The Food Lab: Latke-Crusted Turkey Stuffing Fritters With Liquid Cranberry Core and Turkey Schmaltz Gravy
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As part of the literally once-in-a-lifetime convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving this year, we engaged in a little friendly food battle with our friends over at Food52, with both of us coming up with the best Thanksgivukkah mashup recipe we could think of. Nothing like a few arbitrary and artificial constraints to get the creative juices rolling, right?
Speaking of rolling juices, that's what's at the center of our creation, again, literally. It's nice to be able to use that word and really mean it.
Working from the inside out, we start with a oozy liquid center of cranberry sauce, surrounded by a light layer of stuffing that's been flavored with some homemade turkey and sage sausage. Encasing that whole thing is a thin crust of crisp latke-style potato and onion batter that frizzles and crisps, thin bits of potato and onion sticking out in a wild tangle. Sort of like a cross between a Bloomin' Onion, shoestring fries, and Bellatrix Lestrange's hair.
The fritters are served hot with a side of turkey schmaltz gravy for dipping.
Read on to see how I made'em. The process is pretty simple, and can actually be used for a wide range of similar fritters—try a risotto ball with a creamy cheese sauce in the center or perhaps some confit duck fritters with a quince core. Get the idea?
The Cranberry Core
The cranberry center starts off with a basic cranberry sauce. The World's Easiest Cranberry Sauce, to be precise. It's just a mixture of cranberries and sugar, cooked down until the berries pop and release their juices.
Because cranberries are so high in pectin, a sauce made with them will naturally set into a firm gel when it cools. In fact, a pure cranberry sauce ends up gelling so firmly that it refuses to re-soften even when heated. In order to ensure that the core of my fritters ends up soft, I needed to thin out the sauce with just a bit of water.
I strained the sauce through a fine mesh chinois in order to make it completely smooth. If I were using a liquid center lower in pectin, I would experiment with adding gelling agents like gelatin or agar agar in order to get the center to a consistency that's firm at fridge temperatures, but flows at room temperature.
Next, it's time to shape the centers. If you have a mini ice cube tray, you can turn the cranberry sauce into small cubes, but I prefer the look of a sphere, so I used a silicone-based hemisphere mold.
After filling the mold, I let the cranberry hemispheres set up in the refrigerator until firm. It takes about 15 minutes.
Silicone is non-stick, so once the hemispheres are set up, it's a really simple process to pop them out of the mold.
I pressed two half spheres together to create a single solid sphere of cranberry jelly. The halves don't need to completely fuse, but you should press them just hard enough that they'll stick together and hold their shape as you form the rest of the fritters around them.
The Stuffing Layer
Next up: the stuffing layer. My first thought was to simply use my standard Sage and Sausage Stuffing recipe, replacing the pork and sage sausage with a homemade turkey version (I make mine with turkey thighs cured with salt, pepper, garlic, fresh sage, and red pepper flakes overnight, along with some cubed pork fat—check out this post for some more info on how to make juicy sausages).
It didn't work so well. The mixture proved just a bit too dry—it didn't mold around the cranberry core very easily, and I wanted the whole thing to be more moist once it was fried. Adding an extra egg per quart of stuffing solved that problem. The mixture comes out very wet, but the egg helps it puff and lighten as it fries, finishing with a texture and flavor sort of like a savory bread pudding.
To shape the stuffing layer, I use a larger silicone mold.
I filled the mold with stuffing mix and pressed a frozen cranberry sphere into the center. You probably don't know this, but there are few things in life more satisfying than pressing frozen spheres into the center of a pile of moist mush and seeing it squish up the sides. Doesn't that sound fun?
After pressing in the cores, I molded the stuffing around the top in order to completely seal the cranberry core. The whole thing goes into the freezer for the stuffing layer to freeze.
The Latke Coating
We're pretty serious about our latkes here at Serious Eats. Don't believe me? Just take a look at Max's Complete, No-Nonsense, Slightly Neurotic Guide to Making Great Latkes and see if it doesn't change your life, or at least your
potato pancakes latkes.
Max recommends grating potatoes and squeezing out all their moisture in a cheesecloth bag before combining them with diced (not grated!) onions, matzo meal, and eggs. This is a fantastic method if you're making a traditional latke and super crisp, lacy edges are you goal. But for our purposes today, we need to take a different approach.
See, for a regular pan-fried latke, you have the advantage of gravity helping your pancake stay together as it fries. In our deep-fried version, however, a dry latke mixture bound with nothing but eggs, matzo meal, and the starch from potatoes falls apart as it fries, letting the stuffing mixture get saturated with oil.
Instead, I ended up grating both the potatoes and onion and binding the mixture together with eggs and a bit of flour (along with plenty of salt and pepper and a handful of sliced chives). The resultant mixture has the flavor of a traditional latke, but a texture that is more reminiscent of a bhajji or a tempura batter. Light, ultra-crisp, and lacy.
With a moist batter, it's easy enough to mold the potato mixture around the frozen stuffing balls. Your goal here is to cover every surface. You'll end up holding something that looks like a baby Flying Spaghetti Monster. There's only one thing to do with false infant idols: burn them with hot oil.
Ok, not burn, but, at the very least, fry them until deep golden brown and crispy.
I do all of my frying in peanut or canola oil in a wok. It's by far the best vessel for frying at home—its wide shape allows for easy maneuverability, helps prevent nasty boil-overs, and keeps your countertop clean from stray splashes and bubbles.
The trick here is to very slowly lower the fritters into the oil so that (a) they don't splash and burn your face off (hot oil can smell fear—get your hand right up to it when adding food to prevent splashes!); and (b) they have a chance to set up a bit before they hit the bottom of the pot so that they don't get flattened on one side.
If things go as planned, your fritters should frizzle out and puff when you add them to the oil, agitating them and rotating them constantly while they fry will help ensure that they're constantly exposed to hot oil and crisp up efficiently.
It took a bit of fiddling to get the timing and temperature right for these things—some initial batches ended up with perfectly crisp crusts and still-frozen centers, but 8 minutes at 325°F is the sweet spot.
Cooked fritters can be stored in a 300°F oven while you fry the remaining batches to keep them crisp and hot.
There's nothing too special about the gravy, other than the fact that the roux I used to thicken it is made with rendered turkey fat (a.k.a. schmaltz) in place of butter. To render turkey fat (or duck fat, or chicken fat, or pork fat, or polar bear fat, or whatever fat), the easiest way is to stick it in a pot on the stove, add just a little bit of water, then cook it over low, low, low heat until the water has evaporated, the fat has rendered, and the leftover bits of skin and protein have crisped up to a delicious golden brown. The rendered fat can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for months or in the freezer pretty much indefinitely. The crisp bits have a much shorter shelf life and should be eaten immediately. This should not prove difficult.
And that's about it! You'll want to eat these suckers while they're still fresh because their beauty lies in the textural contrast between the ultra-crisp exterior, the tender, moist stuffing layer, and the soft, nearly-liquid cranberry core. I've always been a bit fuzzy on the whole kosher thing, so I'm not sure if these guys fit the criteria (I'm pretty sure the pork fat in the sausage disqualifies it), but isn't there some clause or another that gives exceptions to the extraordinarily delicious?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.