'The Kulps kept Thanksgiving simple," says Eli Kulp.
It's a hard thing to imagine, little Eli eagerly anticipating his childhood holiday table laden with boxed stuffing, green bean casserole topped with crunchy canned onions, and jellied cranberries jiggled out of a can. Even the sweet potatoes were canned.
After all, Kulp has grown up to become one of Philadelphia's most inventive chefs at Fork, where the menu is hand-crafted from the finest local ingredients and whole ducks get turned into a labor-intensive, four-part masterpiece. Give him a turkey now, and if he isn't rolling it into a smoked boneless ballotine (a few years of that was enough), he's got a giant syringe of exotically spiced brine ready to pump it full of flavor: "Flavor times 10," he said.
But Kulp was raised in a Mossyrock, Wash., family of modest means, with a dad who works for the Lewis County Parks & Recreation Department, and a librarian mom who, born in Amsterdam, did not come by the Thanksgiving meal naturally.
Even so, "it was still a magical period of the year," he said. "Looking back . . . it makes me smile to think all that simplicity made me overjoyed as a child who never knew better food existed. And that's the joy of it. Even if it was underseasoned and overcooked, I still have great memories."
In many ways, Kulp's Thanksgiving days are still an exercise in simplicity, as he typically takes time off and steps back to let the relatives do their thing. Of course, that doesn't mean the chef isn't observing, and silently taking notes.
"Dad? He doesn't brine his bird. My father-in-law? He never lets the bird rest enough. Twenty minutes later, they're carving it up."
Kulp will happily be spending the holiday with his in-laws this year. But thankfully, he'll also still have his own cooking outlet for Thanksgiving, orchestrating the prep of complete meals to be catered through Fork, with pickup at the new High Street on Market space next door. (Fork itself will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.) And he has agreed to share both the recipes and techniques to do it his way.
Though he has been cooking in Philadelphia for only a year, the former chef at Torrisi Italian Specialties in New York has been thoroughly inspired by the bounty of his new surroundings.
"I'm thankful for what we have going on in this city, and the opportunity to work with farmers like Ian Brendle, Tom Culton, and Jack Goldenberg," says Kulp. "The harvest means something to me."
So, with the added bonus of his own local connection - his grandma Phyllis Kulp moved west from Windber, Pa. - he has drawn direct inspiration from traditional Pennsylvania flavors for this menu. Pickled red onions and dill perk up the roasted brussels sprouts. A dose of warm buttermilk adds a distinctive country tang to the finish of his gravy.
Stone-ground corn from Castle Valley Mill in Doylestown is the base for a cracked corn porridge he stews with turkey neck and giblet gravy - an earthy side that isn't for everyone, but will become a new favorite with the gizzard crowd. (Me!) Pastry chef Samantha Kincaid's double-crusted shoofly pie will knock everyone out, if the turkey hasn't already.
And speaking of that bird, Kulp has also supercharged his brine with a bouquet of Pennsylvania Dutch aromatics, from the molasses that adds sweetness to balance the salt, to the ground allspice, cumin, cinnamon, clove, and ginger that get toasted and ground into the brew.
A 24-hour brine soak should be more than adequate for most people. But Kulp is a believer in complete saturation and suggests using a stainless steel "meat injector" - essentially a large syringe with three holes at the sharp end - to shower the meat from the inside, especially the lean breast, "until it can hold no more." (Kulp favors the Weston brand, though many models are available. See "Resources," below.)
One key piece of advice, though, is to be sure to lift up the flap of neck skin and insert the needle directly into the flesh, being careful not to pierce the skin. (He estimates each breast should be able to hold three 1-ounce injections, inserted in three spots, beginning closest to the bone and moving toward the back.)
Essential tip No. 2: Let your turkey come to room temperature for up to two hours before roasting.
"If your bird is already at 70 degrees, instead of 35, it allows the oven to hold its temperature better and allows for more even browning."
Kulp's final edict: "Give yourself an hour for the turkey to rest after it comes out of the oven [and don't cover with foil, which dampens the skin's crisp]. It will still be hot, and the meat will be so much better."
Not that Kulp plans to actually say anything once he arrives at the in-laws' house in Niagara Falls next Thursday.
"They've done it 50 times perfectly the way they do it, and it's not my place," he says. "But I'd give them pointers if they ask."
Eli Kulp's Thanksgiving Turkey
Serves 8, with leftovers
For the brine (makes enough for up to an 18-pound turkey):
2 tablespoons coriander seed, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon allspice berries, toasted and ground
4 pieces star anise, toasted and ground
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, toasted and ground
2 cinnamon sticks, toasted and ground
3 gallons water
12 ounces kosher salt
1 ounce molasses
1 ounce brown sugar
1/2 bunch thyme
1/2 bunch rosemary
4 bay leaves
1 head garlic, halved
2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
For the turkey:
1 turkey (12 to 15 pounds), innards reserved
1 bunch rosemary
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch sage
2 heads garlic, halved
2 white onions, quartered
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
2 fennel bulbs, quartered
2 apples, cut in wedges
2 pears, cut in wedges
1/4 head green cabbage, cut in wedges
4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1. For brine: Toast and grind all the spices. Combine water with spices and all other ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and chill the brine completely in the refrigerator (can be done days in advance). If using an injector, insert meat pump needle into breast from the neck side of the bird, being careful to gently lift skin so as not to pierce it. Insert the needle close to the bone, squeezing in about 1 ounce of brine. Repeat two or three times in other areas of the breast, until meat no longer holds liquid. Then place turkey in 5-gallon bucket, submerge in remaining brine, and chill for 24 hours.
2. To roast: Remove turkey from brine, and let sit on counter coming to room temperature up to two hours before roasting. Dry turkey. Season with salt and pepper inside cavity and stuff with herbs and one head of garlic. Truss turkey. Rub skin with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Heat oven to 500 degrees. Place turkey on rack in roasting pan. Roast 30 minutes rotating once.
4. Remove turkey from oven and reduce temperature to 300 degrees. Toss vegetables and fruit with oil, salt, and pepper. Add to roasting pan around turkey. Return to oven for approximately three hours longer or until thigh reaches 165 degrees; check frequently after first two hours.
5. Remove turkey from oven and let it rest for one hour before carving. Remove fruit and vegetables from pan and reserve. Reserve roasting pan and drippings for making gravy. Serve turkey with roasted fruit and vegetables.
Per serving: 659 calories; 85 grams protein; 32 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams sugar; 20 grams fat; 215 milligrams cholesterol; 391 milligrams sodium; 8 grams dietary fiber.
1/4 cup turkey fat from roasting pan
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup drippings from roasting pan
3 cups unseasoned turkey or chicken stock, simmering
1/2 cup buttermilk, warm
Salt and pepper to taste
1. After removing turkey from roasting pan, strain drippings into measuring cup and allow fat to separate. Spoon off fat, reserving 1/4 cup for gravy.
2. Place pan over heat; add wine to deglaze. Using a wooden spoon, scrape bottom of pan while wine reduces to remove and dissolve brown bits. Once it comes to a simmer, pour into a cup and set aside.
3. In saucepan, combine the turkey fat with flour and whisk until smooth. Cook for two to three minutes. Add pan drippings and whisk to combine. Add the deglazed wine liquid. Gradually add stock and bring gravy to a boil, then turn down to simmer and cook for about five minutes. It should be about thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If you want it thicker, cook it a little longer. If you want it thinner, add a little stock. Shortly before service, whisk in buttermilk and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Per serving: 110 calories; 4 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; trace sugar; 16 grams fat; no cholesterol; 22 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.
Brussels Sprouts With Pickled Red Onion and Maple Mustard Vinaigrette
For the pickled red onion:
1 red onion, halved, thinly sliced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
For the maple-mustard vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon whole- grain mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, medium-sized
1/4 cup olive oil
2 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and torn
2 sprigs fresh dill, leaves picked
1. For pickled red onions: Bring vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to boil. Pour hot liquid over sliced onions and allow onions to cool in liquid to room temperature. Can be done a day in advance.
2. For maple mustard vinaigrette: Whisk together mustard, maple syrup, vinegar and thyme. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking continuously, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Cut off ends of brussels sprouts and remove loose outer leaves. Wash and let dry. Cut in half lengthwise. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place cut side down on baking sheet and roast at 400
degrees for 30 minutes or until crisp and brown on outside and tender inside. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Toss brussels sprouts with pickled red onions, mint, dill, and vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature. Can be done up to two hours in advance.
Per serving: 191 calories; 5 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams sugar; 13 grams fat; no cholesterol; 264 milligrams sodium; 6 grams dietary fiber.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes With Spiced Walnuts
2 1/2 pounds small to medium sweet potatoes (skin scrubbed well, but left unpeeled, or peel, but won't crisp the same), cut into wedges 1/2 inch thick by 2 inches long
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sage, chopped fine
1 orange, zested into ribbons
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup walnut pieces
1. Toss sweet potatoes with half the olive oil, salt, pepper, sage, orange zest, and 2 teaspoons spice mixture.
2. Place on baking sheet in single layer and roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and tender. This can be done before roasting the turkey. Set aside.
3. To finish, toss walnuts with a teaspoon of olive oil, salt, and remaining spice mixture. Toast in oven for 10 minutes. Reheat potatoes at this time.
4. Combine sweet potatoes, spiced walnuts, and orange zest. Drizzle with olive oil to taste, and serve.
Per serving: 280 calories; 6 grams protein; 41 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram sugar; 11 grams fat; no cholesterol; 13 milligrams sodium; 7 grams dietary fiber.
Cracked Corn Porridge, with Giblet Ragout
For the porridge:
1 stick butter (4 ounces)
1 turkey neck
1 cup Castle Valley cracked corn
1 cup Castle Valley polenta
8 cups water
2 tablespoons sage, chopped
For the ragout:
Innards from 1 turkey (heart, liver, and gizzard), chopped fine, or ground to consistency of sausage
2 small yellow onions, julienned
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1 cheesecloth sachet (2 sprigs thyme, 2 bay leaf, 1 sprig rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes)
6 cups unseasoned turkey or chicken stock
2 tablespoons cream
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1. For the porridge: In a pot large enough to hold all ingredients, brown turkey neck in butter. Deglaze with water and bring to a boil. While boiling, stream in cracked corn and polenta. Whisk as you add. Continue to whisk to make sure no clumps form. Once porridge thickens up, turn heat to very low and let simmer gently, stirring and scraping bottom to make sure nothing is scorching on bottom.
2. When the porridge is creamy, remove turkey neck and allow to cool. Pick meat from neck and reincorporate into porridge. Before serving, season porridge with salt and pepper and finish with butter and fresh herbs.
3. For the ragout: In a saucepan, sweat onions and garlic until translucent. Add chopped innards and cook until lightly browned. Deglaze with white wine and add sachet. Reduce wine to cook off alcohol. Add half of your stock, which should cover onion and innards mixture. Cook over medium low until reduced by two-thirds, about 30 minutes. Add rest of stock and cook until mixture is tender and the consistency of a rustic gravy. Season the ragout with salt and pepper. Finish with cream, butter and red wine vinegar to taste.
Per serving: 456 calories; 33 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar; 30 grams fat; 452 milligrams cholesterol; 752 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.
For the pie crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cold, cubed
8 tablespoons water, cold
For the streusel:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon warm spice mix (equal parts freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, clove)
1 cup butter, cold, cubed
For the filling:
1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1. For crust: Combine flour, salt in a wide bowl. Add butter cubes and cut in with pastry knife. Cut and pinch mixture until butter pieces are larger than a pea and smaller than a walnut. Create a well in the center and pour cold water into bowl. Toss to incorporate and carefully fold to create a shaggy mass.
2. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and roll out. Fold dough over itself, press in sides, roll out again, fold over again. Press in sides and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill before rolling out. Roll out thin, between 1/8 and 1/4 inch (4 millimeters) thick. Cut a round slightly larger than the pie pan and line the pie pan. Cut another circle the diameter of the inside of the pie for a top. Punch out random holes at different sizes to create a polka-dot pattern. Reserve this top piece.
3. For the streusel: Combine flours, brown sugar, and spices in a mixing bowl. Add cubed butter and mix with a paddle on medium-low speed until the mixture is uniformly crumbly. Stop mixer before the dough begins to clump.
4. Make the filling: Combine hot water and baking soda in a bowl. Whisk in brown sugar, molasses, and maple syrup, then eggs and salt.
5. Par-bake pie crust at 375 degrees until edges are lightly browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Once cool, sprinkle bottom with streusel. Pat down gently. Pour shoofly filling on top of streusel layer. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, then turn down oven to 325 and continue baking for 30 minutes. Once filling has formed a thick skin on top, sprinkle evenly with streusel, then place top crust; continue baking until filling is set, streusel is baked, and top is browned, about 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Serve with a giant scoop of buttermilk ice cream.
Per serving: 821 calories; 9 grams protein; 90 grams carbohydrates; 31 grams sugar; 48 grams fat; 163 milligrams cholesterol; 1,093 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.
Fork (306 Market St.) is catering Thanksgiving meals based on these recipes. Prices range from $14 a person (12 person minimum) for just turkey and gravy, to $45 per person for a complete feast. Order by Friday, Nov. 22. See menu at: forkrestaurant.com/thanksgiving-menu
Corn: Fork is a good source for Castle Valley Mill products. The Fair Food stand in the Reading Terminal Market also has them. See castlevalleymill.com for more.
Meat injectors: Kulp's preferred Weston brand costs $18.70 (plus shipping) on Amazon, or $26.99 at Fante's (1006 S 9th St.)