Fifteen years ago I was on the WGN Radio Thanksgiving morning show. It was a live call in program where people could ask their turkey questions, which ended up ranging from the expected to the really wacky. There were the usual inquiries about what to do with the little package containing the gizzard, neck and heart, how to tell when the bird was done and how to carve. A panic-stricken cook called, “Guests arrive in four hours and I can’t fit my turkey into the oven, now what?” After guiding her through surgery, I received a dinner invitation to their Thanksgiving.
This is most people’s favorite holiday because it involves seeing friends and family, and sharing a meal without all the complications that come with giving and receiving gifts. The biggest challenge when preparing the feast is getting everything to the table, hot, and at the same time. It’s generally the turkey that causes the most consternation.
If you live in Chicago, here’s a strategy that leaves you time and room to concentrate on what are everybody’s favorites, the sides and dessert. Hon Kee Restaurant, in the heart of the Vietnamese shopping community on Argyle, specializes in vertically roasted chickens, ducks and whole pigs. You see their succulent poultry and meats hanging in the shop window. The good news… the whole week of Thanksgiving, they also prepare turkeys. Here are the details:
You can provide your own turkey, seasoned as you wish, and Hon Kee will roast it for you, charging $1.30 per pound.
Or Hon Kee will provide the turkey and roast it with the same seasoning and sauce they use for their roasted ducks. They charge $3.85 per pound for their Peking turkey.
You only need to drop off your bird or order theirs one day in advance. You specify the poundage. The turkeys are available the whole week, from November 23 to the 30th. Just call Paul at 773.878.6650. Hon Kee is located at 1064 West Argyle Street, Chicago. The birds are vertically roasted at a high temperature and are the juiciest turkeys I’ve ever eaten!
However, roasting a turkey in your home oven may be an essential tradition in your family. First, where to buy the turkey? While there are a lot of options, my favorite is Holzkopf’s Meat Market, 6155 North Broadway. Call Mark to order your bird at 773.764-0714. Mark sells all natural Amish turkeys from Peacock’s Farm, founded in 1928 and still family owned and operated.
A major dilemma for a lot of people is whether to put the stuffing inside of the bird. Absolutely not! By the time the stuffing is correctly (and safely) cooked your turkey is over done. Put the stuffing in a casserole dish and baste it with the pan juices as the turkey roasts, that’s if you can deal with the issue of oven space.
However, this is my favorite option for stuffing. Fill the cavity of your turkey with tamales! Unwrap them and put them in the bird’s cavity. They are already cooked so they don’t need to be more than warmed. Buy extra and you will have a great breakfast treat as you cook your Thanksgiving feast. The fragrance of the masa perfumes the whole bird and you can wrap the breast in the empty cornhusks to protect it as it cooks.
In Chicago, with our large Mexican population, there are many places for good tamales but my favorite is Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero at 7034 North Clark Street. They are open from 5am to 8pm six days a week, closed on Monday.