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11/20/2014

~ Roasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too: My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not short of it) ~

IMG_7341After thirty years of roasting almost every type of  poultry, from 2-pound game hens to 24-pound monster-sized turkeys, I've faced and solved almost every glitch imaginable, carefully documenting them (so as not to let any of them occur twice).  I won't lie to you, in the early years there were some tears, but about 5-6 years into my meticulous list of DON'T EVER DO THIS AGAIN, I started producing those moist, juicy birds with crispy, golden skin that everyone covets. Then, about 18 or so years ago, I switched to a different list.  One that documented the size of each bird, the temperature(s) it was cooked at, and the exact time it took to cook it.  To my surprise, a pattern emerged.  The best birds, no matter what size, were all cooked using the same basic method, which worked perfectly for me in my kitchen -- and it was easy too! 

IMG_6120So, if I'm so darn good at this, why am I so terrified to write this post?  Because when I click "publish", I'll immediatley be associated with the multitudes of little- to well-known foodies in the world who profess to knowing the secrets to roasting the perfect birdI'm not sure I like that.  Roasting poultry is personal.  If my grandmother (and yours) could do it under less than perfect conditions, who am I to set rules?

Everything from pans to poundage affects the process and the end product.  Yes, of course, it obviously helps to have a set of well-written guidelines, a knowlege of the process, and more importantly, a knowledge of its options.  BUT, if you get fanatical and adopt a closed-minded "my way or the highway" approach to roasting poultry, you're not only taking all of the sport out of it, there is a good chance it will screw you up for life.  In all seriousness:  keep it simple!

IMG_6118The  turkey which appears in all of the pictures in this post is not special or famous.  It is a random 16-pound bird that was bought at a local grocery store over the weekend for the sole purpose of writing this post a week before Thanksgiving.  It came to me thawed and sealed in plastic. That said, when possible, I always buy or order a fresh-killed turkey:  I prefer fresh over perviously frozen.  

My point is:  you can have success with any turkey, so, don't feel 'lesser' if all you could find three days before the holiday was a 'block of ice', frozen-solid bird -- thaw it in the refrigerator for two days and carry on as if it walked through your door and you killed it yourself.  Any bird roasted according to my guidelines, if I do say so myself, will emerge beautifully golden brown on all sides with perfectly-cooked, juicy meat.  I now present my method(s) to you.  You be the judge:

IMG_6383~ Step 1To Portion.  Deciding how large a bird to buy depends upon how many people you plan on serving, how you plan on serving it (pre-portioned and plated individually or family-style on a big platter), and, if you want leftovers.  I plan on 8-ounces per person, 12-ounces if there will most likely be second helpings and 16-ounces or more if you want leftovers.  In my house, I plan on a 16-pound bird serving 6-8 people with a few leftovers, but certainly not an overabundance.  For more specific guidelines and a nifty chart, read my post ~ Portioning Poultry:  The Chart/Guide that will Help ~, by clicking on the Related Article link below.

IMG_7194~ Step 2To Thaw.  As previously mentioned, I always try to avoid buying a frozen bird, but sometimes in the "off season", that just isn't possible.  If you happen to buy a frozen bird, or have a frozen bird in your freezer, place the bird, in its wrapping in the refrigerator.  Allow 3 1/2-4 hours of defrosting time per pound.  Once thawed, use the bird as you would a fresh one, within two days of thawing it.  Never refreeze poultry.  Never ever.

~ Step 3To Brine (or not to Brine).  If you keep up with all the trendy food commentary, everyone and his monkey's uncle is promoting this process, which is fine, but it's not for me. My opinion is:  it's just one more step, both time-consuming and messy, that over-complicates roasting poultry -- which of iteself is simple and stressfree.  Except for the instance of a wild turkey, I am not a proponent of brining.  In the case of a wild turkey, which does not have a lot of meat on it, has a game-y-er taste than farm-raised poultry, and, tends to be dry from the get-go, I have yet to find any reason of major substance, be it texture or flavor, to brine any poultry.

Turkey-brine-3.gifA bit about brining:  Brine is a basic mixture of salt, sugar and water (sometimes brown sugar or molasses are used, and, sometimes herbs, spices and friesh or dried fruits are added).  It was used before the invention of refrigeration to preserve and prevent meat from spoiling.  Nowadays, brining is not so much done to preserve food, but to tenderize and flavor it.  Because of the increased salt content, it also cuts the home cook quite a bit of slack in terms of exact timing and temperature.  Brined poultry is an acquired taste, one which I have not yet managed to acquire.  In fact, I dislike the taste and texture of brined birds, and I don't need to be cut any slack.  Simmer down and read on:

My oven-roasting method produces moist, naturally-flavored, evenly-cooked birds with crispy, edible, golden-brown, butter-flavored skin.  I have no need to resort to the reincarnation of a semi-outdated, time-consuming cooking process.  This being said:  Will brining visually make your bird camera-ready, like it's had several injections of botox?  Yep.  Will brining impart a juicy texture to your meat?  Positively.  Will it give your turkey a salty, lunch-meaty, sometimes hamlike  after taste?  In my personal opinion, absolutely.  I've gone through this brining experiment several times over the past three years, under the supervision of and prompting from well-versed experts (a couple of whom have sent me their recipes and prepackaged brining salt mixtures to try).  Brining has never once lived up to my expectations or standards.  Enough said.

~ Step 4To Stuff (or not to Stuff), or, The Evils of Stuffing:  Make this decision before you even begin to prep your bird for the oven.  I'm here to talk you out of stuffing the bird, but if you insist upon doing it, prepare the stuffing recipe according to the recipe directions and have the stuffing mixture ready and at room temperature before removing the bird from the refrigerator.  Stuffing that is too hot or too cold will cause serious timing problems at the end of the roasting process.  Stuffing in general, causes problems.  It appeared early on my DON'T EVER DO THIS  AGAIN list, so I do not stuff the bird.  To make a long story not any shorter:

IMG_7294Stuffing is evil.  Stuffing itself isn't evil, but from a food-safety standpoint, stuffing the bird is.  By the the time the center of the stuffing cooks to a safe-to-eat temperature of 165-170 degrees, you will have grossly overcooked your bird, resulting in very dry, almost tasteless meat.  If you take your bird out of the oven when you are supposed to, when the meat reaches a temperature of about 160-165 degrees (then cover and rest it to allow carryover heat to cook it to a temperature of 170-175 degrees), your stuffing is more than likely:  not sufficiently or fully-cooked.  There is no "gray area" or "middle ground" here, just a bad prognosis.  This is not said to start any arguments with grandmothers across the USA who successfully stuff their birds and do not poison their friends and family.  These are just statements of food-safety fact.

After reading the above, if you are still intent on stuffing your bird:  #1.  Have stuffing at room temperature.  #2.  Pack stuffing very loosely, into both the neck and breast cavities.  For less mess, be sure to stuff the neck cavity first.  #3.  Once again, do not compact the stuffing in either cavity, as stuffing expands as it cooks.  Over-stuffing will result in a dense, inedible product. 

IMG_7381~ Steps 5 & 6Preparing to Roast & Roasting.  I like to remove my bird from the refrigerator and let it "chill out" on the countertop or in the sink for about 30-60 minutes before:  Using kitchen shears, carefully remove the plastic wrapping from the completely thawed or fresh bird.  Be careful not to puncture the skin of the bird with the sharp tips of the shears.  Remove the neck and packet of giblets from the breast and/or neck cavities and set them aside.  Thoroughly rinse the bird under cold water, then, using some wadded up paper towels, pat the exterior and interior of the bird dry. 

Place bird, breast up, on a large rack which has been placed in a large roasting pan to which 6 cups of chicken stock, along with the neck and giblets,  has been added

IMG_7910You can use an expensive roasting pan with a V-rack insert, or an inexpensive disposable aluminum pan with a flat cooling rack placed in the bottom of it.  The choice is yours, but the bird must be elevated so it does not sit in and cook in its own juices.  I'm showing you the inexpensive way to do it today, so you'll believe me when I tell you it works just fine.  I add chicken stock to the pan, because I like to have plenty of gravy for dinner as well as leftovers.  As the bird roasts and its fat and juices drip down, the stock will take on all the great flavors of the bird and its seasonings.  Because I do not stuff my bird, I place a mixture of aromatics inside of the breast cavity.  These are not meant to be eaten, but, as the bird roasts, they impart flavor and moisture to the bird and the drippings.  My favorite combination is:

Roasting Poultry #4 (Aromatics) 3-4  5"-6" sprigs fresh rosemary

3-4  5"-6" stalks celery

1/2-1  yellow or sweet onion, coarsely chopped

1/2-1  tart apple, unpeeled, coarsely chopped

The amounts used will vary depending upon the size of the bird you are stuffing.

Roasting Poultry #5 (Ready for Oven) Place some thin slices of butter evenly over the surface of the bird.  This may look like a lot of butter, but it is only about 3-4 tablespoons.  Finish with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend over all.

Some food authorities recommend painting/brushing the bird with vegetable oil instead of butter, because they worry about the butter burning.  Here's my 2 cents: 

#1.  I use butter because I like the buttery taste of the crispy skin after the bird is roasted.

#2.  The butter will not burn if you follow my cooking instructions.

Roasting Poultry #6 (First 20 Minutes) Place the roasting pan on the lowest rack of preheated 450 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until breast and the top of legs are beginning to turn a light golden brown.

During this time, take a 8"-12"-16" piece of aluminum foil and fold it to form a protective cover/shield for the breast of the bird:

Roasting Poultry #7 (Foil Shield)The size of the piece of foil depends upon the size of the breast of your bird.

Roasting Poultry #8 (Foil Shield On) Remove the roasting pan from the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Place the aluminum foil shield loosely over the top of the breast.  Using your fingertips, pat, press and mold it to the shape of the breast.

Immediately return the bird to the oven (don't worry if the oven temperature isn't down to 350 degrees yet) and continue to roast as per the following guidelines:

Note:  These are guidelines.  They will get you close to the finish line, but when it is in sight, please use an instant-read meat thermometer! 

20 minutes per pound for small birds up to 8 pounds

15 minutes per pound for medium birds 8-16 pounds

13 minutes per pound for large birds over 16 pounds

(Whatever weight, add 3 minutes per pound for birds that contain edible stuffing.*

Begin timing the bird the moment it goes into the 450 degree oven.  *Note:  The 3 minute per pound addition does not apply to aromatic stuffing mixtures, as they are not meant to be eaten. 

The best test for doneness is an instant-read meat thermometer placed in the breast and then the leg-thigh portion.  Remove the bird from the oven when the meat has reached an internal temperature between 160-165 degrees.  I ideally like to remove mine when the meat is at 160 degrees.  In the event you do not have an instant-read thermometer, an alternative test is:  Using the tip of a sharp knife, pierce the skin near the thigh joint.  If the juices run clear, the bird is cooked.  NEVER rely upon:  the evil convenient pop-up thermometer!

IMG_6059Remove from the oven and remove the foil breast shield.  Remove the rack (with the turkey on it), or just the turkey, and tightly seal in heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Allow turkey to rest for 45-60 minutes.

Note:  This is the ideal time to bake your stuffing and all your oven-ready casseroles in the preheated 350 degree oven!

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #4 (Fat-Lean Separator) ~ Step 7Making the gravy.  Pour all liquid from pan into a fat/lean separator.  You will have 2-3-4 cups of drippings (depending on size of bird).  Anything short of 4 cups, make up the difference with chicken stock to total 4 cups of fat-free liquid.

Note:  If you do not own a fat/lean separator, this is an inexpensive gadget you seriously need to invest in.  Mine is 1-quart in size and glass.  Smaller, lesser expensive plastic ones work just as well.

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #5 (Making the Roux)In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat.  Whisk in 1/2 cup all-purpose flour along with 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning.  Do not add any salt and pepper as your fat-free drippings are already seasoned.  Whisk constantly, until the mixture (referred to as roux) is thickened and smooth.  This process takes 1-2 minutes.

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #6 (Gravy Done) Whisk in all liquid (4 total cups) from the separator, discarding all fat.  Adjust heat to medium-high and bring gravy to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer, whisking constantly, until gravy has thickened to your liking and coats the back of a spoon, 2-3 minutes.  The longer you simmer the gravy, the thicker it will get!

IMG_6083Note about making giblet gravy:  At this point, I like to remove/pull as many shreds of meat from the neck as I can, finely dice/mince the soft liver and stir them into the gravy.  As for the heart and the kidneys, because they are so tough and chewy, I discard them, but if you do decide to use them, grinding them in a food processor makes quick work of them.  The option to make giblet gravy is entirely yours!

IMG_6390~ Step 8.  Carving.  From my 16-pound turkey, I received two perfectly cooked breast halves and lots of lovely leg-thigh meat (my personal favorite).  This is easily enough to feed 6-8 people with a few leftovers.  Carving a turkey is no different than charving a chicken. Click on the Related Article link below to lean ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~ !

Gobble!  Gobble!  Gobble!

6a0120a8551282970b017ee592f6f4970d

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that is all about being thankful for what you have been given and sharing it with others:  family, friends, and yes, even strangers.  It doesn't have to be complicated or fancy.  Just try to relax and make whatever time you have in your kitchen count:

~ The Countdown to the Big Turkey Day Feast Begins (Melanie's Top 10 Tips to Not Let it Drive You Crazy) ~ can be found by clicking on the Related Article link below!

6a0120a8551282970b017c3387c403970bRoasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not short of it):  The 16-pound turkey used in this post will yield 6-8 hearty servings and 4 cups of gravy.  Depending on the size of any type of bird or birds you roast, the number of servings will vary.  As long as you add 4 cups of chicken stock to the pan, the amount of gravy will not vary.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; paper towels; large roasting pan w/V-rack insert, or, 2, 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pans, doubled to form one sturdy pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; aluminum foil; instant-read meat thermometer; fat/lean separator; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; whisk

IMG_6915Cook's Note:  Trussing and basting. In the event anyone is concerned about trussing the bird:  I usually don't.  The advantage to trussing is supposed to be a more appealing presentation, but I've had the string rip and tear the delicate, crispy skin when I've tried to loosen and remove it from the cooked bird.  Experimentation has proven that birds cook evenly with IMG_6390or without trussing, so the option is yours.  That said, when the legs are bound, the breast cavity is better suited to hold stuffing.  I've had good results by using a short length of twine and tying the legs together with a simple knot.  If you do decide to truss in any manner, be sure to use cotton twine specifically made for use in the kitchen.  PS:  Basting is for the birds.  After the initial browning of the skin, basting is just a pointless waste of your time!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

11/18/2014

~ Parmesan Sherry Cream Sauce for Pasta/Seafood: Don't Debate It, Grate It -- It'll melt your heart away! ~

IMG_7877"Calling all cars, there's a woman in Happy Valley putting cheese sauce on her seafood".  That sounds nonsensical because it is nonsensical and no self-appointed authority on Italian food (yes, Italians in particular get their panties in a bunch over this) is going to convince me otherwise.  In certain circumstances I find the combination of pasta and seafood swimming in a sea of silky, smooth, cheese sauce sensuous and seductive.  In fact, the food world is a better place because philistines like myself aren't afraid to break a culinary commandment once in a while -- especially one without any meaty purpose except to say "thou shall not".  What???

IMG_7876Read my 'rant', then let your taste buds & heart be the judge:

Religion & tradition.  For centuries the consumption of meat and dairy were forbidden on religious holidays and Fridays.  On such occasions, fish and seafood were the logical replacement for meat and poultry.  Since cheese is a dairy product, the few times a year and one day a week the family cook served fish or seafood, cheese was never a part of their recipe. Traditional fish dishes passed down from generation to generation contained no cheese because it was a rule, not because it didn't taste good.  Hear me:  I have nothing against religious tradition -- I've got plenty of cheeseless fish and seafood recipes in my repertoire.  

Geography & economy.  After considering the time period this rule was imposed, I think it to be brilliant.  People naturally gravitate to warm climates near a source for water (rivers, lakes, oceans)  where they can raise animals and grow crops to feed their family.  Wherever you have a large populous, like it or not, you've gotta have a government, and, if you're in charge and want to stay in charge:  you've gotta keep your people fed, and, money in the pockets of the people who sell food to people who don't grow their own.  It's the economy stupid, and, in an economy in a warm climate with no refrigeration, eating fish once a week was the perfect control mechanism to encourage fisherman to deliver fresh fish to the dock on the same day each week. The fish didn't spoil and the fisherman had money in their pockets.  It was a win/win situation.    

Common sense & logic.  Never say never, or, at least not to me.  In this day and age, with the information superhighway and the ability to purchase and taste all sorts of exotic ingredients from all corners of the world at my fingertips, that attitude is unattractive.  I will listen all day to someone banter intelligently about the history and customs behind a classic dish, but to no one who lacks the capacity to embrace thoughtful, inciteful ideas for an update or even a complete makeover (within culinary reason).  It's all about striking the right balance, and, for me, seafood and certain cheese sauces play quite well together:  I enjoy seafood alfredo, lobster mac & cheese, and, shrimp tetrazzini.  I like a sprinkling of cheese on my linguini with clam sauce and my mussels marinara too.  There is no food rule in the world that could ever prevent me me from eating properly-prepared lobster Thermidor either -- vive la France.  Now ponder this: Parmesan crusted cod, halibut or tilapia is a tasty way to get your kids to learn to like fish.  And, last but not least, don't even think about removing the cream cheese from my bagel with lox!  

When in Rome, eat like the Romans and enjoy it, but:

Don't adopt a notion just because you've heard it from birth!      

IMG_7889This is a nice, mild (not overpowering), versatile cheese sauce that works for my delicately-flavored fish and seafood needs.  I usually make it with all cream, not fish or seafood stock, although a half cream, half stock version works great too.  I season it with cayenne pepper for a bit of added heat, but, feel free to substitute white pepper.  When I make seafood lasagna, I often add a half cup of minced onion too.  We all know what a splash of sherry does to bring up the flavor of our crab, lobster, shrimp or seafood bisque -- it does the very same thing for this sauce. You can make it a day in advance too.  Just reheat it gently on the stovetop or microwave, but be prepared to add additional cream (or stock) to thin it to the consistency you're looking for.

IMG_75444  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon:  garlic powder, cayenne pepper & sea salt

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 whole milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons sherry, to taste

IMG_7563 IMG_7559~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  

Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, nutmeg, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-45 seconds.  This happens really fast.

IMG_7576 IMG_7573~ Step 2. Add the cream, in a slow steady stream, stirring or whisking constantly.

Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_7587 IMG_7586~ Step 3. Sprinkle in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Finely-grated cheese melts evenly and quickly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary, or, just because you want the sauce a little thinner.  Add the sherry, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups of silky-smooth, mild, well-balanced cheese sauce suited for fish or seafood:

IMG_7631Moral of the story:  put it on a plate & stick a fork in it:

IMG_7895Parmesan Sherry Cream Sauce for Pasta/Seafood:  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 cups, enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta tossed with 1 1/2 pounds of cooked pieces of seafood.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; large spoon or small whisk 

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bCook's Note:  While I personally don't equate cheddar cheese or cheddar cheese sauce with fish or seafood, there are a lot of food enthusiasts who might.  You can find ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables ~ by clicking into Categories 4, 8, 14, 17 or 20!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 20140

11/15/2014

~ Untangling an American Retro Classic: Tetrazzini (Stranded Pasta baked in Parmesan Cream Sauce) ~

IMG_7800If you write a cooking blog long enough, you learn that sharing old, classic recipes is as important as sharing new, innovative ones.  Another way to say it is: "what's old is always new to someone", and they appreciate learning about it -- and that includes a bit of history too.  I know this to be true because by the time I was in my thirties, tetrazzini had been around for a very long time but I had never tasted it.  I grew up a tetrazzini deprived child.  My mom didn't make it because my dad doesn't care for anything in or with a cream sauce.  Yea, I don't get it either, but that's that, "you're father won't eat that".  By the time I was in my thirties it was the mid-1980's. The manufacturers of canned soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise had had a couple of decades to bastardize tetrazzini recipes to the point of detestable, inedible glop.

I refused to try any of those versions.  The concept was so bad, I never had any desire to waste one moment trying to untangle the mess that had become of this classic recipe.  Then we went to a small wedding at The Toftrees Resort here in Happy Valley, PA.  Back in their day (the '80's and '90's), this was a swanky, upscale place with a highly-paid creative chef, a well-trained tuxedo-wearing waitstaff, and, an incredibly talented handsome guy who played the grand-piano.  After the champagne toast, the first course arrived in small, classic-white, shell-shaped plates, and, it was pasta.  As the plates were placed in front of us, the waiter announced: "Springtime Shrimp Tetrazzini".  It erased every horrid thought I ever had about tetrazzini from my head.  Now, finally, I was inspired to embrace and make this dish in my home kitchen:

IMG_7811And, just in case "you've got cheatin' on your mind":    

IMG_7692A bit about tetrazzini (teh-trah-ZEE-nee):  Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked, stranded spaghetti tossed with chards of tender, cooked poultry or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat), and, a tangy sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce. Sauted mushrooms (a must), along with steamed peas (asparagus tips or broccoli florets) and/or carrots, optional, are common additions.  

Each individual-sized dish, or the entire casserole, gets sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional grated Parmesan, then broiled (individual dishes) or baked (a casserole) until a crunchy, bubbly and golden top forms. The airy combination of almonds and Parmesan (not heavy breadcrumbs) causes strands of exposed pasta to crisp up too, which makes this super-rich dish all the more charming!

All food historians agree on one thing: this dish is not Italian, it is an American concoction named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.  It is said to have been invented for her in 1908-1910 by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, where she was a long-time resident of the hotel.  If she lived there, this does make sense, but I can find no specific documentation to say it was made with poultry and not seafood (common to San Fransicso).  A follow-up to this story is:  Luisa gave her recipe for Spaghetti Tetrazzini to Louis Paquet, chef de cuisine at The McAlpin Hotel on Harold Square in NYC (the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912), who made a chicken-based version famous.  That said, in October of 1908, Good Housekeeping makes references to tetrazzini being served "in a restaurant on 42nd street" -- The Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC is located on the corner of Broadway and 42nd street and they claim the rights to the recipe as well.  Whomever invented it -- it was damned good! 

Tetrazzini = Stranded Pasta (Spaghetti) NOT Egg Noodles!!!

IMG_7451The dish took a slow downhill slide after that.  Spin-offs started turning it into a casserole made of of leftover poultry or canned tuna, which is totally, completely understandable, Americans love their casseroles.  I have no ax to grind with that, it's tasty and family-friendly, but it was not what the elegant Ms. Tettrazzini had in mind.   Read on, because the worst was yet to come.  The cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise versions that replaced the sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce:  this was the death of the iconic dish.  

One last item:  Tetrazzini is made with stranded pasta/macaroni (any width will do but spaghetti is most common), not egg noodles.  Egg noodles (a different product) = a noodle dish or a noodle casserole (example:  tuna noodle casserole) -- it's not tettrazini.  Got it? Good!

IMG_7724^I'm making my Shrimp Tetrazzini today (chicken may be substituted)!^

I'm making my shrimp tetrazzini today.  It is my favorite version, with chicken tetrazzini being a close, creamy second.  I don't make my tettrazini using leftovers of any kind, but,  if it's turkey tetrazzini you grew up eating and are craving after Thanksgiving, by all means, use your leftover turkey (I won't call the food police).  That said, I really hope you'll give my method for making this dish a try.  It gets made in five very easy parts:  boiling pasta; simmering shrimp (or chicken); sauteing vegetables; making sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce, and; topping and baking!  

Part One:  Boiling the Pasta

IMG_7454For the pasta:

1  pound spaghetti, broken in half

1 tablespoon salt, for seasoning pasta water

4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground or cracked black pepper (not fine ground)

~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add the 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.  Break the pasta in half and add it it to the boiling water.  Give pasta a quick stir.

IMG_7465 IMG_7459~ Step 2.  Cook spaghetti until slightly less than al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well and return to stockpot.

~ Step 3.  Add the butter, Parmesan and pepper.  Toss until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated. Transfer to a large bowl & set aside:

IMG_7479Part Two: Simmering the Shrimp  

IMG_7482For the shrimp (or chicken):

6   cups water

2  cups white wine

4  medium-sized dried bay leaves

juice from 1  lemon, cut in half 

2  pounds large shrimp (31-40 count), peeled and deveined, tails off, about 1 1/2 pounds after peeling (chicken filets cut into 3/4" chunks may be substituted)

Note:  To answer your question, "yes, when I make chicken tetrazzini, I do simmer the chicken in the same lemon/bay mixture as the shrimp."  Chicken tastes lovely cooked in this manner.

IMG_7496 IMG_7489~ Step 1.  In the same 8-quart stockpot bring the water, wine, lemon juice, lemon rinds and bay leaves to a boil.  Add the shrimp (or the chicken).

~ Step 2.  Start timing immediately and cook for 3 minutes.  By the time 3 minutes are up, the water should be boiling.  Drain immediately and rinse in cold water to halt cooking. Sqeeze any remaining juice from the lemons over all.  Toss into the spaghetti and set aside:

IMG_7497Part Three:  Sauteing the Vegetables 

IMG_7511For the vegetables:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  pound white mushroom caps, sliced

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots combo, unthawed

~ Step 1.  Slice the mushrooms as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the mushrooms.

IMG_7532 IMG_7511~ Step 2. Add garlic powder & salt, increase heat to medium-high & cook until 'shrooms are losing moisture & mixture is juicy, about 6 minutes.  Add frozen vegetetables.  Cook until almost no moisture remains, 5-6 minutes. Stir into pasta mixture and set aside:

IMG_7535Part Four:  Making the Sherry-Cream Parmesan-Cheese Sauce

IMG_75504  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup whole milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons sherry, to taste

IMG_7563~ Step 1.  In the same chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper.  Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30 seconds.  It happens fast.  

IMG_7573Add the cream, in a slow stream, stirring constantly.

IMG_7587~ Step 2. Continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat.

IMG_7586Sprinkle in the Parmesan. Stir until mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary.  Add the sherry, to taste.  You will have 3-3 1/2 cups sauce.  Add and toss into pasta mix:

IMG_7642Part Five:  Topping and Baking:

IMG_76503/4  cup sliced almonds

3/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

~ Step 1.  Transfer tetrazzini mixture to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Without pressing down on top of the mixture, use a fork to evenly distribute the mixture.

IMG_7663 IMG_7659Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top, followed by the Parmesan cheese.

~ Step 2.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes.  Top will be a nice golden brown and casserole will be bubbling around the sides. Do not overbake.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to serving: 

IMG_7712From the first seductive scoop to the last luscious bite...

IMG_7725... real-deal Tetrazzini is some kind of wonderful!

IMG_7772Untangling an American Retro Classic:  Tettrazini (Stranded Pasta baked in Parmesan Cream Sauce):  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; colander; microplane grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula; salad servers, or two large spoons, for tossing pasta throughout recipe; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole

IMG_5445Cook's Note:  I admit that most people associate tetrazzini with Thanksgiving because it's a tasty way to use up that leftover turkey. For me, I find that shrimp tetrazzini is a festive go-to dish to serve for a casual holiday brunch or lunch. And, remember: ~ Save those Shrimp Shells!!! Because I Said So!!!  (How to Make a Basic Shrimp Stock a la Melanie ~.can be found in Categories 15, 15 or 22. I'm never without some in my freezer during the holiday season!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)