Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Oct. 31, 2004 - 7:13 a.m.

Talkin' Turkey


I've been getting a lot - I mean a lot - of e-mails requesting cooking tips lately, most of them regarding Thanksgiving recipes. Maybe people are starting to remember the turkey shaped asphalt lump they served their In-Laws last year, and want to get back in their good graces this year. Maybe they're tired of their gravy being as lumpy and pasty as rice pudding. Maybe they just like writing to me, knowing I MUST respond if the subject is food. (They're right.)

Anyway, seeing as the topic generates more interest than my stupid stories, this entry is gonna be mostly food focused. Mostly.

I do have two quick observations regarding relationships first:

1. Guys, if your lady calls from work and mentions that she has been afflicted with a particularly aggresive form of PMS that day, do not go home and immediately write a diary entry about the Hated Ex-Girlfriend(tm). All your explanations - in between ducking flying crockery - like "...but I made her seem like a besotted jerk!" will fall on hormonally deafened ears.

2. If you lady's cycle is due to start on Halloween, do not bring home a 5 pound bag of assorted mini-chocolate bars the week before, in preparation for the free-loading kiddies. No matter how well you hide them, her Chocolate Echo-Location Device is better than your pathetic Burrowing Skills.

Now for some not-quite-unsolicited turkey cookin' advice:

(If you don't want to put up with my long winded pontifications and just want The Goods, scroll down to "The Recipe" and you'll be spared. Jerk.)

Turkey can be a tough bird to cook, literally. There is no interlarding; that is, fat in the muscle tissue itself that helps baste as it melts, like the marbling in beef. As a result the bird can dry out quickly, leaving even good looking birds with breast meat that seems like turkey flavored Pixie-Stix when you shovel a forkful in. Just absolutely sawdust-dry. Plus: stringy, chewy, flavorless legs and thighs.

There are a few ways you can make up for what Ma Nature neglected; coating the bird with anything fatty, from bacon strips to mayo helps, as does constant bathing of the outside with a bulb baster. Some people even do the "Beer Butt Chicken" thing with a quart of Colt-45 rammed up ol' Tom, and then cooked vertically on the grill. (I haven't tried that one myself, but the theory is that the steaming beer bastes the bird internally and keeps it moist that way.) Long, slow smoking is one of my favorite methods, if you have 11 hours to kill. And of course, there is the ever more popular Deep Fried Turkey, which I can personally attest is a primo way to seal in moisture. But if you don't have the cooker and a tanker of cooking oil on hand, you're out of the game.

Whatever method you choose - or if you choose no method at all other than just tossing the carcass onto a cookie sheet and sticking it in the oven (which is how we did it at most of the restaurants I worked at) there is ONE THING that you can do which will help insure a more tender bird: Brining.

That one little two-syllable word is your key to tender turkey. And pork. And shrimp. Basically, to any lean flesh.

Here's the details:

"Brining" something means just soaking it in salt water (or salt and sugar water in this case). This is NOT marinating. Biochemically what happens is, the cells in the meat try to even out the pressure differential caused by the heavier salt concentration in the brine. (You getting this?) To do that, their "differentially permeable cell membranes" allow some of the outside saline solution in. When that happens, the sugar in the solution unravels and binds with some of the intercellular protein strands, creating a sort of gluey mass. This mass acts as a sticky plug that does not allow the fluids inside the cells to escape, even under high heat - like cooking! So a brined bird stays much jucier, even if it accidentally overcooks.

So here's what you wanna do for this Thanksgiving (or if you just like turkey). Get the biggest stockpot you have. If you don't have a stockpot, get a small tub of some sort. A 5 dollar plastic laundry tub from EconoMart will do. A pet casket. Anything that will hold a full turkey and plenty of liquid to submerge it in.

Make sure the turkey is fully thawed - which means taking it out of the freezer at least a week ahead of time.

Two days before you are gonna cook it, brine that bad boy. Which entails tossing a couple cups of salt and about the same ammount of sugar into your pot/tub/casket, then getting it all to dissolve in plenty of cold water. Dunk the turkey in, make sure it's submerged, and let 'er soak. I'd say at least 6 hours, although I let mine bask overnight in the fridge. If you can't fit yours in the fridge, anyplace cool will do. And if you can't find a cool place, just pack lots of ice in with the water.

The next day take the turkey out of it's bath and rinse it off. Then towel dry it, inside and out (use paper towels if you don't want to risk trichynosis, salmonella, meningitis and AIDS by rubbing a turkey tainted terry towel in your hair later).

Now this step may seem a bit odd, but it works: Place the bird UNCOVERED on a rack over a baking sheet, then put the whole thing inside your refrigerator til the next day. Cold air is very dehumidifying, and will dry out the skin of the turkey. This in turn will make for a very crispy skin when the bird cooks up. BUT, because you brined it, the actual meat under the skin will not become dessicated.


Just go here: Cook's Illustrated. I subscribe to their magazine - the only cooking magazine I read, as a matter of fact. They may not be as extensive or glitzy as some, but: they take no advertising! What this means is that all their reviews are totally unbiased. When they test, say, food processors, they can say "The new Cuisinart model really SUCKS" without fear that Cuisinart will pull the plug on a significant income stream by the end of that business day.

Their recipes are usually quite good also - they do a LOT of testing. I have some quibbles now and again, but overall I think they do a better job than most. And I've tried their turkey recipe in the past it it's probably the single best one I've yet used from a book.

So, here: As a magazine subscriber I get to log into special features on their website. (Note that I am not a paying "Website Subscriber", which would allow me to access even more, but I think is bullshit. I already pay for the damn magazine - lemme in!) Until December 15, if you type the code "6042" into the "Cook's Extra" box on the bottom right of the page, you can access their roast turkey recipe...courtesy of me! (Just don't tell 'em I'm passing on my Secret Code, ok?) It's the culmination of several YEARS worth of testing - I've seen them develop this in stages for the past decade. They do a brine in this recipe, but only with salt now. I prefer to add sugar also...which was in one of their turkey articles a few years back, and still think works better. They also give the tip my mom taught me when I was 8 or 9: start the bird upside down (ie: breast side down), to let the back fat melt and pour down through the breast meat for extra flavor and internal basting. It works great. So I recommend this recipe to anyone who's had a bad experience cooking these overgrown pullets in the past.


Finally, a word about carving. Do what they do in restaurants: take the meat off the bones and THEN slice it up.

To wit: get the biggest platter you have. Remove the legs and wings from the bird and arrange them on the platter (you can seperate them easily at the joints, and debone them if you like). Then remove each breast one at a time by slicing down from the top along the Keel Bone. With one hand, gently pull the whole breast away from the ribcage while with the knife in your other hand you help things along by cutting at bits that stick. You should end up with a large, boneless breast. Put it skin side up on a cutting board and make angled slices with a sharp knife. (Don't get hung up on what kind of knife to use, as long as it's sharp and long.) BTW, I recommend doing only one breast initially. If the platter runs low, excuse yourself and slice the next one. It'll stay moister that way.

And don't forget: save the bones and trimmings. Turkey soup is ambrosia!


Do you know how much I love you guys? A wild thing happened at Dangerspouse last week (hint: NewWifey(tm) got arrested AGAIN!), but I chose to put up a boring cooking entry because I know it is needed more. By some, anyway. And I figure that putting it up almost a month in advance will let you make a test turkey or two if you want.

THAT'S how much I love you.

Oh - and if you need recipes for anything else to make your holiday feast complete, just ask. Since you already do anyway.

Happy cooking, kids!

I'm off to buy a new 5-pound bag of assorted mini-chocolate bars. And hope NewWifey(tm) doesn't find them before the Trick-or-Treaters show up tonight.....


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