Confounded by the Bird
Hello again, dear fellow bloggers! I took a break in order to write articles, and I’ve been true to my word. I’ve been published in my local newspaper, the Dunwoody/DeKalb Neighbor, and its affiliates around metro Atlanta, so I’m smiling about that. The column below was published yesterday. As my way of wishing Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate it (and as just saying “Hey!” to everyone else), I’ve tweaked this article a bit and am posting it here.
It has nothing to do with Europe.
To Roast a Turkey
More often than not, I’ve been the two-sides-and-dessert purveyor when it comes to family Thanksgivings. But this year, the grandparents are spending Thanksgiving in Florida and we’re forgoing the large extended-family gathering and opting to have a quiet family feast.
I’m thrilled by the prospect of cozying up with my kids while we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in our pajamas, yet I’m confounded by the bird. Now I will tell you that I have roasted my share of turkeys; it’s just that I haven’t done it often enough to be married to a method. Suffice it to say that I haven’t gone there enough to have a go-to recipe.
A few years ago, I decided it was time to chart my own course, to claim my own technique, as it were, and I launched an investigative approach to finding the ideal turkey-roasting technique. Once I started my indirect polling of my friends and their recipes, I learned that cooking a turkey is as personal as a finger print. And like snowflakes, no two methods are exactly alike.
For starters, the bird can be bagged or brined, tented or basted, fried or smoked. Some of these methods, I eliminated immediately. I have to schedule time to file my nails, so I am not one to brine a turkey—I know that about myself. Likewise, I will happily pot a plant, but I have no desire to bag a twenty pound bird—it’s just not my style.
There is considerable cave-manly appeal to smoking a turkey or frying it in a vat full of boiling oil, but I am not a cave man. Yet the benefits of these methods cannot be extolled enough: enticed by the primitive allure of fire, the menfolk take over the turkey cooking, and the womenfolk have time to take a shower on Thanksgiving Day. Sadly, there are no cauldrons or Big Green Eggs at my house.
So I am left with tenting and basting. My mother uses the tenting method. To be honest, I really can’t tell you more than that about how she roasts her turkey. She uses all the basics—salt, pepper, butter, onions, celery, carrots— then covers the bird with foil and bastes it occasionally, and it comes out tender, juicy, and absolutely delectable every time. I decided it was futile to try to replicate her recipe; my mother’s buttered toast still comes out better than mine, so who am I to think that my tented turkey will turn out as wonderful as hers?
I then discovered the Martha Stewart Cheesecloth Method. I chose this recipe because it calls for a bottle of white wine. You simmer the wine with a cup and a half of melted butter and then soak the cheesecloth in that mixture, so the house smells ridiculously fantastic at 8:00 in the morning. I have used this recipe for a few years, and I admit that during those years the prospect of that aroma was all that had been getting me out of bed at dawn on the fourth Thursday of November.
But I will also admit that, although the bird would come out of the oven looking positively Norman Rockwellian, it still didn’t approach the flavor that my mother manages to conjure with some foil and a thirty year old basting brush.
It was back to the internet with me. I decided to explore the intriguing yet unorthodox method of upside down turkey roasting. I happened upon a website called “Serious Eats,” and that title alone should have been sufficient warning to me. I scrolled through the community conversation until I started reading words like “spatchcocking”–at first glance, thinking that they were typos but then realizing, unfortunately not. These cooks are clearly over my head, and perhaps the upside down is over my head, too.
Now, here I am surrounded by links, print-outs, and recipe books, each method promising perfection. I am still confounded by the bird.
I don’t know which recipe I’ll end up trying this year, but there is one thing I can promise you: come 8:00 on Thanksgiving morning, I am opening a bottle of wine.