Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The tale of the turkey

Well, I successfully brined a turkey. The brine was a solution of water, salt, sugar, allspice, thyme, bay leaves, pepper and apple cider. Next time I plan to use only water, salt and sugar, as the other flavors were not apparent in the turkey, as far as I could tell.

Some directions said absolutely do not brine in any bag except a food-safe bag, others said a clean, new trash bag was fine. I decided to risk it, and put the turkey and brine into two clean, white trash bags, doubled together. This then went into the cooler with ice on top to keep it cold, and it brined for 14 hours, from 10 p.m. Monday to 12 noon on Tuesday.

I had a lot of trouble ascertaining how long to roast the turkey. All the sources said to cook it until it was 165 degrees, which is fine, but how do you plan your mealtime and your side dishes around that? I finally decided to roast it for four hours and hope for the best.

At noon, I took the turkey out of the brine, rinsed it thoroughly, dried it with paper towels and set it in the roasting pan. I let it sit and dry (and warm up a little) until 1 p.m. which would probably have all the food safety experts in a panic, but we all ate quite a bit of it later on, and not one of us has been ill from it. At 1:00, I smeared butter all over the turkey, put a piece of heavy duty foil over it (particularly over the breast) and poured 1 cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan.

I roasted it at 350. At 3:30, I planned to remove the foil so the turkey could brown up. However, I was taking DJ and Lu to piano and then journeying on to the saxophone repair shop to get DJ's horn fixed up. From the parking lot of the repair shop, I called Jonno and asked him to take off the foil. He did this, and also poured another cup of water in the bottom of the pan, as it was looking dry.

I thought I would get home by 4:30 to neatly and efficiently finish things up. However, there was a ridiculous accident on one of the roads home. I actually had to do a U turn and go home by an alternate route. By the time all this had taken place, we did not arrive at home until nearly 5 p.m.

The turkey, when I arrived, was very brown, and the pop-up timer had popped up. I feared that I had burned it. Still, I had squash, beans, mashed potatoes and gravy that still needed making and (in some cases) baking. I turned the oven down to 300 and whipped up praline squash (from butternut squash pureed the previous day) and green bean casserole as fast as I could. Did I cover the turkey again with the foil? I might have.

I took the turkey out of the oven and set it atop the stove so the praline squash and green bean casserole could bake (and upped the temp to 350 or 375--it's all a blur now). The stuffing was in the crockpot, and the potatoes were over high heat, trying to come to a boil and cook until mashable.

I got out my meat thermometer. First I stuck it into the thigh, which read 196 degrees. My heart sank. I was certain then that I had overcooked the bird and it would be tough and dry. I removed the probe from the thigh and stuck it into the breast. The internal temperature soon read 176 degrees. In my prior research, I had read that to be safe, a turkey must reach 165 degrees, and that this has been recently lowered from the previously required safety temperature of 180 degrees. Given these parameters, I was hopeful that 176 degree breast meat might be okay.

When we sat down to eat we had:
giblet stuffing
mashed potatoes
gravy from the drippings
praline squash (my FAVORITE--this is my total downfall)
green bean casserole
pumpkin pie

And guess what... the turkey was very moist and juicy and tender. It was so moist and juicy and tender that I wondered if I had undercooked it. Shawn even mentioned that the next time we do it, we could give the turkey more roasting time with no ill effects (I have a really hard time interpreting that--did he think it was underdone? Anyway, he ate it--he ate a lot).

I asked whether the family thought brining was worth doing, or if we should just go back to our old method of using oven roasting bags. I think they said that we should brine again, but it was not resounding as in, "This is SO MUCH BETTER than our old turkeys."

So I might brine a turkey again someday. Maybe.

Anyway, the praline squash was delicious. You cook brown sugar and butter and pecans together, and the sugar and butter make a sort of crisp, delicious, candylike substance. You spread this over the top of pureed squash (add a couple of beaten eggs and a dash of clove to the squash), and you bake it. In the end it is amazing, absolutely amazing, and even Shawn, who hates squash, is known to take a number of (very) shallow scoops.

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