Knee Deep in Willie Bird

It's that time of year again and I'm sure most restaurants are in the same boat as we are. Turkey time is upon us and we have sourced some fresh Willie Birds from Sonoma. The birds are an all natural fresh product that really speaks for itself. Outside of killing your own bird it is hard to compete with this product. We spent all day yesterday breaking down the 24 birds ranging from 12-14lbs. The breasts and tenderloins have been separated, the legs and thighs as well. The carcass get's it's own VIP treatment which I will divulge later in the post. Livers reserved as well as all scrap for future charcuterie endevours.
Today we began portioning breasts where as in the past we would activa and role the breasts into cylinders, sometimes stuffing them with a farce, but this year we are headed in a different direction. This year is more of a focus on the bird itself, clean, clear, and precise. The tenderloins are cleaned of the sinew for kids portions. The legs and thighs are being braised this go round instead of cured and confit as in the past.
We went with a traditional braise instead of sous vide for the dark meat since the finished product requires it. It's is a little more difficult to pick and shred sous vide thighs and legs. Below we have arranged our thighs and legs for the braise.

**A note on the braising veg, stock, and Cib**
In the past every vegetable in the restaurant that went into a stock was heavily caramelized as well as the bones. We have been show a different way from our exec chef Robert Ciborowski and the difference speaks for itself. As a TK alum, Cib shows us how all the little details really make a difference. Combined with some Roger Verge research and TK technique our stocks and braises are better than ever. For one, celery is almost forbidden in stocks and any liquid that will be reduced to eliminate bitterness. Instead we add celery root to all our braises and stocks to replace it. I never get a bitter note from a reduction on line check anymore. So here were sub celery root for our celery and add fresh laurel, and thyme.
Beauty comes in such simple forms. Sometimes randomly arranged veg just looks like it was meant to be there.

This is where the stock comes into play. The carcasses of the turkeys get a nice long rinse in the kettle under cold water until the water coming out of the bottom is clear. At this point the only thing in the kettle is the turkey bones. Then fill just above the bones with cold water and heat the kettle gradually. We have replaced all the time it takes to roast the veg and the bones with standing over the kettle for about an hour, never leaving and constantly skimming. When it comes to a low simmer and all scum has been skimmed dump in half as much ice as you have water. If you are starting with 20 gallons, you will dump in 2ea, 5 gallon cambros of ice and TURN the kettle off at this point. The ice will cause the fat at the surface to congeal and it can be easily skimmed and removed. Now slowly start your kettle again skimming as the temperature comes to a simmer. Now add your veg(carrot, onion, celery root, thyme, laurel, traditional ratios for mirepoix to gallons of stock being made). Also you want to add about 1 bunch of leeks(whites only, very important you do not add the green tops) for every 5 gallons of stock being made. Let it come to a simmer again, and yes keep skimming. Now you let it go for 8 hours, skimming every 20 minutes. The stock will be as clear as day and the flavor really represents the time and effort.
We took this stock straight from the kettle and strained it several times then covered the legs and thighs with the stock, add a cartouche, and foil.

We let them braise for 5 hours @ 200F and bumped the temp slightly at the end to 250 for 30 minutes so the meat released from the bone easily. Braised turkey is usually pretty dry and mealy but this method turned out nicely.
Now we will pick all the meat, slowly reduce the braising liquid, mount it with butter, add any desired seasoning or herbs, and fold it into the picked legs and thighs. This will then be pressed into sheet pans and put in the fridge with a weight on them. On T-day, we will portion, sear, and reheat in the oven.

Next on the list of course was the stuffing. This recipe is an Ed Bilicki original that has stuck with us since he was the chef here before me. We have of course made our little modifications but for the most part you don't really need to mess with a good thing.
Toasted pumpernickel and brioche get tossed with caramelized mirepoix(yes this has celery in it), sage, turkey stock, and a custard base.

We press it into sheet pans and bake at 350F for 30 minutes with parchment, another sheet pan, and a couple cast iron pans on top then let it cool in the same fashion. It's basically a stuffing bread pudding. We portion it, sear it and put it on the plate.

So for now the braising liquid will finish reducing tomorrow and we will press the legs and thighs, the breasts are currently swimming in a brine then will be sous vide and seared for service. Mushroom bechemel has been made and tomorrow we make the haricot vert cassarole, focaccia scraps have been saved from service tonight to dry for a nice crunchy topping. Cranberry fluid gel will be addressed as well. The remaining stock has been reduced all day and I will post that tomorrow to show how a stock where nothing has been roasted still has great color and clarity, not to mention flavor. Stay tuned........did I mention I'm already sick of turkey!

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