|| Print ||
|Written by April Yorke|
|Wednesday, 07 October 2009 00:00|
I cooked my first solo turkey six years ago. It was to my grandma's great chagrin when I announced that I intended to stuff it with lemons, sage, and rosemary. "You can't put lemons inside a turkey," she railed. Chickens, sure, but never the sacred bird of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, I was preparing this turkey in Ottawa while my grandma was in Sarnia, so she would never taste it.
Despite my sacrilege, I've become turkey chef for family gatherings in the intervening years. I started out as the gravy sous-chef, but my power has grown. Every year I revive the great tin foil debate my nana and her best friend Jean used to have over turkey dinners at the Legion (Nana believed the shiny side out produced a better bird, Jean preferred shiny side in, and never the twain did meet). I've experimented with butter rubs, cranberry stuffing, and, in a brief period of excitement over a new tool, barbecued turkeys (note: barbecued turkeys are sadly gravy-less).
When I accidentally stumbled upon this article last October, I knew my next challenge had come. I was going to brine the turkey this Thanksgiving. I quickly picked up the phone and called home. My dad answered, and I asked, "How do you feel about pear gravy? Doesn't that sound delicious?"
"Pear? Don't you usually make gravy out of the pan drippings?" I did not expect this lack of imagination from the man who spearheaded the Great BBQ Turkey Experiment of 2007.
"I still will, but now I can add pear juice." I had a feeling my excitement was not as infectious as I intended it to be.
My mom took over the call and resolved that we could just make the pear gravy without telling my dad. That's when I dropped the brine bomb. "Do you have a big enough container?" I wondered. I was sure they did. My parents had one of everything, and, if they didn't, my grandma had two.
"Um, I have that soup pot." In truth, the soup pot my mom was referencing was closer to a cauldron. That clinched it. I was going to brine the turkey this year, and no one could stop me.
I had wanted to try brining a bird for some time (or at least since I saw that episode of Ricardo & Friends where he cooked chickens three different ways), and the opportunity was finally upon me. I read through the recipe carefully. I had my mom read through it. I read it again. I hit up multiple grocery stores looking for fresh thyme (my mom suggest we could use dried, while I cursed myself for not bringing home a few sprigs from my suicidal window box herb garden). And on Saturday night, I settled in to prepare my brine.
"Wait, Saturday night? Dude, how long does this damn brine take?" Listen, people think making a turkey is hard, but it's not. It only seems hard because the turkey is so big. Honestly, hoisting the turkey around is usually the hardest part. You stick it in a roasting pan with some herbs up the butt and some butter on the outside and ya done, dude. If anything, brining makes the process easier because you've got the turkey clean and ready to go before the rest of the meal needs a second thought. And if any of your relatives get uppity over soaking the turkey in salt water for 12 hours, tell them it's a marinade. Worked for me.
For brine, combine water and salt in a large stockpot. Stir until salt has dissolved. Add honey and stir until combined. Stir in rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic and pepper. Add turkey.
The first thing I did was prepare the brine in my mom's cauldron. I initially made the mistake of pulling the rosemary and thyme leaves off the stem, wasting close to an hour, but then I realized the turkey prep was even easier: dissolve salt, dissolve honey, throw everything else in. That is it. Already many of my previous Thanksgiving woes has been resolved, including a never ending argument about the necessity of poultry seasoning (for turkeys as well as in life).
I carefully carried the pot downstairs, cleared room in the fridge (my parents have upstairs and downstairs fridges. Deal with it, Suzuki), and took out the 16 pound turkey that I had cleaned and dried earlier.
When I was in grade seven, Mr. Dimouzio treated us to Eureka!, a TVO-produced series of science cartoons from 1980. We loved Eureka! The theme ended with Archimedes splashing away in his bathtub and crying out . . . well, I bet you can guess. Sadly, despite the many things Mr. Di taught me, I forgot all about Archimedes, so I splashed a significant amount of the brine onto the rug. While my mom looked down and said, "You don't have to write about this," I assured her that I did. It's part of my process. Also important: the cauldron still held enough brine to completely cover the turkey. Victory!
Now this is the great part: I forgot all about the turkey until the next afternoon. Seriously. It just sat there getting tasty while I was off doing whatever I pleased (it looked a lot like planning the other dishes, but it could have been anything).
Preheat oven to 450 F. Drain turkey well and discard brine. Pat turkey dry inside and out. Tuck wings under turkey and tie legs together loosely.
Transfer to rack in roasting pan. Rub turkey with butter and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place roasting pan in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325 F.
Roast until thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 175 F (80 C), about 41/2 hours. Transfer to serving platter and tent with foil. Let turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving (internal temperature will rise five to 10 degrees while standing, bringing your bird up to or past the 180 F (82 C) mark for fully cooked poultry).
Okay, there's all that stuff in there about the internal temperature of the turkey, and you can buy yourself a meat thermometer if that's your thing. Or you could buy yourself one of those little plastic things that pops out when your turkey is done. In fact, your turkey probably came with one.
Spoon off fat from pan drippings, reserving 1/4 cup (60 mL) fat. Measure out 2/3 cup (150 mL) pan juices. In large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and reserved 1/4 cup (60 mL) fat. Stir in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until light brown, about two minutes. Whisk in broth, pear juice and reserved pan juices. Simmer, stirring, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in rum. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Remember how I said making a turkey is easy? True. Gravy, on the other hand, less so. It seems like the easier of the two because all you do is dump your pan drippings in with some thickener and let it boil, but that is a lie. First, you spend endless time sampling, and then adjusting the flavour. Well, get ready to roll all extreme because with this recipe you don't need to adjust jack squat. Follow the recipe. Just follow it.
Second, and even more annoying, family members immediately assume that the second a turkey leaves the oven, everyone is going to sit down and eat. This recipe provides the perfect out. Wave it around, explaining that you have to let it rest for 30 minutes. It's in the recipe! You're just trying to follow a recipe! Just trying to do something nice for your family on Thanksgiving! What, your family get-togethers don't run on passive-aggression and misplaced guilt?
The Taste Test
The unfortunate part of graduating to full-on turkey making is the mistaken belief that it somehow means you are ready for turkey carving. Let me tell you something: it's not easy. Turkey making: easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey. Turkey carving: difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult. Use your 30 minutes to con one of your relatives into carving in your stead. Otherwise, your turkeys will look like mine.
In my humble opinion, this turkey is delicious. My notoriously picky nephew extolled its juicy, delectable taste (or he liked it. Very similar responses). Listen, the turkey tastes good and all, but this gravy? Is the single greatest gravy I have ever made. It's heavenly. It went with everything else I served up. It made the turkey twice as good. The tanginess of the pear was the perfect complement to the sweet honey. Normally I find rosemary a bit overpowering, but brining brought it down to a respectable level. Overall, this Honey and Herb Brined Turkey was so good that instead of looking for a new recipe, I'll just make it again this year.