So, after Thanksgiving last year, my mom gave me an extra turkey she had lying around (naturally), and thought it might be a good opportunity for me to try my hand at cooking it. I thought it was a great idea.
Then 11 months went by.
There aren’t too many chances to cook a turkey. Ideally, I’d want a free weekend, with people to help me eat it, but not too many people so there’s not a ton of pressure to cook it perfectly.
Well, I found that free weekend, nearly 1 year later. Knowing we were going to be renovating our kitchen soon, I wanted to clear our freezer space, and get this turkey cooked. Michael was actually out of town on a hunting trip with the men in his family, and my brother was busy, and our other friends were busy too. It was a pretty depressing & lonely (but delicious) scene at the end. It was great, though, because it allowed me to make mistakes without being under pressure.
Really, better than reading this blog entry about brining a turkey, you should just watch these videos by Alton Brown. I used his “Good Eats Roast Turkey” recipe, which, after 3,538 reviews on the Food Network, has a 5-star rating. It’s the top recipe (of all recipes) on the Food Network for 6 years running. When heard that, I was sold.
Turkey Tips Part 1:
Turkey Tips Part 2:
Good info on the science of brining & how it makes your turkey so moist (yes, Biz, I said moist):
OK, first of all, my turkey was frozen solid (for at least a year and a half), and I also waited until Friday to decide to cook the turkey that weekend. So, instead of doing a fridge thaw like Alton Brown mentions, I did the water thaw. I immersed the turkey in a bucket of water (wrapper still on), overnight. I weighted down the turkey by propping a bottle of wine on it. Sounds weird, but it worked. Sorry, no picture.
I let it sit in the bucket over Friday night, and then prepared the turkey & brine Saturday evening. First, I removed the turkey neck (sorry I couldn’t give you a nice, crystal clear picture of the turkey neck; Michael was still out of town & had our monster camera):
Then I removed any other loose parts that seemed kind of detached from the inside:
Note: leave the metal thingy that holds the legs together. I tried to rip mine out; it’s impossible. Furthermore (and I guess most importantly), it’s supposed to stay in there. It holds the turkey’s legs together, very ladylike. You can take the legs out of the metal thingy when you put the aromatics inside the turkey (later).
Turkey, ready for a swim in some brine:
Then, make the brine in a large stock pot. Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger [if you actually found that in the store, unlike me] in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir every once in a while to make sure solids get fully dissolved and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate [I didn't because I didn't have enough time].
Dump the brine in a 5-gallon bucket. I don’t think mine was quite 5 gallons. Add the water and ice (not added in this picture). I couldn’t add a lot of ice since the bucket would overflow. It didn’t seem to make a difference in the outcome.
I do realize this picture looks really gross.
Then put the thawed turkey, breast side down, in the brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining [I didn't turn it and I think it was fine].
During this time, I made Pioneer Woman’s creamy mashed potatoes. I’ve made this before, and it’s awesome. I had some red potatoes on hand this time, so I used those, and left the skin on. I also didn’t have 5 lb of potatoes (what the recipes calls for). I think I had only 3 lb. I didn’t adjust any of the other ingredients, and they still turned out … perfect. Amazing. Definitely not low-fat. Sometimes I like extra creamy potatoes, so I’ll put them in the Kitchen Aid mixer, but this time I just used my manual potato masher. M likes his potatoes a bit chunky.
Turkey/brine & potatoes all tucked in for the night.
The next morning, I prepared the aromatics. I combined the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a small dish and microwaved it 5 minutes.
Then I unhooked the turkey legs from the metal thingies and added the aromatics to the turkey’s insides, along with the rosemary and sage. Then I gave the turkey a nice rub-down with canola oil. Don’t use too much. I think I did, and it caused the oil in the bottom of the pan to get really hot when it was in the oven. This caused a big cloud of black smoke to fill the kitchen when I opened the oven door. Dramatic, exciting, but not worth it. Go easy on the oil.
Then I got the foil shield ready, like Alton suggests in the Turkey Tips Part 1 video.
Fitting the shield over the bird… but it doesn’t feel right.
… that’s because mr. turkey was upside down. Close call.
Turkey, fitted with his shield:
Then remove the shield for the first 30 min of roasting; the shield will be added after the first 30 min (when the oven temp is lowered).
After 30 min at 500 degrees, add the shield:
Then roast until 161 degrees. Alton’s recipe says this takes about 90 more minutes. Mine took less; maybe 75 minutes, and even then, it was 168 degrees when I took it out. I roasted a bit too long because I was dropping off a loaf of pumpkin bread at a close friend’s
… but, it was perfect.
Finished turkey. Aaron Rogers approves.
Alton Brown’s Good Eats Brined Turkey + Pioneer Woman’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes + Steamfresh green beans (Steamfresh shout out!).
The turkey was amazing. I couldn’t believe it was the same turkey that had been frozen for over a year and a half. It was juicy & full of flavor. Plus, it only takes 2 hours to roast! In addition to the brining, I think roasting the turkey at 500 for the first 30 minutes does a nice job of sealing in the juices.
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re able to enjoy your Thanksgiving surrounded by loving friends and family… and a juicy turkey.
ALTON BROWN’S GOOD EATS ROAST TURKEY
- 1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey
For the brine:
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 gallon vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger [I couldn't find this, so I left it out]
- 1 gallon heavily iced water
For the aromatics:
- 1 red apple, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced [I didn't use this]
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- Canola oil
2-3 days before roasting, begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F. [I used the thaw-in-water method.]
Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
Early on the day or the night before you’d like to eat:
Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining [I didn't turn it and I think it turned out fine].
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan [or roasting pan] and pat dry with paper towels.
Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.
pioneer woman’s creamy mashed potatoes
- 5 pounds Russet Or Yukon Gold Potatoes
- ¾ cups Butter
- 1 package (8 Oz.) Cream Cheese, Softened
- ½ cups (to 3/4 Cups) Half-and-Half
- ½ teaspoons (to 1 Teaspoon) Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- ½ teaspoons (to 1 Teaspoon) Black Pepper
Peel and cut the potatoes into pieces that are generally the same size. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer and add the potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 to 35 minutes. When they’re cooked through, the fork should easily slide into the potatoes with no resistance, and the potatoes should almost, but not totally, fall apart.
Drain the potatoes in a large colander. When the potatoes have finished draining, place them back into the dry pot and put the pot on the stove. Mash the potatoes over low heat, allowing all the steam to escape, before adding in all the other ingredients.
Turn off the stove and add 1 ½ sticks of butter, an 8-ounce package of cream cheese and about ½ cup of half-and-half. Mash, mash, mash! Next, add about ½ teaspoon of Lawry’s Seasoning Salt and ½ a teaspoon of black pepper.
Stir well and place in a medium-sized baking dish. Throw a few pats of butter over the top of the potatoes and place them in a 350-degree oven and heat until butter is melted and potatoes are warmed through.
Note: When making this dish a day or two in advance, take it out of the fridge about 2 to 3 hours before serving time. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until warmed through.