Monday, November 19, 2012
The Tale of The Phantom Turkey
I spent the day cooking and talking, talking and cooking. It was a pleasant way to spend the day, enjoying each other's company while doing one of my most favorite things - cooking for those I love. Of course, the first thing that had to be done was to get the turkey in the oven. Our oldest daughter worked at a cafe in New York City when she lived there and they baked a turkey every day for sandwiches and dinners. It was, perhaps, the best turkey I had ever eaten and that is the way I prepare turkeys now.
Mr. Turkey was an 18 pounder and had been thawing in the refrigerator for several days. He had to be brined on Friday for cooking on Saturday. Have you ever brined a turkey? If not, this holiday is the perfect time to start! It makes the most delicious, flavorful, succulent turkey you have ever eaten and it is really quite simple to do. I used our Coleman cooler for the brining process, or you can get a new 5 gallon bucket at a home improvement store (like Home Depot) to use.
Make sure you remove all the extras from the turkey that are hiding inside and trim any extra skin and fat from the neck cavity. Now, make your brine by adding 1.5 cups of coarse salt to a pan containing a quart of water. Cook and stir until the salt has dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool before pouring over the turkey.
When the brining water has cooled, put the turkey in the cooler, or bucket, and pour the cooled brining water over the turkey. Keep adding water (NOT hot), until the turkey is covered. You will need at least 7 quarts of water and maybe more. Add a bag of crushed ice to the water and close the lid of the cooler. Turkey can be brined up to 24 hours before baking. If you are using a bucket for the turkey, cover the turkey with water and set the bucket in a cooler and place ice around the bucket.
When you are ready to bake the turkey, remove it from the brining water and wash it thoroughly to remove any remaining salt residue. Place the turkey in the roasting pan. Now for the fun part. This is how I bake the most delicious turkey ever. In the cavity of the turkey, place one apple that you have cut in half, one large onion that you have cut in half, a quartered lemon, 3-4 garlic cloves, and a handful of fresh thyme sprigs. You may have to push and shove to get it all arranged, but it is SO worth the effort. Now, put your hands under the skin on the breast and gently pull the skin loose by moving your hands up and around as far as you can go. Place fresh thyme sprigs under the skin, as much as you can get under there. Now, wasn't that fun?
Next, turn the wing tips so they will lay under the body of the turkey so they don't burn during roasting. This is a really awesome trick I picked up from Alton Brown on the Food Network. It takes a little twisting and turning to make it happen, but again, it is SO worth the effort.
Now, make a tent of aluminum foil over the turkey, leaving the ends open. It took two pieces of foil to cover this big boy. Now, you are ready to begin the roasting process. Place the turkey in your 350 degree preheated oven. Recommended cooking time is 15 minutes per pound for a turkey that is not filled with stuffing. So, if you have a 20 pound turkey you are looking at 20x15, or 300 minutes or 5 hours. Figure roasting time by multiplying the weight of your turkey times 15 divided by 60. BE SURE AND ALLOW ENOUGH TIME FOR ROASTING THOROUGHLY! When a meat thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, the temperature should be 180 degrees. Now, you can remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving.
I was so busy getting all the side dishes ready, and the grandsons were starving and begging to eat, so I got in a "get er done" mode. My daughter asked what she could do to help and I said you can carve the turkey. I finally had everything ready to go and a loud cheer went up (no, not really), but the mothers started preparing their son's plates when it hit me. NOOOOOOOOOOOO. I did not take a picture of my beautiful turkey. Probably the most perfect turkey I had ever roasted. It was beautifully golden, not one burned place anywhere. How could this be? It was like the moment in A Christmas Story when the Bumpusses' dogs had eaten the Christmas turkey. I was devastated. I had worked all day to make this beautiful bird and there was nothing but the carcass. NO. PICTURE. TAKEN. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. So, I did the next best thing and took a picture of the carcass just to prove there was a turkey. A real turkey that I had cooked. It isn't a phantom. It was a beautiful, delicious turkey. It was all I could do. You can see the beautiful golden skin and the ruins. I know, it's not the same, but it's what I got. That's what happens when you take pictures of the food you are getting ready to eat. This is not a photo op, this is not food that is prepared just for pictures, this is hard core dinner food. No food stylists here, just Grandma trying to get the food on the table.
If you are planning to roast a turkey and don't know how you are going to do it, give this method a try. You will be glad you did. You will have only a carcass to prove you actually roasted that bird. And a smile on everyone's face. And that is the tale of the phantom turkey. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Things to Remember:
Be thankful every day, not just on Thanksgiving. Live with an attitude of gratitude.