Today's guest blog comes from Jessica, aka Sodium Girl. She wrote a 3-part guest blog back in August and she is back to share some of her favorite salt-free holiday recipes. Click here to learn more about her and enjoy the post!
The holidays; my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, and Channukah are just a few of family gatherings I look forward to every time the Halloween decorations come down and the radio stations (96.5 for those in the Bay Area) begin to play Christmas carols. Smells of cinnamon and cloves fill the air; twinkling lights fill the streets; parties fill the calendar; and tradition fills our plates, minds, and bellies. But when my kidneys failed in 2004, and I began to keep a strict, low sodium diet, the holidays suddenly looked and tasted a different.
For many, the holidays are all about food; slow-cooked, well-spiced, filled-with-love food that is served in gigantic proportions. Like Pavlovian dogs, the simple utterance of the word “holiday” makes the mouth water for juicy turkey, crunchy pecan pie, and succulent honey baked ham. These dishes, though, are not only full of memories. They’re dripping with sodium too.
Before you toss the recipe for Grandma’s stuffing, though, let me say this: these classic holiday meals may be filled with salt and brine and other high-sodium ingredients. But there is no reason you cannot enjoy them. Or at least enjoy highly impressive approximations of them.
With savvy substitutions, you can make a low sodium holiday meal with all the flavors you remember, and even more exciting, the creativity you are forced to use will not only dazzle you and your guests, but it will put a real personal stamp on your feats. With some tricks and some time, the credit this holiday season will not belong to Chef Emeril, or Julia, or Ina, or anyone else with their name on a cookbook. The magical holiday memories, the dishes, and the culinary genius will belong only to you.
Now isn’t that something to be thankful for.
Let’s start with Turkey because it is a very good place to start.
Here’s the deal: a lot of poultry, especially around the holidays, is already plumped and brined. So when buying your bird, to make sure it is absolutely as low in sodium as possible, you have to do a little research. The best option is to shop at a butcher or at stores like Whole Foods, which tend to provide in-depth information about their meat products and the farms on which they are raised. You can explain your situation to the people behind the counter and make sure you have a bird that works for your dietary needs. If you buy your turkey from a larger grocery retailer, like Safeway, I would suggest contacting the company or looking on the manufacturers website for information about plumping, brining, or any other pre-packaging treatments.
Another option, which I have taken for the last seven years, is to actually not use a turkey at all. Instead, while I bake a nice-sized turkey for guests (actually, this year it is a Turducken), I make a nice little Cornish game hen for myself. It’s juicy, it’s birdy, and it’s all mine. And to be completely honest, if you are hosting a small-sized dinner party, it is actually more fun and less complicated to cook Game hens. You can even take it one step further, channeling your inner Martha Stewart, and serve a feast of personal proportions: everyone gets a game hen, everyone gets mini ramekins of mashed potatoes, everyone gets a muffin tin of stuffing, everyone gets full. I did this a few years ago for my family and it was a blast.
Once you choose what bird you are going to cook, the next question becomes how you will make your meat as juicy as the brined kind, without the salt. There are a few different techniques you can use to help mimic the succulence you would expect, keeping the outside nice and crispy and the inside moist and tender.
First, butter rubs. A good slathering of herbed butter, under the skin and out, will keep the meat moist and will protect it from overcooking. Mix some unsalted butter with herbs, lemon or orange zest, and spices like black pepper, cumin, and smoked paprika. Then, use the opening towards the bottom and neck to loosen the skin from the flesh, expertly maneuvering the butter mixture inside. A spatula will prove quite helpful to push the butter towards the center of the bird. Make sure to rub the bird with butter on the outside as well and then throw it in the oven as you normally would to cook.
If butter, or touching raw meat, is not your thing, another option is to invest in a flavor injector. Yes, that’s right, a flavor injector. By filling this syringe-like utensil with salt-free broth, oil, melted butter, or even white wine, you can inject moisture directly into the bird – much like what brining accomplishes. And finally, don’t be afraid to use dry rubs. This will not help with the juicy-factor of your finished product, but it will add more flavor and texture. Fresh or dried herbs, spices, and zest all work well.
This holiday season, don’t be afraid to mix it up, whether you go with a Game hen or a Turkey and use a combination of the methods mentioned above. In the end, you’ll have a golden entree begging to be gobbled. And if not, couscous cooks up rather quickly.
For more impressive, salt-free holiday favorites, starters, and sides, check out Jessica’s blog at www.sodiumgirl.com