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Monday, November 15, 2010

Get Your Gobble On

I have been avoiding talk about the bird.  I have to start by saying that I subcontract the cooking of the turkey out to Ted.  He doesn't mind being elbow deep in poultry.  I do.  And, Ted loves to have a job at Thanksgiving, and I'm down with that.

Ted is a master turkey cooker.  After a few missteps early in his turkey cooking career, he now pretty much has it down to a science. He's a brine guy.  He has a whole system which involves a large cooler and a garbage bag if he's cooking for a crowd.  If it's a smaller group, Ted uses my giant stock pot and most of the basement refrigerator.  It's quite a process.  And you know how men are. They can make changing a lightbulb a whole process. Ted, like most men, loves a process.  Need I say more?

But back to the bird.  I always go the fresh turkey route.  I have no idea if it's actually better than the frozen one you get at the grocery store, but it seems more festive to get the fresh one.  In any case, I order it from my man Mark the Butcher (10/26/10) and pick it up a day or two before the big event.

Then Ted gets to work.  He mixes his magic brine and lets Mr. Turkey luxuriate overnight in the salt and herbs.  What emerges on Thanksgiving morning is a plump bird, ready for the oven.  Ted then works his Ted magic with the butter and the herbs and into the oven the turkey goes.  To quote Ina, "How Easy is That"? (Well, actually it's pretty easy for me because I don't have to do anything besides complain about the huge mess Ted makes while prepping the turkey.)

This is where Ted has had problems in the past.  The roasting. More than once he was absolutely sure that the turkey was cooked to perfection.  Upon carving, it was revealed that perhaps a little longer in the oven would have been the way to go.  But, after I threatened divorce, Ted now has the timing down.  I have also finally agreed to just let Ted do his thing and not ask 1,000 times if he's sure the turkey is actually cooked.  The turkey comes out a beautiful golden shade and cooked just right.

I think the brining is the key to the turkey.  Give it a try.  I'd send Ted over to help out but maybe your husbands will enjoy the "process".  Then you can just stand back and complain about the mess.

Ted's (looks more complicated than it is) Turkey Recipe
(Note:  Ted is a lawyer and you will see what I mean when you read this)

Step by Step Instructions:

This recipe assumes a 12-14 lb turkey.  If you need or want more meat, you can cook a bigger turkey and adjust the ingredients and time appropriately or, if you have a lot of oven space, you can make two turkeys in this size range.  Generally smaller turkeys cook better.
1. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey (reserving if using for gravy).  Rinse the turkey well and then put it in a container with 2 cups salt and enough cold water to cover fully, normally 4 to 8 quarts.  (As noted above, I normally use a stockpot for this process, although any container including a sealable bag will work.)  Feel free to be creative here—I frequently replace some or all of the water with apple cider.  You can add herbs and spices as well, turkey appropriate ones such as thyme, sage, black pepper, garlic.  Let it soak overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
3. Remove the turkey from the brine.   Rinse well inside and out (you do not want to leave any excess salt deposits), and then pat dry with a towel.  I do not stuff the turkey with stuffing.  Instead, I fill the turkey cavities with one peeled and quartered onion, 2 celery ribs cut into 2 inch pieces, one quartered lemon, and several thyme sprigs.  (This may not all fit—squeeze  in as much as you can and do not forget the smaller cavity in the back.)
4. Soften a stick of butter.  Blend butter thoroughly with finely minced garlic (2 cloves), lemon zest from one lemon (you can use the lemon that is going into the turkey), and 1 tsp black pepper.  Again, feel free to add other herbs and spices as you desire.  Smooth butter paste over outside of turkey skin, gently to avoid tearing the skin.
5. Cover a v-shaped roasting rack with aluminum foil.  Poke holes in foil.  Put rack in a roasting pan.  Place turkey breast side down in the rack.   (If you plan on deglazing the roasting pan for gravy, add to the roasting pan any leftover ingredients that did not fit in the cavity and enough chicken stock to fully cover the bottom of the pan.)  Roast for 45 minutes.  Take turkey out of oven (closing oven door to keep temperature up) and turn breast side up.  Clean potholders can be a good tool for this purpose.  (Add some more chicken stock to the bottom of the pan at this point.)  Return to oven.
6. Roast until instant thermometer reads 160-165 degrees in thickest part of breast and 170-175 degrees in thickest part of thigh.  Measure both sides to make sure.  I’d love to indicate how long this will take, but it has been unpredictable in my experience.  Allow two hours but start checking every 15 minutes or so after an hour.
7. Remove from oven.   Cover loosely and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

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