Smoked Turkey with Fruit Stuffing and Bacon

Thanksgiving was over two weeks ago now. I kind of feel like Rip Van Winkle. That might be because I spent the first half of that time in an amnesiac state cooking, eating, shopping, eating, Christmas decorating… and eating. And then the cold that I had so cavalierly, so foolishly thought I could avoid — even though it had brought down every other member of my house — well, it decided it was time to show me who was boss. It kicked my ass; I slept a lot and rediscovered my love for Nyquil.

Which is all to say, dearies, that I am back from the dead and I have a hell of a turkey recipe to share with you. There are not many things in the world that would make me get up at 6:15 a.m. This is one of them. I had a little company as I fired up the Big Green Egg, though…

A boy and his dog

While my Egg was coming up to 375 degrees, I removed my 6 lb turkey breast from the refrigerator, where it has been sitting in a simple salt and brown sugar brine for about 24 hours.

Turkey Brine

After a good rinsing, I pounded the turkey breast a bit with a mallet to even it out. Then it was time to spread the simple stuffing on top: I used one finely diced peeled apple mixed with 1/4 cup each golden raisins, chopped celery, and chopped walnuts.

Apple Stuffing

A careful roll and it looked like this:

Stuffed Turkey Breast

I find life is much easier if I lay out my butcher twine and then place the bacon I will be braiding on top.

Bacon Braid

Then all I have to do is carefully move my turkey roll over and start wrapping the bacon all around. Thorough and tight bundling with the butcher’s twine keeps everything in place.

Bacon Braid

And onto the smoker it goes. After about an hour, I rotated it for even cooking, inserted a temperature probe, and tented it with foil to keep the bacon from getting too charred.

Smoked Turkey Breast

As the internal temp approached the desired 165ºF (about 30 minutes later), I uncovered the turkey and took a peek. It was looking a bit dry for my liking, so I whipped together some cranberry juice and apricot preserves to make a basting sauce. (I would have preferred apple jelly and apple juice but you gotta go with what you have and it added a nice finish.) I brushed it all over and then dumped the last of the preserves on top, where they melted into a yummy, shiny glaze.

Bacon-wrapped Turkey Breast

My temperature probe told me we were at 160ºF, so I removed my lovely turkey from the heat and let it rest under a cozy foil blanket for a bit and finish cooking. This was the last purty shot I got…

Smoked Stuffed Turkey Breast

And then it was bundled up and transported to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving lunch — along with the requisite (and amazing) sweet potato casserole and some Pioneer Woman creamy mashed potatoes.

If there is one thing we know how to do in my family, it is eat. My aunt always says that you know you are one of us if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket and you never met a meal you didn’t like. There was plenty to like about this turkey, so I hope you’ll give it a spin.

Categories: Poultry, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Cornish Game Hens

My food and cooking obsession means that I read a lot of recipes and an embarrassing number of food blogs. Recently I read a post on Griffin’s Grub about Cornish game hens that put these wee chickens back on my radar. The next day, I happened to see some on sale at the grocery store and threw them in my cart and then my freezer. There they sat, waiting for me to become further inspired. Luckily, Adam over at The Unorthodox Epicure included some tips on using buttermilk to tenderize poultry and the hens went into the fridge to defrost. The recipe below is a mishmash of various sources — a little Nigella Lawson here, a smidge of Smitten Kitchen there, and a dose of Big Green Egg tips thrown into the mix. The end result is something you can serve with pride as a unique spin on the traditional Thanksgiving main or just a Sunday supper.

Let’s talk about the hens. My husband likes to say that I will buy any food that is miniature just because I think it is so darn cute. I do not deny it. Cornish game hens are pretty adorable in their tiny turkey-ness. But I also like the fact that you get a good ratio of crispy skin to juicy meat (both dark and white.) I have cooked them a couple of times for Thanksgiving and they are always a hit. Here’s what they usually look like in the store:

Cornish Game Hens

Don’t be fooled by their petite size — these suckers take a bit of time to defrost in the fridge. Mine took about 36 hours to fully defrost. Of course, you can always put them in cold water to speed things up. Once my little chickies were frost-free, I started whipping up my buttermilk brine.

Buttermilk Brine (for 2 hens)

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 cups buttermilk
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 1/4 tablespoons Morton’s kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, plus extra for sprinkling (I used smoked paprika)

Whisk buttermilk with garlic, table salt, sugar, and paprika in a bowl. Place game hens in a gallon-sized freezer bag and pour buttermilk brine over them. Refrigerate for at least 2 but preferably 24 and up to 48 hours. (I only had four hours to spare so that’s what mine got.)

Cornish Game Hens in buttermilk brine

While my hens finished marinating, I started up my Big Green Egg. Slightly soaked applewood chips went on my blazing coals and then I put my plate setter in legs up for indirect heat, with a drip pan on top. Once I had a dome temperature of 350 degrees F, I was ready to cook. I removed my hens from the brine, drained them a bit, and then stuffed them with some fresh sage leaves and orange wedges like so:

Cornish Game Hens

I sprinkled them with sea salt and more smoked paprika and then they went out to the smoker and onto the grate.

Cornish Game Hens

My total cook time was 1.5 hours: I put the lid down and left them alone for 30 minutes. Then I came back, flipped them over, and basted them with some olive oil to crisp up the skin. Another 30 minutes and they were looking good.

Cornish Game Hens

They got one final flip and some more olive oil. After 30 minutes, they were ready to pull off and rest for a bit. I was pretty pleased with the browning and they sure smelled heavenly.

Cornish Game Hens

We sliced one in half, removed the aromatics inside, and plated them up with some yummy Thanksgiving-inspired sides. (Posts on these later in the week.)

Thanksgiving Meal

I have mentioned before that I am not a big chicken fan but, man, these things were tasty. After trying to be polite and use our utensils, the hubby and I finally just started pulling the meat from the bones with our hands. The skin was crispy and flavorful and the meat was juicy good. Give ’em a try — they’ll do you proud.

What if I don’t have a Big Green Egg? No worries — all you need to do is roast the hens in your oven at 375 degrees for an hour. You’ll probably want to pat them dry a bit more and generously coat them with olive oil before you pop them in to cook.

Categories: Poultry, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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