Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hunters' Thanksgiving Feast

As has become our tradition in recent years, Greg and I (no, I'm not in the pic!) celebrated Thanksgiving at his deer hunting camp in northeastern NC - and as usual, Greg handled virtually all the cooking and did a masterful job using only the tiny kitchen area in our RV and the oven at the camp's "cookhouse." The menu featured smoked turkey with gravy, Greg's mom's oyster & sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, roasted sweet potatoes, and a special treat made by Ron (on left in pic), one of Greg's hunting pals: smoked antelope. Earlier in the month, Ron went antelope-hunting out west, and on Thanksgiving Day he rubbed one of the hams with a chile-based dry rub (it also had a hint of sweetness to it), wrapped it in bacon, and put the antelope ham on his smoker to cook at low heat all day. The result was fork-tender and absolutely delicious, with no gamey taste at all. This was my first time eating antelope, and I was quite impressed! The flavor was so rich and satisfying (and the bacon had kept the meat moist) that there was no need to add any sauce.

Greg prepared the turkey by brining it for just over a day in his standard brine (I posted the recipe earlier) using limes as the citrus, and then smoking it at 300 degrees until the meat reached 180 degrees (that took about 6 hours - it was a windy day and the smoker needed much tending to in order to keep it hot enough). The bird was succulent and had a pleasantly smoky flavor that did not overpower. On a whim, Greg placed a pan in the smoker under the turkey to catch drippings, with the thought of making gravy. While the bird smoked, he boiled and then diced the giblets to add to the gravy. Once the turkey was done, he removed the pan with the drippings and heated it on the stove, stirring in flour and cooking until thick & bubbly, then adding the giblets. One look at the finished product and we both thought it was a disaster: the color was a pasty gray, with a layer of grease on top (which he skimmed off). Thankfully we decided to taste the gravy before throwing it out - and it was remarkably tasty (if visually unappetizing), with a rich poultry flavor enhanced by a touch of smokiness.

As usual, the oyster & sausage stuffing was phenomenal (almost as good as when Greg's mom makes it). I'll see if I can post the recipe in the future. And especially because the turkey was cooked in a smoker, Greg baked the stuffing separately. The sweet potatoes were a new recipe (Greg didn't want to attempt his traditional souffle using the primitive kitchen environment): Greg chopped the unpeeled sweet potatoes into large chunks, placed them in a resealable plastic bag with enough olive oil to coat plus a healthy amount of brown sugar, and then shook everything well to mix. He then roasted them in a baking pan until the potatoes were done and the sugar had started to caramelize. They provided the perfect sweet counterpoint to the smoky turkey and antelope. The green bean casserole was the old warhorse found on the back of the can of mushroom soup. Definitely comfort food and a foolproof dish even in a hunt camp or RV kitchen. The only disappointment was the dessert: Greg didn't have time to make his famous bourbon pecan pie so we resorted to store-bought pie. But we were all so full by the end of the meal that dessert didn't really matter!

If you had any unusual or unique foods this Thanksgiving, feel free to share your comments and recipes.

Zestfully yours,

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