November 20, 2012

The Flippin' Bird

I have not cooked that many Thanksgiving dinners over the years. If I've been married 20 years, I've spent 10 Thankgivings at my folks' home... leaving me with 10.

My mother in law was alive for the first eight years, so of the four I had here and not at my folks', they were at her home.

That leaves six Thanksgivings. There were two Thanksgivings we spent in NJ since we went to the Macy's Day Parade.

That leaves four. And I feel fairly certain that my sister in law in Fort Lauderdale has laid claim to a couple.

I only remember two that I've had here. By my calculations, that leaves me with 10% of the Thanksgivings here at the House of Bou. That makes me sound so... incapable. Such a slouch.

But rest assured, I remember those two days I had vividly. The first one was so very important to me. I don't remember how it came to be, but I was cooking for everyone. I think we had 20 to dinner that year, and stressing for it to be the perfect Thanksgiving doesn't even do it justice. For, you see, I've not blogged it here I don't believe, but my husband's older sister is married to a chef. He owns a restaurant on the Jersey Shore. A very well known restaurant that he has run for over 25 years.

The beautiful thing about my brother in law is that he is so appreciative when others cook, it is for sure the 'best meal' he has ever had in his life. It makes me laugh now, how he carries on, but still, there is that pressure that I don't want a truly substandard meal on his plate.

So I looked high and lo' and my cousin, who is a Food Network Freak, promised me he had the BEST turkey recipe ever in the history of turkey cooking, a turkey so good, that only HE was in charge of the cooking of the turkey when Thanksgiving was to be held at his home.

And so I quickly took his recipe, happy for the assist from someone who did this every year and swore to be The Turkey King. I was probably blogging at this time, so some of you may know this story.

But said turkey was to be rubbed down and then put in a big bucket of ice water, with kosher salt. This kosher salt thing was supposed to be important. It was as if the salt was to have been hacked to pieces by a Jewish Carpenter himself, it was that important.

And so I did as the recipe was instructed, the night before, soaking this big bird in this big bucket of homemade kosher brine.

Except it was then that I ran into a bit of an issue. I called my cousin and said, "Umm... where do you keep this big bucket overnight?"

To which he replied, "On the back porch..."

Now as sure as the day is long, you people in the Great White North have had your first snow by Thanksgiving and if you have not, it gets down into the 30s at night already, maybe even the 20s. Most definitely, refrigerator or freezer temps.

But here in S. Fl-or-ee-dah, it is in the 70s at night. I'm still wearing sandals to work. If I could, I'd wear shorts. Dropping down to a low of 70... and keeping your big bird on the back porch, I personally think that's a poultry problem of some sort of unhygienic, try to kill your family with some kind of horrific bacteria on Thanksgiving, infraction.

And surely not the impression I need to make on my chef brother in law, right? Forget worrying about a dry turkey. I'd moved full court press into trying not to poison my family and guests.

But here I had this 18 pound bird in a big dang bucket of brine and that bucket just was NOT going to fit in my fridge. On a good day. With no leftovers.

It wasn't happening.

And so with great anguish, I decided if I just kept the bucket covered (we live in Florida... we have bugs), but every hour kept adding ice, to ensure the bird stayed in some briney kosher ice bath for the night, somehow, it would be OK.

And it was.

But take note, that I'm not making the Kosher Bath Turkey this year. I think I was pressing my luck that year and besides, in the warm cockles of my heart and the dark recesses of my brain, I don't seem to remember thinking, "Holy crap. This is the best dang turkey I've ever eaten in my entire life..."


Nor did any of my family or guests from that year say to me, "Do you remember the turkey of 2004? Now... THAT was the BEST turkey... Ever."

No. And of course my reply to anyone who did say that would be, "I only remember it as the turkey that I was afraid was going to kill you..."

I digress.

I don't remember it being fabulous, so I'll cook it like I cook a chicken... and it stays in the fridge until it gets pulled out to be put in the oven.

Then there were a couple years ago when I was on the organic vegetable kick when I bought all my vegetables from Komrad Maria, where we picked up our share.

That year they were selling Organic Turkeys and I thought, 'OH! Surely these turkeys will be the best because no steroids have penetrated their breasts and surely the meat will be tender and wonderful and perfect."


It was not great. Once again, nobody says to me, 'Oh! You remember that turkey of 2009? It was the BEST turkey EVER." I don't remember thinking, "This breast is so tender and moist!" Instead I remember thinking, "I wonder if steroids keep the breast from drying out..."

This year I'm going with a 10 pound Butterball, the kind that has that little plastic gizmo that pops out when the turkey is done. I'm going to follow the directions on the bag.

No special baths or meat without steroids. We're going standard all American Butterball.

We'll see how this goes...

Besides, Screw the Turkey. Bring on the pie. I'm making chocolate pecan pie and a pumpkin pie cheesecake.

It's about the Pie.

Posted by Boudicca at November 20, 2012 12:28 AM

Hmmm, for what it's worth my wife usually uses a Butterball. She does rub some spices on it, but cooks it upside down on a rack until about the last half hour. Then she has me pull it out, flip it over, and return it to the oven to brown the turkey breast. During cooking she bastes it with a good beer, we used Billy Beer the first year and it was not good. Now we use at least Michelob or a couple of my Boston Lagers. Cooking it upside down leaves the breast meat moist. Stuffing in, but that's a whole different story. I'm a huge fan of her bird. Her Ma cooks it like that, as does mine. And my daughter. You get the idea. Best ever? Hmm, good question. Maybe, maybe not. But it's my memory of Thanksgiving and for 30 years her bird has made me want her turkey dinner for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, best ever? Maybe not, but if not, I find that I cannot think of one better enough to say so.


Happy Thanksgiving!


Posted by: marcus erroneous at November 19, 2012 09:44 PM

Ahhhh.... pies! Yum. With cranberries in them. Yum.

Posted by: Angus of Jura at November 19, 2012 10:48 PM

Marcus, I have a Guiness in my fridge I was saving for my Dad. Can I baste with that? Dad wants cranberry pies. I think I can baste with his Guiness.

Dad- I told the guys at work that I told you that cranberries were Satan's fruit. They told me I was being too dramatic. There will be no cranberries in my pies.

BTW, I am making Paula Dean's Pumpkin Cheesecake and Emeril's chocolate Pecan Pie. It has a caramel sauce and I'll have vanilla ice cream on top.

We can put cranberries on top of your ice cream...

And I might be basting our turkey with one of those two Guiness I have in the fridge...

Posted by: Bou at November 19, 2012 10:52 PM

Nooooooo.... not the Guinness! Forget the cranberry pies, save the Guinness!

Posted by: Angus of Jura at November 19, 2012 11:09 PM

You sound like the time I wanted to make that pork basting sauce from the Laphroaig. Y'all would have thought I was committing a sin...

Posted by: Bou at November 19, 2012 11:43 PM

Last year we went to the desert again, it was the second year a group of guys did 'Trash can Turkey' for Thanksgiving. Only, this time his wife stayed home so she could get a jump on sales. It worked out, but the previous year she did the turkey and had it much more organized.

With that info, watching the guys, I decided to cook our little turkey roll in our truck camper oven. Not knowing how well it would work I picked up one of those oven cooking bags. I didn't have flour so used pancake mix in the bag and added the turkey. The previous year my daughter gifted me with a ThermoWorks Thermometer/Timer. The thermometer has a cable attached to the probe and plugs in to a digital read out. All I had to do was insert the thermometer into the turkey roll, make sure I didn't crimp the cable and set the timer for a few degrees below the finished temp. It was so nice to have a read out as it seemed to take longer to cook than the instructions indicated. I think the center wasn't thawed oops. Letting the turkey roll rest under foil for half and hour really kept it moist.
This year, we're going to do Thanksgiving dinner a day early. Then the guys will head out to the desert with cooked leftovers.

Posted by: cin at November 20, 2012 04:41 AM

As I said at work... I'll take the cranberry pie! Pass it my way! on the otherhand, brining just makes it stay moister. I'm not going to do it but I have noticed a difference between those brined and those not. Moister or not. That's all. No taste change, no wow factor. Just moister. Enjoy! Wish I could be a fly on the wall.

Posted by: vwbug at November 20, 2012 05:49 AM

Thanksgiving dinner in our family is at my brother's house. I do remember a memorable meal on year that he brined it. But it wasn't so much the turkey, which was VERY moist, but it was the gravy!! Outstanding! And isn't really the gravy that makes it all come together??
Happy T Day, Bou!!! I'll be there for the pie!

Posted by: Peggy K at November 20, 2012 06:17 AM

Shove some bacon under the skin before you bake. Or, at the very least, many pats of butter.

Posted by: wRitErsbLock at November 20, 2012 09:04 AM

Re: the Laphroaig, depending on the age, you might well have been commiting a sin.

Posted by: Web at November 20, 2012 09:42 AM

The only thing you need to do to a Turkey is put the pan into a paper grocery bag, staple that thing shut and hours later an awesome Turkey comes out.

Family has been doing that since time began, always a great Turkey.

But seriously, Thanksgiving really is all about the PIE!!!!

We are having Apple Crumb, straight from the Grand Traverse Pie Company. It is sitting in my fridge right now, it is calling my name. I hope it lasts until T-Day.

Posted by: Quality Weenie at November 20, 2012 10:59 AM

Having checked with the master chef here on the premises, she advises against the use of Guiness (too heavy) and recommends MGD or Michelob as her preferred beverages for this use. Two of them are what she uses while ensuring that the last application is at least an hour prior to the finishing of the bird to ensure that it all bakes off. It makes for a very tasty gravy. Also, she said an hour before it should be done is the time to turn the bird right side up to brown the breast. In our oven the bird rests in a V-shaped rack while it is cooking.

We'll be with at the clan gathering where about 30 family members should be on hand. Turkey (you know how they'll be cooked), ham, dressing, et al. The usual stuff will be on hand for a traditional New England family celebration of Thanksgiving. And pies. Probably three or four at least. And cheesecake. And cakes, cookies, and so on. And we'll all form groups, break apart to reform, and yet again as we all catch up on what everyone is doing for we don't all live in the same state and my brother-in-law and his family flew in from the West Coast for this year's event. It is family, so it is not perfect, but we are family and keep that in mind while we visit with each other. With the Christmas iteration just around the corner. It's a good time of year, I hope that you and your family have at least half as much fun as we do, though dare to have more!


Posted by: marcus erroneous at November 20, 2012 05:13 PM

This year, my husband is attempting to make Polish turkey...a recipe from his Polish grandmother. It is deboned the night before and is truly the best. turkey. ever. We haven't had it since before his mother's a tribute to her in a way. Wish us luck...

Posted by: Mrs. Who at November 20, 2012 05:24 PM

Rave is down in Oklahoma this Thanksgiving. I couldn't go because of work, so I'm doing the lions share of the cooking for the family here.
20lb bird, 2 pies from scratch, Grandma's egg noodles, two types of homemade stuffing.... yeee haw!

I'm actually looking forward to this.... kind of proves I'm nuts :)

Posted by: Graumagus at November 20, 2012 06:38 PM

Best turkey I ever did was thus: put oranges and onions in the cavity (cook stuffing separately). Rub entire turkey with olive oil, then season with salt/pepper. Take cheesecloth and soak in a mixture of chicken broth, orange juice and white wine worcestershire sauce. Put turkey on a rack in a large pan. Put cheesecloth on top of bird and wrap nearly underneath. Baste every 30 minutes with the broth/juice mixture. The cheesecloth will eventually burn but the flavor and moistness are STILL talked about in the family here. Sadly if I do Thanksgiving it means everyone has to drive an hour to get to our house vs. only us driving the hour to get to them. So I've done Thanksgiving twice in nearly 30 years.

But damn that turkey was amazing.

Posted by: Kris, in New England at November 20, 2012 07:53 PM

We fry our turkey. We first tried it in Charleston and 6 moves later we are still doing it. Everyone says it tastes better but my favorite part is the crispy skin. :)

Posted by: Angela at November 20, 2012 08:08 PM

I have this urge to baste my turkey in beer, fill the cavity with oranges, cover it in cheese cloth, put it in a bag, cook it in a camper oven, then at the last minute... fry it. ;-)

I'm laughing that there are SO many ways to make an excellent turkey!

I have decided... after doing much research and morphing how I cook my own chickens...I'll be stuffing the cavity with garlic, parsley, basil, oregano, celery, carrots, and apples. I'll also rub in the same spices with salt and pepper. My cheesecloth will be of melted butter and a dry white wine. I'll probably cook it in my small oven on my porch, if it will fit.

I'll also probably do the turny thing...

Now I have to get the damn thing to thaw.

Posted by: Bou at November 20, 2012 10:19 PM

We're not having turkey, but there will be pie, so yes, bring on the pies!

Happy Thanksgiving to Bou and family!

Posted by: pam at November 21, 2012 09:48 AM

I suspect that it will turn out well as it's a technique you're familiar with. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!


Posted by: marcus erroneous at November 21, 2012 11:28 AM

The brining was probably redundant. Although Food Network and various cooking magazines swear by it, every bird I've ever seen in a grocery is labeled with a note saying it contains an extra 8-10 percent saline solution. With Butterballs, they inject saltwater and fat. Ignore the little pop-up thermometer that may come with the bird. Use an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh. Cooks Illustrated says to take it out when it hits 165-170 degrees, about 3-4 hours, depending on if you stuff it.

Posted by: George P. at November 21, 2012 05:43 PM

Well, it's done. Leftovers are packed and headed out to the desert. One thing I did different this year, I used a crock pot for the potatoes. Cooked them on the stove, riced them, buttered 'em then added some warm milk. Then I put them in a lightly buttered crock pot and kept them on low for the next hour. For the first time in XX number of years doing this Tdinner, I had hot mashed potatoes. I highly recommend this. If you notice moisture on the lid, then put a clean kitchen towel between the lid and pot so the potatoes stay moist but not wet.

Have a good day tomorrow with your family. Safe travels to all.

Posted by: cin at November 21, 2012 09:54 PM

Marcus- Well, I opted for wine because I have it. If I buy the beer it will be there forever! I don't have beer, other than the ones I had for my Dad.

Which, by the way, they weren't Guiness this time. I thought they were. They were Boddingtons...

George- You might be right! I hadn't thought about the saline thing. And the recipe I've had told me to pull out the poppy gizmo. That would be... according to Martha Stewart.

Cin- I'll try that tomorrow. It's so funny you should say that, because I was JUST telling my Mom that I had heard that you should keep your potatoes in the crock pot to keep them hot. I'll do that tomorrow.

Posted by: Bou at November 21, 2012 11:09 PM

It was only my husband and I for Thanksgiving. I made crockpot Coq Au Vin. It was good. I think in the next couple of months I'm going to try and "spatchcock" a chicken and see how that turns out. I understand if you cook a small turkey that way it only takes an hour... however a small turkey has way too much meat for 2 people. Thus the chicken. LOL.

BTW - one of my friends did that whole soak the turkey in brine and keep it cold with ice in her bathtub. It's certainly a large enough space for a big turkey.

Posted by: Teresa at November 24, 2012 12:31 PM

Of course now that it's all over, I remember a trick for soaking. The master chef here usually does ham for Easter and military fridges are not noted for their extra capacity (well, not for enlisted folks). To the point, she soaks hams in Seven Up overnight before baking them and our limited space fridge had not the space for to hold the ginormous pot required to hold the ham soaking in the soda. So, we bagged it. Put it in a cooking bag then added the soda and tied it shut. We stood it up (easy to do as we had to wedge it in there anyway) with the opening up and left it overnight. Worked like a champ! The soaking makes the ham less salty.

So, if you decide to do the brine thing, you could do this to reduce the fridge footprint.

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving.


Posted by: marcus erroneous at November 25, 2012 11:44 AM