November is upon us and two celebrations come on the 23rd day of this month. First is, of course, the “Day of Thanks”. Second, and not the least, is the celebration of birth for our youngest child, Madeline a.k.a “Maddie Moo”, so double the fun this year, yea!
Now, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving Day: breakfast of sweet rolls, turkey for the meal with all those sides synonymous with T-day- from ambrosia to green bean casserole, stuffing that was stuffed to stuffing that wasn’t, pecan pie to pumpkin pie- followed by Dallas Cowboy football, a quick nap slid in their somewhere and turkey sandwiches for a late dinner.
This year’s quandary isn’t who’s coming or not, it’s what type of turkeys are we preparing. I will be doing one “traditional”, baked in my grandmother Newton’s oven roaster (right), the other will be either smoked or deep fried, Cajun style. I’m letting the family vote on this one and will let you know once the battle has been won- let the fight begin!
To kick off November, here is a quick guide for a traditional roast turkey. Check back later for gravies and sauces, as well how to smoke or fry a turkey. You can also subscribe to the right so you never miss a delicious post!
Let’s talk preparation of the turkey. My very first step is the selection of Tom. I never worry about a few pennies when it comes to buying. To hell with those bargain birds: It’s a straight up Butterball, pound for pound the finest commercially grown bird out there (and no, no one is paying me to say that!). Don’t be cheap or skimpy when it comes to the main course with pricing or size. I like the big bird, 20lbs plus, before cleaning.
Once home with your Tom, it’s cleaning time. This perhaps is the most important step, simply for safety and the well being of your guests (unless Aunt Marge is being a pain in the butt and you need to take her out- However, hopefully she’s on her meds and there is peace in the Newton household). Start by working on a large clean surface, a countertop is perfect, and I like to get a big piece of butcher paper, the wax sided type. If you don’t have any, when you go to buy your bird, batt your pretty eyes at the butcher, slip him a couple bucks, and ask him for two 3’ to 4’ pieces of butcher paper. They’ll accommodate, after all it’s the beginning of the “Season of Giving”.
It’s time to take out those toys stuffed in the carcass. Remember, there are two cavities, one inside the breast and one in the front of the breast. Nothing stinks more than cooking a parchment bag of vital organs, so set those aside for sauces and gravies.
The proper way to thaw your bird is slowly, in a refrigerator, so go clear a space out in the fridge for Tom first, then place him in a pan and cover with plastic wrap - I use those disposable roasting pans - and set him in the fridge for 48 to 72 hours before cooking. Once thawed it’s brining time.
Brining should be done for no longer than 12 hours and completed just in time for cooking. This step simply helps Tom retain moisture in the cooking process. You can also add some flavor to the bird during the brining. I like to add a little pickling spice, oranges and apple juice to my brine.
In a large sauce pan, add two cups of kosher salt with three cups of water, add your flavorings at this time if using, bring to a boil and allow to boil until the salt is completely dissolved, it takes a minute or two at the most. Find a container that will hold Tom and allow you to cover him with the brining solution. I use an old Igloo water container seen on those work trucks around town. I’ve had mine for ten plus years. Be sure to clean the container thoroughly before and after use - I use a bleach solution, and rinse very well when completed.
Fill the container/Igloo, half-way with ice, and pour the hot salt/seasoning solution over it, we don’t want to start cooking Tom yet. Next, put Tom breast down in the container/Igloo, and fill any remaining space with ice water. Place the lid on, and let it do it’s magic. If not using an Igloo, be sure to have room in the fridge or keep the container in a cooler filled with ice- safety first.
Take Tom for a bath in the kitchen sink to remove any seasoning and salt solution remaining. Once cleaned, remove him from the sink, place upon the parchment paper and dry him out with paper towels.
Now let’s season and stuff him. Seasoning and stuffing is a personal preference and another blog within itself. I season with salt and pepper inside and out and stuff with apples, oranges, lemon, garlic and thyme. I take a stick of butter, cut in two, and place each half under the skin by each breast half before roasting.
Roasting: Tom is now off to the roaster to cook at 350 degrees until the temperature is 165 degrees inside the breast to 180 degrees from a thermometer placed inside the thigh. Then off to a 375-400 degree household oven for ten minutes to get that rich golden skin color, just a shade darker than George Hamilton. Once brought to the proper temperature, remove from the oven and let it rest to allow the juices to slow down and redistribute throughout Tom.
Place Tom on a cutting board - I prefer a very large board with channels to collect the juices. Dissecting the bird is truly an art form that can be mastered by anyone. Start by removing the legs and thighs by cutting the skin between the breast and thigh, then cut through the joint, next separate the drumstick and thigh and set aside.
Remove the wish bone by simply using your fingers to pull it out and save for a later “pull” date.
Now, move onto the breast: Using your carving knife to cut one side of the breast bone and slowly angle your knife under the breast and remove the whole breast - try to retain the skin, repeat on other side and set aside.
Remove the wings and separate the joint with your knife just under the breast, then separate the wing into three pieces discarding the outer wing tip. Once again, repeat on the other side.
Slice the thigh meat by holding the bone in one hand and slice away the meat, setting the meat on the serving platter.
Slice the breast by using the tongs to hold the breast, position the meat so you’ll cut it at its shorter length. Slice against the grain, taking care to keep the skin attached. Transfer pieces neatly to a platter. Repeat, again!
Now, when placing the meat on the platter, I prefer to place the sliced portions on the outer edge while leaving the drumsticks and wings for the center of the platter.
Here’s the moment we’ve been waiting for, say grace, and get busy eating! Hours of cooking relegated to 30 minutes of gastronomic joy, then off to your recliner! Happy Turkey Day!