Let’s Talk Turkey
While compiling my favorite Thanksgiving appetizers, sides and desserts to share with you, it dawned on me that 1) I know a thing or two about preparing the bird, 2) I’ve prepared quite a few birds (both whole and bone-in breasts) and 3) by the time I’m done preparing a turkey, the last thing I want to do is photograph it. Especially with a house full of hungry guests. I found the above photo after a deep dig through my archives. I had to go back as far as 2005. This bird was made the year I hosted Thanksgiving dinner a scant 5 weeks after giving birth to my first son. By C-section. Several weeks earlier than expected. After a face-first fall down the stairs. But I digress…
What was I thinking hosting a house full of people with a new baby and a sore tummy? Clearly, I was not thinking. But isn’t this bird lovely? I believe I brined him, but I can’t be sure. The sleep deprivation and pain meds wiped out that part of my memory. As you may have noticed, this photo was taken before I had a “nice” camera, before I knew anything about lighting food and before I gave a thought to what’s in the background (see that buttery skillet and that dirty ladle back there, which had just been dipped into the butternut squash soup on the back burner?).
It would be a shame to suggest all the recipes below for your turkey feast without sharing at least a few of my tried and true turkey tips, don’t you think? I’ve experimented with many methods including brining in a salty, cider solution, dry brining, smearing with butter, smearing with oil, stuffing, no stuffing, high heat, low heat, fresh bird, frozen bird, breast only, whole bird. I’ve covered a lot of ground, people. So here is what I’ve learned:
1.For consistently juicy meat, I recommend the dry brine. The same method is clearly outlined in this chicken recipe, but if you are too lazy to click the link here is what you need to know: Rinse the bird inside and out. Pat it dry. Set it in a pan. Stick a few sprigs of fresh herbs between the meat and skin at the breast and thigh areas. Heavily season it all over with kosher salt (more than you think is a good idea) and black pepper. Cover loosely with a plastic wrap and set in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. If you are dealing with a frozen bird, you will need to thaw it fully before starting this process. I recommend a fresh bird, if you can get one.
2. I like the high heat method. It cooks the bird quickly and produces a golden, crispy skin like you see in the picture above. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. It sounds crazy, but trust me on this. If your oven is not spotless, it will smoke. My oven has never been close to spotless, so I set off my smoke detectors and fill my house with plumes of murky haze every time. Just open the windows, warn the guests and give them more wine. Set the oven rack in the lowest position.
3. With the high heat method, the bird must come to room temperature before you put it in the oven. Yes, it can sit out on the counter for a few hours. You will not poison anyone. This is Barbara Kafka’s method and she is the queen of roasting. I trust her. For a 6-7 pound bone-in breast, this takes about 3 hours. For a large whole bird, you are looking at more like 4-6 hours. Keep the bird covered so the skin doesn’t dry out.
4. Drizzle a bit of oil on the skin and rub it around before putting Big Bird in the oven. Set it on the lowest rack. A bone-in breast will take about an hour and a whole bird will take around 2 hours. If the skin is getting brown too quickly, tent it with foil. When the temperature in the thickest part of the breast is 165 degrees, take it out. I don’t care if that little button hasn’t popped out yet. Ignore it. On my juiciest birds, the button has popped while the turkey is resting.
5. Chill, baby. Wait! Set the bird on a cutting board and cover it tightly with foil. This is a good time to make gravy or put the finishing touches on the rest of the dinner. You will want to let it sit for at least 15 minutes. It will be juicy and delicious, so wait it out. Slice, serve and get ready to accept compliments on your perfectly roasted bird!
May you enjoy a wonderful holiday surrounded by family and friends and of course, good food!