Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turkey Tales

I would conservatively estimate that my husband and I have a collective 6 hours of cooking experience that mainly involves frozen pigs in a blanket. Despite that, we've thrown caution to the wind and invited my parents to our house for Thanksgiving this year. I'm pretty sure this was a serious mistake from a culinary perspective. 

Because the very idea of cooking a turkey seems incredibly, horribly daunting, we decided that the best approach would be to do a small test turkey a week in advance. Not a full-on giant gobbler - but a goblet, if you will. Just something to give us the confidence we need when Thursday rolls around.

When in doubt, I turn to my pantheon of hero-gods for help. I only have three of them (in no particular order):
Don't let the small size of this pantheon fool you. I've found that - without fail - one of them has insight into the tremendous challenges I face each day. And once again, one of them was perfectly suited to the task.  

For those of you who, like me, are complete and total turkey novices, let me warn you about a LOT of motherf-ing details that you have no reason to know about and that few recipes or evil parents choose to inform you about. Also, if you're like me, sometimes you don't really read recipes in advance and sometimes you call evil parents partway through the cooking process, when faced with an emergency and it's already too late.
  • Bird Size. Off we went to purchase said turkey. I didn't realize they made them in different weights, so that was our first discovery. The smallest one we could find was 12 pounds, which seemed big to me, but I have no point of reference other than my parents' obese cat, who weighs about 13 pounds. Not that I would cook him or anything, but he seems large enough to feed a family of 3 for a week.
  • Thawing time. I guess it makes logical sense that somehing twice the size of my head that's frozen in a solid block would take two days to thaw, and even then still be 0 degrees Kelvin inside, but its rare that my plans incorporate an element of logic. We gleefully brought home our bird home, thinking we'd cook it that night ... and then read the label on the side: "thaw in refrigerator for 1-2 days". Um.
  • Brining location. So we read the recipe carefully after we brought the bird home. I knew we'd have to brine it, but it hadn't occurred to me that I didn't have a vessel large enough to hold it + 2 gallons of brine. Alton helpfully suggests a 5-gallon bucket. I have one of those, but I've used it for mopping the bathroom floor, so that didn't really seem sanitary. After discovering that none of our cooking pots were big enough to hold it either, in a flash of inspiration we settled on a cooler.
  • Difficutly of removing the gross stuff inside. I kind of knew there might be something called "giblets" involved, and although I still don't know what those are, I was really afraid that I was going to have to perform horrid surgery to get them out. However, Butterball is pretty nice. Well, kind of nice. There are no directions or descriptions on the packaging, but they helpfully clean the bird in advance and put all these organs in a little bag that you can easily pull out at one end of the bird. HOWEVER, then I noticed that there's this weird metal wire holding the drumsticks down. I couldn't really see inside the turkey and kind of wondered how someone might stuff it, given that there's no apparent inner cavity. I also kind of didn't want to deal with it, and thought "Well, maybe I'm supposed to remove the wire," and I pulled and pulled, but it appeared so deeply embedded that it may have been part of the bird in life. So I stopped and called my husband to tell him I think I removed the giblets. After asking a few questions, he said he didn't think I had and to wait until he got home because he didn't think I was really trying to remove the wire. I got annoyed and hung up and started to ignore him and put the bird in the brine, but then thought better of it. Thank god I did, because when he came home, he managed to get the wire out (though I was smugly satisfied by how difficult he found it). And then he extracts this HORRIBLE LONG RED FROZEN TWISTED THING - possibly a "giblet" - that's stuck inside the bird. I think you're supposed to make gravy with it, but I refused to touch it.  
So we got through all of that and brined the turkey for a day. Then it came time to cook it. You start by roasting it at 500 degrees for 30 min, then sticking a thermometer in, turning the oven down to 350, and roasting for another 2 hours. My husband handled things at the 30-minute mark. An hour later, we were watching Three Sheets when suddenly the smoke alarm started going off.

He ran over the the oven, opened it up, and said, "F**K. F**K. I ruined it. It's ruined." I may or may not have been napping and ran over and tried to force him to tell me what happened. Also, I looked at the bird, which appeared to have been cooked with a blowtorch. The ends of the drumsticks were black, the skin was brown and crispy, and the wingtips were charred. After some back and forth and strong resistance to my factfinding mission, we clarified that, yes, he had forgotten to turn the oven down at 30 minutes and had just stuck the thermometer in. The turkey had now been roasting in a 500-degree oven for about an hour and a half.

Fortunately, around this time the thermometer alarm went off, signalling that the inner temperature of the turkey breast had reached a safe 161 degrees F. So we cooked it a little longer for good measure and then took it out.

Frankly, it was pretty good, even if a little dryish and blackened in parts. See? My hero-gods never let me down!

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