Tired of the same old turkey on Thanksgiving? You’ve probably had it baked, fried and even stuffed with a duck, and a chicken, but more than likely, you’ve never had it like this. Start a new Thanksgiving tradition this year and boil it like crawfish!
Kerry Gogreve vividly remembers a certain family crawfish boil when he was 17 years old.
“We had boiled some crawfish and were sitting around, and had eaten all the crawfish. My dad said, ‘We ought to try a couple of chickens.’ We went to Winn-Dixie and got two chickens, boiled them and took them out. Everybody was full of crawfish, but people went after that chicken.
“So we did it every time after that,” Kerry said. “That chicken turned into turkey.”
This is why, for the past decade or so, Kerry and Mary Kay Gogreve have turkey prepared three different ways at Thanksgiving. None of them is roasted in the oven.
One is deep-fried; one is smoked; and the third is boiled with onions, garlic, new potatoes and a lot of crawfish boil spice.
Straight out of the boiling pot, the turkey is not pretty. This is not your Norman Rockwell roasted bird. The Gogreves remove the skin and bones and cut the bird into slices for serving, with a little of the boiling water poured over it.
It always goes first, they say.
“It’s better for you,” Kerry said. “Fried turkey is good, but when you eat the boiled turkey you forget about it.”
The Gogreves are the prototypical south Louisiana skilled indoor and outdoor cooks, generous and friendly, devout Saints fans. Their back yard has rows of neat vegetables, fruit trees and trellised grapes grown from seeds of supermarket grapes. Kerry’s creativity is evident everywhere. In the garage he makes traditional-style copper lanterns and is putting a new engine in an El Camino; he converted an industrial-size air compressor tank into a smoker that makes what he says is the best brisket ever.
A family photo gallery in their spacious Harahan home includes his great-grandfather in his streetcar conductor uniform. Kerry, an engineer and facilities manager at a busy medical center, grew up Uptown. Mary Kay is a Waguespack from the tiny rural community of St. James, and is the operations manager of a local law firm.
Neighbor Robbie Lack came over to consult on something in the garage with Kerry on a recent Saturday, as Kerry boiled a turkey for a reporter and photographer. Lack has eaten it at their home.
“I never heard of anybody doing it before,” Lack said of the turkey in the boiling pot. “It’s a way to make the bird juicy.”
Like many things, their boiling pot turkey got its start after Hurricane Katrina.
Some 45 pounds of chicken thighs, which had been frozen in cold storage, were available when the power came back on in their house on the Thursday after the storm. They were some of the first in their neighborhood to have lights. They decided to invite all the neighbors. Kerry boiled the chicken thighs as his dad had done with those chickens when he was 17.
It was the first time Mary Kay had poultry cooked in a boiling pot.
“I was immediately enamored,” she said.
Mary Kay said she likes the crispy wing of a fried turkey, and having the two on Thanksgiving is the best of both worlds. Sometimes, Kerry smokes the turkey after it’s boiled, as he has also done with ribs.
The turkey is harder to overcook when it’s boiled, Kerry said. A turkey fried for five minutes too long can be dry. Traditional roasting has long-documented problems that successful cooks must overcome: The white meat cooks and dries out faster than the dark meat.
For the past couple of Thanksgivings, a technique making the rounds of national media was to braise turkey legs separately from the roasted breast. This is similar but much less fussy, in that the whole bird is cooked in liquid.
One could think of the Gogreve’s boiling pot turkey as a creative Louisiana cooking crossover, applying the traditional seafood boiling technique to poultry.
Years ago, readers taught me to add a couple of drops of liquid crab boil to perk up the flavor of poaching liquid for chicken breasts and the cooking liquid for hot dogs.
The couple never knows how many they will have for Thanksgiving dinner, but they plan for around 16 to 20 guests. For the sample boiled dinner for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, Mary Kay also made mirlitons and shrimp casserole, and sweet potatoes mashed and topped with a crunchy pecan mixture. For the first time ever, she cooked a cucuzza, the heirloom Italian squash that grows as long as a yardstick, which somebody had given it to Kerry. (“My mom cooked it all the time,” he said.) She boiled it, scooped out the flesh and cooked it with shrimp like the mirlitons.
She made a buttermilk custard pie and a chocolate pie for Kerry, who prefers chocolate desserts over all things. Click here to see the Buttermilk Custard Pie recipe, which she got from a co-worker years ago.
After sharing the early Thanksgiving meal, Kerry stood up and looked toward the garage.
“Time to get out the Christmas decorations,” he joked.
BOILING POT TURKEY RECIPE
Kerry Gogreve prefers Cajun Land brand seasoning. He uses a four-pound jar of dry seasoning and a cup of the liquid crab boil, which makes a seriously spicy turkey. You may want to lower the amount of seasoning the first time you try this, especially if guests do not have a high tolerance for picante flavors.
“I taste the water as I go,” Kerry says. “You make the water taste like what you want the food to taste. Stir it, and stick your hand in there and taste. I play with it.”
Size: Be sure to choose a turkey that will fit in the boiling pot you have and that the water line will stay above the turkey for the entire cooking time. (Kerry’s unmarked pot is 30 or 40 quarts, plenty big for a 13-pound turkey.)
Timing: Kerry cooked a 13-pound turkey for 40 or 45 minutes, then let it soak for 20 minutes in the boiling water, “just like seafood,” he says, to absorb flavors; this gives the meat a reddish cast. A 16-pound turkey would need to be boiled about an hour to hour and 15 minutes at a rolling boil.
Vegetable notes: Kerry leaves heads of garlic whole and adds them with the onions (halved or whole) at the beginning of the boil. The onions dissolve into the water after about 20 minutes. New potatoes are added about 20 minutes before the end of cooking.
Boiling Pot Turkey
Makes 15-20 servings
1 (13-pound) turkey, defrosted if frozen
1 (3 pound) bag onions, peeled, halved and/or whole
10-15 heads garlic, tops cut off
3 to 5 pounds new potatoes (use as many as you like and what will fit in the pot)
4-pound container powdered crawfish boil seasoning mix (or less if you can’t take very spicy)*
1 cup liquid crab boil (or to taste)
Prepare a boiling pot with water as for a seafood boil: Add powdered and liquid seasoning; stir well. Add onions and garlic.
Taste the water for seasoning and adjust accordingly. The water should taste like what you want the food to taste like. When water has come to a hard rolling boil, submerge turkey in the water.
Add potatoes after the turkey has boiled about 20 to 25 minutes.
After about 45 minutes, remove turkey from water and check the thigh joint to see if the turkey is done. There should be very little or no redness. The turkey can be left in the water to soak up additional seasonings. Kerry recommends at least a 20-minute soak.
Remove turkey from water, and remove potatoes and garlic. Keep potatoes warm. Reserve boiling liquid until turkey is prepared for serving.
When cool enough to handle, cut turkey into large slices, removing skin and bones. Put the slices on a large shallow platter or bowl. Arrange potatoes and heads of garlic around the slices. To keep the turkey moist, pour a cup or two of the boiling liquid over the turkey. Serve with a meat fork as well as a big spoon for the liquid.
*As noted above, this amount of seasoning makes a very spicy turkey. Adjust the amount to your taste.
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Arlen Benny Cenac, Jr.
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