I’m pleased as punch to introduce our second guest blogger, my friend Jenn. I met Jenn almost 10 years ago, during my senior year of college, when she joined my sorority (Delta Zeta, for those of you who are curious) as a freshman. Despite having only one year of overlap in school, Jenn and I have maintained our friendship through the years and distance. We have a lot in common — we went through the same journalism program at Northwestern, both married our college sweethearts, both have cute dogs and at least one son born in July (Jenn is mom to the adorable almost-16-month-old Levi) — but Jenn is just naturally better at everything. I often muse that if a younger, cuter, kinder, more efficient version of myself existed, she might be like Jenn. Anyway, something that’s always been remarkable about Jenn is how considerate she is. When we stayed with her and her equally awesome husband, Andy, in November 2008 so I could be in the wedding of one of my best friends, Jenn tracked down a Pack and Play (keep in mind that she wasn’t circulating in the mommy world at the time!), bought some toys and stocked her pantry with toddler-friendly snacks so Jack would feel at home. During the wedding, she and Andy expertly babysat Jack, and afterward, when I realized I’d forgotten my diamond studs at the reception site, Andy drove Johnny many miles away to retrieve them, without any complaints whatsoever. Oh, and after we left, Jenn and Andy shipped the things they’d bought for Jack back to us, along with a CD of pictures they’d taken that weekend. I know, right?!?!
During that visit three years ago, Jenn and I were talking about our upcoming Thanksgiving plans when she mentioned something about “the timeline.” Now, Jenn is extremely organized (as in, I would bet money that her junk drawer is spic and span), but still, I assumed she was referencing a general idea — in her head — of when things needed to be prepped when hosting the Thanksgiving meal. But no, she meant an actual timeline. On her computer! I was in awe. Here I was, fancying myself to be an efficient person, and then there was Jenn, who, with her timeline, would be calm and unflappable on the big day (at least relative to me … I’m always sweaty and frantic when hosting big dinners). So, when I started thinking about Thanksgiving-related blog entries a few weeks ago, she was the first person I thought of. Who better to write about the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table than the woman who’s roasted the perfect turkey year after year with aplomb? Since Jenn’s got the process down pat, I asked her if she would share her expertise with my audience two weeks before Turkey Day. That way, you all can gather the ingredients and create your own timelines. 😉 She agreed (thank you, Jenn!), so, please give her a warm round of applause!
First, thank you Beverly for inviting me to be a guest poster! I have (not so secretly) always looked up to Beverly for everything from her sweet relationship with Johnny to her awesome mommy skills.
So Thanksgiving is upon us! What a wonderful holiday when we celebrate family and friends around a big roasted turkey. The turkeys of my childhood were, how shall I put it, a little dry. Sorry, mom. But don’t worry, turkey doesn’t have to be dry. I’ve been using this recipe for the Good Eats Roast Turkey by Alton Brown for the past six years, even when I haven’t hosted Thanksgiving. I’ve made this turkey either at my parents’ house, or I’ve made it the day before and carted it up to NYC to my brother’s apartment. More on that later. Here’s my version of the recipe with my own notes and tips throughout. It looks overwhelming, I know, but trust me, you can do this and it will be worth it.
- 1 five-gallon bucket from the hardware store
- tin foil
- turkey roasting pan and rack
- meat thermometer timer probe (something like this)
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 gallon vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger (also called crystallized ginger; you can find this in the Asian or baking aisles)
- 1 gallon heavily iced water (I take a gallon storage bag, fill it with ice cubes and store in my freezer until Turkey day)
- 1 (14 to 16 pound) fresh (not frozen) turkey
- 1 red apple, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- Canola oil
Two or three days before Turkey day, make the brine. Even though the ingredients seem really salty and maybe overpowering, the effect of pre-soaking the turkey in brine is subtle and well worth the effort. Combine everything in the brine list except ice water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.
Stir occasionally and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate.
On the same day, go ahead and wash your turkey brining bucket, too. I’ve found it’s easiest to wash it in the bathtub so you don’t get water all over your kitchen floor.
Either late at night on Thanksgiving eve or at a ridiculously early hour on Thanksgiving, it’s time to put the bird in its bath. Pour the brine into the 5-gallon bucket. Take your gallon bag of ice cubes, fill it up with water and pour that gallon of iced water into the bucket.
Remove all the plastic wrappings from the bird and remove the packet of gizardy stuff. Throw it away unless you are brave and want to make a stock for the base of your gravy. Leave in the temperature probe, but ignore it.
I hate handling raw meat, so my hubby is always in charge of this part. Take the turkey and plop it into the bucket, breast side down.Cover the bucket with plastic wrap and put in a cool place; I usually put mine
outside. Brine for 8 to 16 hours, flipping the bird (hah) once halfway through.
It’s roast time. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. Take the bird out of the bucket and rinse it with cold water. Get rid of the brine and the bucket. And if you are like me, hover over your husband with a bottle
of 409 and spray any surface that comes in contact with meat juice. I told you I hate raw meat.
Before you put the roasting rack in the pan, put a layer of tin foil on the bottom of the pan. It’ll save you some serious elbow grease later. Put the rack in, then put the bird on top. Pat it dry with paper towels.
Time to make the aromatics that you’ll place inside the turkey cavity to give it extra flavor. You will NOT be stuffing this bird. When you stuff a bird, the stuffing has to cook to a certain temperature that almost
guarantees that your white meat will be dry and overcooked. Cook your stuffing separately. It only took my family about two years to adjust to the idea of a non-stuffed bird.
Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Use metal tongs to put all that stuff into the turkey cavity, along with the
non-microwaved rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird so the tips don’t burn. Take some paper towels and dampen them with canola oil, the same way you’d dampen a cotton ball with nail polish remover. Rub the turkey with the oil, trying not to get too much drippy excess in the bottom of the
roaster. Take a double-layered triangle of tin foil and shape it on top of the white meat (breast) of the turkey, like a shield. Remove and set aside.
Now it’s time for the annual Set Off the Smoke Detector Party! Put the turkey in the oven on the lowest rack at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Canola oil smokes at this point, so DO NOT PANIC if you see a little smoke. Open the windows and flap some towels like I do. It’ll be over soon.
After the 30-minute towel flapping dance, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. Open the door and push the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast. (I wait until I’ve lowered the oven temp so I
don’t destroy the thermometer probe as I’ve done before.) The turkey will have a beautiful golden color to it already. Set the alarm to go off when the temp reaches 161 degrees. Place the tin foil shield back on the turkey breast. This will keep the white meat moist.
Sit back and wait! It’ll take only about 2 or 2.5 hours to finish. A lot faster than grandma’s turkey took, right? The lack of stuffing and the initial high temp are the secret.
Let the roasted turkey rest for at least 15 minutes before you carve. You can cover it with some foil and even let it go for 30 minutes if you need to cook your casserole or stuffing.
The past three years, I have cooked this turkey the day before Thanksgiving. I carve off the breasts in two big pieces, wrap them in tin foil, cut off the dark meat, and put it all in the fridge. I haul it all up in a cooler to Thanksgiving in NYC the next day. When I arrive, I slice up some meat, put it in a tray and warm it up in the oven. It will still be moist and delicious. THAT is how good this turkey is. Read these instructions another three times, DVR Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” episode “Romancing the Bird,” watch clips from it here … you can do this, you can do this. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a beautiful roast turkey!