Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t have to be stressful. Back before I knew there was more than one way to cook a turkey, I pre-heated the oven to 325-degrees F., put a rack in my largest roasting pan, positioned the turkey on the rack, tented the turkey with foil, and then popped it-unstuffed- into the oven.
While it was cooking, I checked the turkey’s progress whenever I thought about it, which wasn’t all that often given how much else I had to do. I took the foil off about 45 minutes before the turkey was supposed to be done, using the chart on the outside of the turkey wrapping as a guide.
I rubbed the turkey’s skin with butter and basted it with the accumulated pan juices, which I then spooned off to use for the gravy. I put the turkey back in the oven and shut the door. The temperature was still set at 325-degrees F.
When the cooking time was up, I took the turkey out of the oven. By that time, the pop-up button in the turkey had popped, and the turkey was-even to an uneducated eye- completely and thoroughly cooked.
I let the turkey sit for the requisite amount of time and then carved it, a task for which I have absolutely no talent. The slices were uneven and much thicker than they should have been. One leg went to my spouse, the other to anyone who wanted it. The wings I set aside, so I could munch on them the next day.
Everyone ate. No one asked about the turkey’s geneology, the farmer who raised it, or the point of purchase. No one commented on the difficulty involved in cooking a huge hunk of protein endowed with a disproportionate amount of genetically engineered white meat that cooked faster than the dark meat. Nobody mentioned brining and the advantages thereof. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since the turkey we were consuming had been purchased-completely frozen- at whatever supermarket gave me the best deal.
Over the years that followed, I cooked a lot of turkeys, most of them fresh, some of them brined, a few of them cooked with a butter- drenched cheesecloth draped over them. One of the best was a heritage turkey, which-with its lower percentage of white meat- had immense appeal for someone-like me- who prefers dark meat. With a single exception, the turkeys were all delicious.
The year after the “single exception,” a very pricey fresh turkey, I changed my game plan. I purchased a turkey breast and roasted it in the oven. For the dark meat fans, I braised several legs, wings and thighs in a Chinese-style sauce. The dark meat was a hit; the white meat made great leftovers.
Part of me wanted to keep the Chinese-style braise on the menu. But-to be honest- tradition plays a large role in determining the Thanksgiving dinner menu. And so, the next year, I found myself roasting a twenty-two pound turkey, complete with legs, thighs, wings and lots of white meat.