Thanksgiving is near, that day when Americans, who normally cannot even roast a small hen, celebrate the pilgrims’ dependence on and eventual subjugation of Native Americans by attempting to roast the equivalent of 6-7 hens. Sorry for cynicism but, hey, it’s in the domain name so you knew what you were getting.
I often comment that if I wasn’t a man of the cloth then I’d have become a chef (whilst writing the great American novel). Fairly or not, I’ve developed a reputation as not being a complete disaster in the kitchen and accordingly many of you have asked for turkey recipes.
I’ve smoked and fried turkeys- both good routes- but I think brining followed by high heat roasting is the best way to go. I’ve no idea why so many recipes call for people to roast a ginormous piece of non-fatty meat at a low temperature (350), which is basically no different than making jerky.
Brining locks in the natural moisture while the high heat intensifies flavor. It crisps the skin and drives excess fat and water out of the bird, which bastes as it goes.
- Dissolve 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt/gallon of water in a painter’s bucket. Fill rest of bucket with ice so it remains cold or put in fridge if it’ll fit.
- Let brine for 24 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry inside and out with paper towels.
Here’s what you need:
Use a heavy 18-by-20-inch aluminum or stainless-steel roasting pan about 2 inches deep (no deeper or the turkey will steam). Disposable aluminum pans are unsafe for this job.
Use heavy pot holders.
Have ready a V-shape, adjustable rack that fits the pan. The rack will cradle the bird and lift it off the bottom so the underside will brown.
Use an instant-read thermometer; the pop-up kind is unreliable.
Make sure your oven is clean; accumulated debris can cause smoke during high-heat cooking. Here are the steps for roasting:
1. Remove the fresh, not frozen, turkey from the refrigerator two hours before it is to be cooked. Putting a cold bird into a hot oven can only send it into shock.
2. Remove and reserve the giblets and neck from the turkey cavities.
3. Rinse the turkey, inside and out, under cool running water. Without blotting dry, put it breast side up on the V-shape rack, set at the lowest slot, in the roasting pan. Drape a clean tea towel over the bird to keep it from drying while it warms.
4. Put the giblets and neck in a saucepan, add six cups of water or chicken stock, and let simmer an hour or until reduced to four cups.
5. Put oven rack at its lowest level.
6. Heat the oven to 500 degrees half an hour before cooking time. At this temperature, figure on eight minutes of cooking to a pound; an average 14-pounder will be done in about an hour and a half.
7. Remove the towel from the turkey. Do not season, stuff, truss or skewer the bird. But spread the drumsticks as far apart as possible without breaking the skin.
8. Put the turkey in the oven with the drumsticks toward the door. Let it cook undisturbed for 45 minutes. Do not even open the oven door during this time.