Monday, October 12, 2009

thanksgiving turkey - the saga

What says a good time like cooking a turkey? I don't think it's always the bird, but the entire meal as a whole that gets people a little hectic. So many pots on the stove, so little space in the oven, and before you know it, the turkey is overcooked. Sure, some of the dark meat is delicious, but those lean breasts look like they need an IV. This year things were going to change. Not having to participate at a girlfriends house, I decided to not sit idle by. That's right, with the advent of high quality meat thermometers and a better understanding of proteins, this man was going to attempt his first crack at the celebratory turkey.

First things first, the brine. Look around, I'll be far from the first person to tell you about the glories of a salt water soak. Yet...many people still decided to forgo this step. In today's day and age, our turkeys our so big that it becomes hard enough to cook one of these behemoths to a juicy result. The brine soak, will help to denature some of the protein and create pockets of moisture. Look at that tip eh, get a little extra moisture in before you start cooking AND break down the meat.

I used one pound of salt and one pound of brown sugar stirred into 6 quarts of warm water. Once the salt and sugar were dissolved I let the water cool for 20-30 minutes. Finally, sink the bird into the bucket and drop in 5 pounds of ice. I put a lid on the container and placed my trusty bird in a cool, calm place (8-16 hours).

The bird needs to warm up after it's wet slumber, so remember to remove your bird about 30 minutes before you are ready to rock n' roll. Rinse the bird under cold water to remove the brine and then pat dry. You may choose, of course, to stuff the bird or not at this point. Just remember, stuffing the bird will result in a longer cooking time. The homestead bird was 4.08KG. So I figured if I factored in the stuffing, this bird would take a brief 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

I had a few loaves of bread cooking away at 450 degrees, so it didn't take long for the oven to work its way up to 500. After stuffing the bird, I rubbed her down with oil (you can use butter) for that added golden hue. Now 500 degrees might seem high, but your bird is only going to spend 20 or 30 minutes at this temperature before dropping to a more sustaining 350.

As you can see, my bird didn't exactly brown all over. Oh well, such is life. The next step of course is basting. I remembered reading about using bacon to keep the bird self-basted. So with that in mind, I covered the bird in maple roasted bacon when I dropped the temperature.

Now it's just a matter of checking in on my bird every half hour or so. Making sure a) there is liquid in the bottom of the pan, b) she's nice and basted and c) she isn't browning too much. If you do find your bird browning more than you would like, don't hesitate to place a layer of foil right on her.

Before I knew it the house was filling with the most delicious odor of maple syrup and turkey. Deciding to check the temperature just shy of 2 1/2 hours, the lowest temperature I could find on my bird was 160. So out it came for the foil-down period. I am a strong, strong advocate of this post cooking relaxation, especially with poultry. Just give your bird a layer or two of foil and put it to the side for 20-30 minutes. I promise all the juices will flow back in, and nobody will be disappointed! Plus, this gives you plenty of time to work on those last few dishes; mash, boil, steam, and stir away.

I can't help but think that the 70's and 80's were filled with so much cooking fear, that people forgot what a properly done turkey should be like. Just think about how many over cooked chicken breasts you've encounter (or dry pork chops for that matter). I mentioned at the beginning of this post about new understandings. Maybe it's not a new understanding of cooking, I mean people have been cooking for centuries. But some things have changed. From the conditions they live in to the animals themselves. Don't believe me, have a heritage bird (or pig). We have breed birds that are too heavy to bread and pigs that lack proper fat marbling as we search for the 'healthiest meat'. I don't really know where I'm going with this...It just seems no matter how many times I produce perfectly cooked and super juicy poultry products, some diners fear under cooking - 'this breast is way too juicy to be cooked'. Winning some people over, to a place where turkey doesn't have to be 190 degrees may be impossible, but I know that cooking my first turkey was neither hard, tiring, or complicated.

Brine + Bird + Heat + Rest = fantastic. Happy Thanksgiving!


Sharon said...

Your first turkey looked fantastic - great job! I still haven't tried my hand at turkey before, but I have to say, reading your account makes me a little less fearful. Happy Thanksgiving!

KimHo said...

I admire your guts for cooking a turkey. I myself will never do it (I have the excuse I live by myself! :D). Now, how about frying a turkey next time?

H.Peter said...

I am duly impressed.

Chris said...

Thanks Sharon and H.Peter!!

Kim - Living by yourself would make for an interesting amount of turkey leftovers. "5 weeks later, Kim emerges from his turkey coma". Don't spoil my plans for the next turkey!! ;)

Bellavino said...

My dad deep fried the turkey this year. It turned out pretty good and only took 50 minutes to cook! So great for clearing up the oven space. It was very very juicy and not at all as greasy as I was expecting.

I can only imagine how good that turky/bacon smell would have been in the house all afternoon!!

Kevin Kossowan said...

Amen for brining the dang bird. Highly underutilized techinque.

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