Good Turkey Article in the NYT
Here's a turkey article from today's NYT Food section which I really enjoyed. It's called "Pilgrims Didn't Brine" and it's about the search for a simple yet effective turkey preparation and roasting method.[p]It includes advice from food science guru, Harold McGee, who it seems tackles the issue of getting the breast and thigh meat done at the same time using the ice pack method advocated by our own Mad Max. Also, advice from Christopher Kimball from Cooks Illustrated and Sara Moulton from Gourmet Magazine and FoodTV. Some good stuff. I think it's a nice summary of some of the classic turkey connundrums and some simple cooking options to address them.[p]Later,
Cornfed[p]http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/16/dining/16turk.html?adxnnl=1&oref=login&adxnnlx=1132147020-JFbskryZ4GwXofH+S8Jmfg[p]November 16, 2005
The Pilgrims Didn't Brine
By KIM SEVERSON[p]I have done foolish things in pursuit of a delicious Thanksgiving turkey.[p]I have cooked them in the style of countries I've never visited.[p]I've dismembered them raw.[p]I have stood in a cold garage drinking beer while men I barely knew poked at one floating in a caldron of hot oil.[p]I've hunted down 12 perfect juniper berries and submerged them, along with a turkey raised more carefully than a Montessori student, in a tub of salted water overnight.[p]I've massaged butter into breasts and stuffed sage leaves under skin.[p]I've soaked cheesecloth in butter and flipped hot carcasses from one side to the other.[p]Several weeks ago, a friend gently suggested that serious cooks spend entirely too much time thinking about the Thanksgiving turkey.[p]Naturally, I thought about that.[p]Is the time and money spent on a gamy American Bronze heritage turkey worth it when most guests prefer the bland flavor of the Broad-Breasted White they grew up eating? Is 24 hours of preparation excessive, when that time might be better spent on traditional holiday pursuits like creating a spectacular pumpkin pie or actively ignoring your family?[p]On the Thanksgiving plate, turkey is never the star nor the most memorable dish. Turkey recipes are not passed down through generations, like your grandmother's cranberry relish.[p]No one remembers the turkey unless it is bad.[p]This year I set off to see how simply I could roast a turkey and still have good results. I wanted something neither dry nor taxing.[p]To start, I took a page from Barbara Kafka, who in her 1995 book "Roasting: A Simple Art" advocated a two-hour turkey in a 500-degree oven. But my oven is never pristine enough for that kind of heat, and the result - even with the cleanest of ovens - is a screeching smoke alarm and a greasy kitchen. I would go high, but not that high.[p]Next I called Harold McGee, the science and food writer who recently revised his encyclopedic "On Food and Cooking."[p]"How simple do you want to keep it?" he asked. Very, very simple, I said.[p]The goal, he pointed out, is to get the leg meat to at least 165 degrees, when the connective tissue is cooked and the pinkness has just faded. But straight-up roasting would leave the breast dry at any temperature much past 155.[p]"The trick is to establish an unevenness in the temperature of the two different parts, the breast and the thighs," he said. The easiest way is to set the turkey on the counter and strap a couple of ice packs on the breast about an hour or so before roasting.[p]This year, Mr. McGee plans to increase the effect by starting the bird breast side down in a cold pan with cold vegetables and placing a sheet pan on the floor of the oven to slow the heat from the bottom. Then he'll flip the turkey halfway through cooking.[p]That didn't seem so simple. So I called Christopher Kimball, editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine. He has long advocated brining, an overnight soak in salted water. I have brined many times. Even with a mediocre, overcooked bird, the process makes the meat well seasoned and juicier.[p]But this year I didn't want to wrestle with plastic garbage bags and coolers and bags of ice. I wanted simple.[p]"You can buy a frozen, pre-basted Butterball which is essentially brined and thaw the puppy out," he said. "You do have to butterfly it and rip the backbone out, but that's not too difficult. Shove it on a broiler pan at 450 degrees. That's about as painless as it gets."[p]I had hoped to avoid butchery projects. So I called Sara Moulton, the Gourmet magazine chef and television personality whose new book, "Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals," is all about assuring people they can cook excellent food easily.[p]"I do the old 325 degrees," she said. "I don't do anything funny."[p]She likes a big turkey, maybe 16 pounds. She stuffs it, and prepares a separate pan of dressing to cook outside the bird. If the stuffing doesn't get hot enough (it ought to reach 165 degrees), she removes it from the bird, then puts it back in the oven.[p]"The biggest problem people have is that they follow those charts and they are the vaguest things in the planet," she said.[p]The key is a good meat thermometer. Some chefs take the turkey out when the legs hit 155, others at 165 degrees or 170 degrees. The U.S.D.A. says the thigh meat should be 180 degrees, which is insanely high but hospital safe. Ms. Moulton is not willing to buck the U.S.D.A. in print, but I am. Bringing the thighs to at least 165 degrees seems the best compromise between food safety and avoiding breast oblivion. The temperature will continue to rise as you let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving, another tip from Ms. Moulton.[p]Finally, I called my mother. She has been roasting turkeys for 50 years. It's always the same. A little onion and celery in the cavity, some salt and pepper and a constant 350-degree oven.[p]So, Mom, why were some of our family's Thanksgiving turkeys terrific and others, well, not so good?[p]"If you get a good turkey, you'll have a good turkey," said my mom, who always buys whatever is on sale. "If you get a bad turkey, it'll be a bad turkey."[p]So I tested three different turkeys. Since a kosher bird is already salted as part of the processing, I though it might be the shortcut I was looking for. It offered juicy meat, but not so juicy to justify all the time I spent pulling feather shafts from the skin. Plus, depending on where you live, a kosher bird can be hard to find.[p]I tried a frozen supermarket bird. It was inexpensive, but I didn't like the taste or quality of the meat or the industrial-style methods used to raise it.[p]In the end, I settled on a fresh bird from Pennsylvania sold by my local butcher. For my money, any turkey that has been allowed to forage naturally and was raised close to where you live is the best option, both for flavor and politics.[p]As for cooking methods, I borrowed a little bit from everyone. I settled on a roasting temperature of 425 degrees, which seemed like a reasonable compromise between high-heat advocates and old-fashioned, slow-roasters. I started with a room-temperature turkey and I tented the breast with foil. No flipping, no basting.[p]When the thigh hit 165 degrees, I let the turkey rest for a half-hour, covered with foil and a slightly damp kitchen towel, to allow the juices to settle back into the meat.[p]For a 12- to 14-pound turkey, my method takes about two hours, which should leave plenty of time to do more important things this Thanksgiving. Like call your mother.