14 November, 2007

MAC's Holiday Turkey Tips

So you're bootin around the web looking for Turkey Tips? Well you found the right place. I am not going to give some fancy pants preparation, just straight talk so that you can keep cool during a time when it feels like all heck is about to break loose.

1. Plan ahead.
The name of the game is preparation, play it right and the only thing you'll have to do on T-day is drink a beer and watch the smoke curl off the barbecue (okay maybe there's a few things to do). Start out by getting a Turkey. What you don't have one yet? Go now go go go. Most turkeys you'll find at the store are going to be frozen and they take several days to thaw. 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of meat, says this month's Gourmet magazine. Placing an order for a bird (about a month ahead, too late now) is always a good idea, supermarkets usually provide this service and you can request that they thaw it for you. In the past, I have ordered Kosher turkeys which can save you some prep time (I'll talk about that in a moment). You can also snoop around to find locally produced turkeys. For second year in a row, we ordered our turkey from the Dickmans. They have a farm down by Kankakee were they pasture raise poultry.

2. Selection.
Think small. Don't worry about leftovers, pick the smallest bird that will feed your crew. We cooked an 11 pound turkey recently that fed 6 adults and 2 children and still had half a bird left. I think you should be able to serve 8-10 with a 12 pounder. A smaller size is easier to handle, and cooks quicker. Maybe right now you are thinking, jeeze that's small, I don't wanna run out of meat; I get the same feeling every time ("It's not enough food!"), relax, let's chant together: Pick the small guy, pick the small guy. It works.

3. Cure yer bird.
You don't need fancy pants seasonings, you don't need a flavor injector, I don't have a turkey baster, I don't own a basting brush. Here's my secret ingredient: Salt. A brine cure changes the flavor of the meat in magical ways. It's juicer too. Both Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated and Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman have good discussions on brining, but here is what I did: Dissolve 225 grams (1 cup) of Kosher salt per 4 liters ( 1 gallon) of water, make enough to cover the turkey. I used maybe 8 liters for my 11 pound pullet, make sure you use a non-reactive container: Stainless steel, glass or plastic. Put a weight on it to submerge. Let it soak in the fridge for 18 hours. Be careful on the time, leave it too long and it can get too salty. Some brine recipes call for sugar, it doesn't do much for me and I think it causes the skin to brown (read blacken) quicker. You don't have a bucket that big? Here are two alternatives: Order a Kosher turkey, they are already salted, most supermarkets can get you one. Do a salt rub, the November 2006 of Cook's Illustrated from has a salt rub recipe, I never tried it, but Novak did and he was happy with the results.

3. Give it a rest.
After the briny soak let your tom dry in the fridge uncovered for 12 hours. This will give the brine in the bird time to balance and the skin a better chance for crisping during cooking. Before resting, truss the turkey. Towards the end of the 12 hours brush the skin with some olive oil.

4. Let's take it outside.
Nothing finer than smoked turkey, my weapon of choice is the Weber Smokey Mountain, but you can use a kettle grill, gas, whatever. The important thing is to create indirect heat and a hood temp of 350F. You skoff? yeah I said 350, I wanna have my turkey sometime today and the skin will be crispy and it will have plenty of smoky flavor. Before putting it on, brush it again with some olive oil, if you have a thermometer that you can leave in while cooking, stick that in, and start cooking. Plan for three hours, check it every once in a while, make sure one side isn't cooking faster than the other, but try not to peek too often. When the internal temp reads 165F pull it off and let it rest. If you can't do it outside, cook it in a 350F oven, maybe stick some fresh herbs in the cavity like rosemary, thyme, parsley, bay leaf and some peeled cloves of garlic. I haven't cooked a turkey in an oven in a long time, but that sounds good.

5. Carving.
Unless it is chiseled in stone on the dining room wall, don't carve the turkey at the table, put the whole bird on a platter, present it to your guests, then take it back to the kitchen for the wet work. Pick out a long, thin, sharp knife and cut up one side at a time. Remove the leg and thigh together at the thigh joint then find the then remove the wing at the joint. Now the easy part: Remove the whole breast from the side you are working on. Start by making a longitudinal cut along the breast bone then work the knife along the ribs so that you have one big boneless piece of meat. Now can cut straight across the boneless breast for 3/4 inch thick slices. I think the pros call em cutlets. Cut up the thight meat serve the drum whole. Serve the turkey warm, enjoy the company.

To Review: Get it, thaw it, cure it, dry it, cook it, cut it, serve it. What could be easier?

Here is a sample thanksgiving menu:

Brine cured smoked turkey
Cornbread mushroom stuffing
Mashed potatoes with roasted parsnips
Sauteed Swiss Chard with garlic and red pepper flakes
Giblet gravy
Cranberry sauce
Pumpkin Pie

Please don't make yourself crazy with the holiday, good food is important but taking time to be with friends and family is what really matters. if the turkey burns, make spaghetti.



Peter M said...

I too have been brining my turkey for years. Your smoked bird looks awesome!

Jim Ellison - CMH Gourmand said...

Right on the Money - well executed bird and perfect post. You, Sir, are a man of measure!

Robert said...

Thats my boy!(oldest of three)...and he will be at Walhalla for Thanksgiving (me hopes)....