By Ezra Klein
Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, and a lot of early Thanksgiving dinners — including this weekend’s IFA-sponsored Thanksgiving for friends — are in the planning phase. The problem with Thanksgiving, in general, is that turkey is something of a tricky meat to cook, particularly when you have to cook the whole thing at once. So check out Mark Bittman offering a different way forward: Turkey parts, braised with sausage and pancetta, atop vegetables. If you’ve got a favored turkey approach, or some crack turkey advice, put it in comments.
Most important step–brine it overnight.
I like to use some sort of fat (butter or olive oil) to which I have added minced fresh herbs (sage, etc.).
I rub it into and under the skin.
Also a fan of basting.
i second the importance of overnight brining. and instead of stuffing, fill the cavity with moisture (lemons, apples, onions, oranges, etc.) and aromatics (garlic, thyme, rosemary, chiles, etc.) i also like to put peppercorns and ginger in the brining solution…keeps things moist and flavorful
Fried turkey is clearly the best way to go.
I’d also recommend brining overnight. Choice of turkey is also important. The last two years I bought a free range turkey from Capitol Hill Poultry in Eastern Market. It costs about twice as much as a supermarket factory farm turkey, but it’s worth the extra cash.
As for preparation, I’ve had pretty good luck using a modified version of a Martha Stewart method, where you soak a cheesecloth in melted butter and white wine and drape it over the turkey.
Keeps it moist and keeps the skin from burning.
Red Wattle has a good basic spatchcocked turkey recipe, and some advice on heritage breeds suitable for various recipes (so you don’t have to buy the creepy augmented-breast turkey).
I like stuffing the breast under the skin. It holds in the juices, particularly if you make the stuffing a little on the wet side. The breast picks up all the spices and aromatics in the stuffing and stays moist. The open cavity in the middle helps the bird cook evenly.
Personally, I just rub the whole bird down with honey (preferrably orange honey, but any variety will do). It traps the juices in, carmelizes to make the skin a tasty treat along with the turkey, and it bakes to such a beautiful color.
Smoking works nicely, if your smoker is big enough. But yeah, choice of animal is the most important part.
I can’t believe no one commented on Ezra’s strange sense of time. Apparently Thanksgiving happens in early December for the Kleins.
Brining is important. It raises the salinity of the turkey meat and retains more moisture while cooking through osmotic pressure. I’m also a fan of rubbing butter (preferably herb-infused) under the turkey skin.
In terms of cooking this “tricky meat”, I have had major success several holidays using a rotisserie on an outdoor gas grill (Weber 3-burner models are ideal–you only use the back burner). As long as you begin the endeavor with a full gas tank, you should have plenty in the tank for the two to three hours it’ll take to cook the bird thoroughly. As an added bonus, the Weber grills have the means to catch the drippings from the bird into a catch basin so you can still make the gravy. There are two great things about this method. First of all, once you’ve set the temp and put the bird on, you can walk away from it and deal with your other dishes. Second, it frees up the oven for all you other dishes. Another commenter suggested avoiding stuffing an instead fill the bird cavity with fruit. I found that oranges taste the best and it makes it much easier to mount a big bird on the skewer.
Brining has transformed turkey from a bird I was never keen on eating (my parents’ birds were always wicked dry) into pure pleasure.
I’m not doing the cooking for Thanksgiving this year, but if I was, I’d be using the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for ‘high roast’ turkey: butterflied bird scorched at 500 degrees for a nice crispy skin.
I am a brining contrarian. If the bird’s not worth eating unless you soak it in salt water to make sure it’s not dessicated and flavorless when you’re done, ur doin it wrong.
I have done every approach to roasting the Thanksgiving turkey — fresh heritage birds, smoked birds, stuffed birds, unstuffed birds, and I think Bittman (and the French, for what it’s worth) are absolutely correct. You can achieve an acceptable roast bird if you get a really good never-frozen bird that isn’t too big, dispense with stuffing it, and fuss a bit with flipping it around while it roasts. But the truth is that turkeys, like duck, really don’t want to be roasted whole (well, who does? But I mean in the sense of results that will please you, not the bird). The breast meat and the dark meat really need to be treated differently with both, and roasting, by definition, thwarts this bigtime. You can get something that kinda works and gives you that Home & Garden picture-perfect bird before carving, but you’re never going to do the bird real justice by roasting it whole.
Never a fan of the white meat anyway, this year I’m hellbent on trying out Bittman’s recipe for braised thighs, without the breast meat.