Keep your backlash off my turkey
Today every daily in America published its annual turkey article. Just like last year and every year before it, everyone agrees that a regular turkey cooked in the oldskool fashion won't do. Conventional wisdom says that turkey is dry, tasteless, and mandatory. But the point of Thanksgiving is that everyone in America eats the same dinner and since this just happens to be turkey, you better just shut up and eat it.
Poor turkey gets no respect. Well I'll go on the record: I love turkey. I love the white meat and the dark meat. I love it all year round. I order it in restaurants (the cheap diner-type places that serve it) and eat it in sandwiches. One time I braised some drumsticks in barbecue sauce. Fantastic. So I object to these stories' assumption that without the intervention of newspaper food sections turkey is liable to make a regrettable meal.
Until this year, brining has been the turkey story. The way to save your turkey is to soak it in salt water so that the flesh absorbs moisture and seasoning. This works really nicely but requires a large vessel in which to soak a large bird and a cold place in which to do this. Sounds like a hassle. Fun once or twice, perhaps, but not a long-term solution. So this year brining is out, proclaims the NYT ("The Pilgrims Didn't Brine"):
I have brined many times. Even with a mediocre, overcooked bird, the process makes the meat well seasoned and juicier.The alternative? Here's the LAT:
But this year I didn't want to wrestle with plastic garbage bags and coolers and bags of ice. I wanted simple.
In the last five years, brining has been Step 1 of Thanksgiving preparations because steeping the bird in a spiced mixture of salt, sugar and water truly does transform even the driest meat into a juicy-tasty sensation. But heritage turkeys have inherent flavor that brining would subvert.A "heritage" turkey sounds nice but more than 99% of the turkey eaters next week aren't chowing down on one. We sure aren't. Around here we are hosting our second Thanksgiving and our bird will be kosher to please the kosher side of the family. Kosher poultry is the most delicious kind I've eaten so I'm definitely not complaining. A kosher turkey shouldn't be brined; it has already been salted to keep it kosher.
But when it comes to mass market (non-kosher) birds, I'm all for brining. My standard ratio is 1/3 cup table salt (not coarse salt) to a quart of water. I would brine a turkey for 12 or 14 hours, putting it in at night and rescuing it the following morning. My ideal modification to the traditional way of cooking turkey would be to cut it up and prepare the white and dark meat separately, the breasts and wings roasted and the leg quarters braised or smoked/barbecued, but I wouldn't do that for Thanksgiving. I don't usually respect tradition for its own sake, but there's a je ne sais quoi about roasting a big bird whole, a Norman Rockwell quality that I would rather not defy. That's what we're doing a week from tomorrow. I'm pretty excited.
(One more thing: the little fella's favorite song is Old Macdonald and my favorite part of when he "sings" it is when on Old Macdonald's farm he had a turkey, and I ask the little fella what sound a turkey makes, and he answers, "Gobble gobble!" but without pronouncing the L's clearly.)