Wednesday, November 16, 2005

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.

But this year I didn't want to wrestle with plastic garbage bags and coolers and bags of ice. I wanted simple.
The alternative? Here's the LAT:
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.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please tell Margaret I said Hello! I haven't seen her since she moved off Broad street in Akron. I guess her and Betty are still working on their dream of owning that pig farm in Detroit. Who would have ever guessed she would struggle with that decision to move to Jackson nearly 50 years later.

So, how is Penny? I hope she has stopped trying to manage that house like a boot camp. I think Lloyd is sure to leave her after he finishes off that case of cheese from last Christmas.

We think of you all often. It just doesn't seem right living in Florida without you three. Is Jeremy still enjoying his "caropa" lessons? I suppose he will learn how to do it correctly one of these days.

I am sorry I haven't been on the Blog for a few weeks. After that transmission problem I am having a hard time getting to the Library to check my online friends. I guess I should have known better than to trade my Lumina for a 79 Pinto!

Take Care, and I'll check back soon

10:40 PM  
Blogger Barbara Fisher said...

I haven't gotten around to cooking a heritage or wild turkey yet. Bad foodie me. Bad, bad.

However, I have cooked a kosher one (lovely) and fresh free-range birds--the latter I have always brined and they have always turned out delightful.

My "secret" such as it is, is to mince up fresh herbs and aromatics like shallots, chiles and garlic, mix them with butter and white wine, and then stuff this under the loosened skin of the breast, legs and thighs. (After brining--which is not so hard as all of that.) Then, I rub the skin with butter, salt and pepper, and put it in a fairly hot oven--around 400 degrees or so-- and let it go until the skin browns and shrinks up--about a half hour or forty-five minutes. And then, I turn the heat down to 350 and roast as normal.

I don't stuff, truss or do anything but slap that bird on a V-rack and let her rip.

And it turns out moist, delicious and tender every time--with a crispy crackling brown skin with tasty goodies underneath.

How can that be bad?

10:34 AM  
Blogger Little Sister said...

Oh Big Brother, two things in this entry make me so excited about my upcoming visit. First, the promise of a kosher turkey for me. AND the idea of hearing my little nephew say gobble gobble. Love, Little Sister.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Pyewacket said...

I'm with you - I love turkey, particularly the drumsticks and thighs. mmmmm...turkey thighs...And I love pumpkin pie, just plain old pumpkin pie. So there.

12:22 PM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

I like turkey too. But my partner in crime does not. Pair that with grad school schedules (T-day falls at the WORST possible time, time-wise, no?) and we've had a quiet fish dinner for 2 for the last few years. Because something nice and pale and juicy, like tilapia, goes well with stuffing . . . the dish on which I expend my limited T-day time and effort.

This year we've got more time than ever before. So we're going to visit family . . . and I'm sure the food will suck.

2:40 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

I love pumpkin pie, too, and I'll follow Barbara's turkey directions and any other directions she gives me. She knows. But butter + kosher turkey = not a kosher turkey, so I'll save it for next time. Kosher chicken fat, on the other hand? Just watch me.

My mother comments via e-mail now and then, which is great. But sometimes her thoughts deserve a wider readership, so today I'm sharing her thoughts. Mom writes: "Feh to Spam and yippee to turkey!"

8:15 PM  
Blogger Barbara Fisher said...

Schmatlz will work just as well as butter--no worries!

Just don't tell everyone a shiksa told you. ;-)

P.S. This shiksa used to help cook the Passover feast for some of her clients every year...their guests were always confused to find out that the help was not Jewish, but made really good matzo ball soup.

8:09 PM  

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