic celebration food. Because that is how your palate stays fresh and new memories are in the making.