Friday, November 7, 2008

Turkey Time! Thanksgiving, Part I

If I had to guess, I'd say that I've cooked approximately 35 turkeys, between Thanksgiving and other holidays. Before I cooked each one I scoured cookbooks, watched cooking shows and searched the internet far and wide for new ways of making this Thanksgiving staple better than before.


At first I just did what my Mom did....stuffed it with my stuffing, buttered, salted and peppered the top and threw it in the oven until the plastic thing popped up. I threw out the plastic thing quite some time ago, but the other things I still do. But I've added a few new tricks to my repertoire!!


I have also deep fried my turkey, but it was always as a back up. I can't stand the thought of not having that baking turkey smell in my kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, nor would I ever be able to live without those intensely flavored drippings in the bottom of the pan for my gravy!


I've even smoked turkeys.....in fact, add about 40 more turkeys to that count above! There was a time that about two weeks before Christmas we spent EVERY evening smoking a turkey, wrapping in in cellophane, topping it with red plaid ribbon and holly and delivering it to a wonderful friend! They were delicious, but again, no turkey aroma or drippings!


For the last two years, Dennis and I have brined our turkeys! For those who wish to brine, here's my recipe:

2 cups Kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
2 tablespoons dried sage
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 gallon ice water

On Thanksgiving Eve bring vegetable stock to a low boil, then add the brown sugar, stock, sage and peppercorns. Let simmer just until everything has dissolved and melded together (about 3 to 5 minutes). Pour in the ice water to cool it down. Place your turkey in a plastic bag and pour in the brine...close tightly and place in a cooler. Since refrigerator space is at a premium at Thanksgiving, we put the cooler on the deck and keep the bag covered in ice. I turn it every once in a while to make sure every inch is getting brined. When you're ready to bake your turkey, remove it from the bag, dry it off and get ready to bake!


Now........this year I've heard about a new way of cooking a turkey. The premises is that the water in the brining tends to make the meat a little rubbery, albeit very juicy. This technique is called "salting". According to Bon Appetit, "the salt draws moisture from the interior of the bird to the surface, where it combines with the salt and other seasonings. Eventually, that flavorful salted liquid is reabsorbed by the meat, seasoning it throughout". Of course, I did some other researching on the internet and those who have tried it say it has the flavor of brining, but has a better texture. Just for you, we tried it!
1/2 cup plus 1 T coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 t dried rosemary
1 1/2 t dried sage
1 1/2 t dried thyme
1 t crushed black peppercorns
3 small bay leaves, coarsely torn

Rub these ingredients in a small bowl to crush the herbs finely. Rinse turkey inside and out. Sprinkle the inside and under the top skin of the turkey with this mixture, cover and refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.

Isn't that much simpler than dealing with the brine....we were curious if it would make a difference in the texture and couldn't wait until the next day to bake our turkey!

The next day I took the turkey from the fridge about 2 hours before baking and rinsed it off inside and out....I let it rest, covered with a cloth, to come to room temperature. I preheated my oven to 325 degrees, then I stuffed the cavities (back and front) with cut up onions, celery and fresh sage (normally I stuff it with stuffing...that's why they call it stuffing!).The next step is to close up the bird....I use the small metal skewer that you normally use to lace up the bottom of the turkey and I use twine to tie the legs together...I end with a bow so it's easy to undo after the turkey is cooked. Then I rubbed the entire turkey with room temperature butter, covered the bird with 4 layers of cheesecloth and saturated it with the juices from the "innards" of the turkey that I had cooked in boiling water with carrots, celery and onions. Put it in the oven and bake it, basting every 45 minutes (make sure the bird and the pan don't get too dry!) We use a remote cooking thermometer.....we stick the end into the thickest part of the thigh, as shown here:

I bake my turkey at 325 degrees until the thermometer registers 170 degrees. Once you take it out of the oven, baste the turkey again so that taking off the cheesecloth won't tear the skin. The cheesecloth is a "MUST".....it helps to keep the turkey moist and it makes for an evenly browned skin.Voila....a beautifully browned turkey.....and the meat was juicy and tender...not dry and rubbery. I think I may have found a winner....not that it will keep me from my annual turkey cooking research! I'm always looking for a new way to make my food better! Before I go, let me add a tip..........make sure your turkey has no additives or preservatives....that will completely ruin your bird! You just want a nice, fresh turkey.....or nice, freshly frozen bird!

Let me know how yours turns out!

1 comment:

Adam and Jessica said...

That sounds yummy! I may need to try my hand at making my own Thanksgiving dinner...perhaps the weekend prior since I wont get an opportunity to make my own dinner the real holiday weekend. If I do...I'll try making the turkey your way! It sounds wonderful!