10 Questions for Brian Poor

by: Ernie Sapiro, Brian Poor, culinary director for Portland City Grill, has a non-traditional method to cooking a turkey – and it tastes like a million bucks.

Brian Poor, culinary director for Portland City Grill, believes that people spend too much time on recipes and not enough on actually cooking.

'Learn how to cook,' he says. 'Learn the basic techniques: how to pan fry, sauté, roast, braise, deep fry. Then it's just about ingredients and you can do anything with most ingredients in those applications.'

As the holiday season approaches, Poor has some advice for those looking to cook better turkeys. Poor, 56 and a chef for more than 30 years, shares those thoughts and others with the Tribune while looking over the city from the 30th floor of the U S Bancorp Tower at lunchtime:

Tribune: You've been at the City Grill for 10 months, and made changes?

Poor: Our goal was to raise the bar on the food here. It hadn't been tended to. The food wasn't very good here. The view sold this place.

Tribune: What do you make of the food phenomenon, with innumerable TV shows?

Poor: It's raised the bar on food in restaurants. People are very food savvy. Their expectations are for creative, innovative, properly executed food. It's made us better diners and consumers at home.

Tribune: You were a host of a radio food show in Seattle for several years, and what did most people want to talk about?

Poor: They wanted to know the basics - how to cook pasta correctly, what makes a good mashed potato, the proper way to cook a steak. You can go on the Internet and get a recipe, but it's how you make something.

Tribune: Your idea of a well-made turkey?

Poor: Just recently made one at home, and I'll never do it the old way again. I disassembled it, breaking it down like chicken - took breast, wings and thighs off. Braised the thigh meat and legs. Seasoned it with salt and pepper, hot oil, seared in a pan, flipped it over, added stock halfway, covered with foil and put in at about 325 degrees in an oven for an hour and 20 minutes. The thigh and leg meat was absolutely unctuous. It adds flavor and moisture. … You roast the breast separately, putting butter under the skin, adding fresh rosemary and thyme around the bird, taking it to about 150 degrees (at 350 degrees for about an hour and 10 minutes). It's golden brown, moist breast meat.

Tribune: But, it's not traditional.

Poor: It's not, and it doesn't look traditional, but it eats like a million bucks. In my world of influencing cooks and chefs it's, 'How do I make it easier to produce?' It's easier to do it (the traditional way), but my response is, 'Which tastes better?'

Tribune: So, one doesn't need to wake up at 5 a.m. to put the turkey in?

Poor: My wife (Mary) and I would go to her family's for Thanksgiving and the turkey was always awful. Well, why is it awful? She joked, that we cooked a turkey in about a hour and a half (recently) and ate at 7 o'clock. Her family would have had it in at the crack of dawn and cooked it all day.

Tribune: What about stuffing? Any tips on that?

Poor: You don't stuff a turkey. That's the last thing you'd want to do. You stuff a turkey, by the time the stuffing is done and hot, the outside meat is not unctuous anymore, not moist and tender, doesn't taste good. … You want it kinda dry, because you have wet components with gravy and cranberry. … Cornbread is another good stuffing, mix that with bread. And, a lot of times sausages, chorizos work.

Tribune: What about mashed potatoes and gravy? Tips?

Poor: Use Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes. Use good chunks, not too small, simmer in a combination of water and cream or Half and Half, you get that fat cooked into them. Drain, and stir until they're really dry. You want moisture out of them. … Gravy starts with roasting gizzards. Roasting, simmering, straining, and pulsing the gizzards until they're shredded.

Tribune: What's your favorite way to use turkey leftovers?

Poor: We love to do pot pies. Leftover turkey, gravy and stuffing goes well with crusty stuff - turkey dumplings, pot pies, quesadillas. Yummy, easy to make. Buy pie dough, add in some roasted peas and broccoli, veggies and canned stuff.

Tribune: Any other cooking tips?

Poor: Buy an inexpensive (temperature) remote probe for any roasting. That way you're not guessing. You could use a digital thermometer, but when you start poking, poke in and out, those are little tunnels where juice can come out. … And, you just have to cook and pay attention. Take notes. You want to record that process so you can remember how good you did it last time. If you don't, you're inconsistent.