The Turkey Tussle: A Preview

The Foreword

A few years back, I wrote a blog about the annual turkey tussle, which translates as a “rough or vigorous struggle.” I posted it after Thanksgiving, with the idea that readers would remember it when they were cooking the turkey for the following Thanksgiving. I’m reversing the order this year, in the hope that the suggestions will make the annual turkey tussle easier.

The Tussle

Now- with the last platter finally stowed and the leaves out of the dining room table- now is the right time to assess Thanksgiving, not ten or eleven months from now when the only thing we remember about the turkey is the price- 48 cents a pound. That’s not a misprint by the way. My 19-pound, frozen Norbest turkey set me back less than $10. And it was terrific. Make that really terrific. I’d thought about buying a 16-pounder, the smallest turkey I could buy for 48 cents a pound. But I opted for the 19-pounder, and that’s when the tussle began.

Lifting the turkey into the cart was the first hurdle. I’m not sure if a frozen 19-pound turkey weighs more than a defrosted one, but, either way, it’s a lot of dead weight. I got it in the cart and –after that- into the car. Now, I admit I have a few plusses that make handling a large bird easier. I have a garage, and in the garage, there’s a refrigerator. So all I had to do was transfer the turkey to the refrigerator. That was on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

On the night before Thanksgiving, with the roasting pan and rack retrieved from their roost on top of the cabinets in the pantry, I decided it was time to deal with the turkey. I’d already made Irish soda bread, which keeps better than the cornbread I’d originally planned to make, so I’d have less to do on Thanksgiving. And I’d also  made an apple crisp, hoping I could swap out the oatmeal I had  for the oatmeal listed in the recipe. (I could)

I wanted to get the giblets and the neck out of their separate cavities, so I could start the gravy in the morning. The guidelines suggest a defrost rate of five pounds a day for turkey, but this bird was definitely in need of more defrost time. I rewrapped the turkey in plastic wrap, lugged it down a flight of stairs to the garage, and stuck it back in the fridge.

Thursday morning, after schlepping the turkey up the stairs to the kitchen, I managed to extract the neck, giblets and liver and put the turkey on the rack in the roasting pan. I’m glad no one was there to take pictures. It was not my best Julia Child moment, although it wasn’t nearly as gruesome as Dan Akroyd’s famous, blood-soaked imitation. FYI- I saved the liver.

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different techniques for roasting the turkey. I’ve brined a fresh turkey. I’ve soaked cheesecloth in melted butter and draped it over the turkey. I’ve put the turkey breast side down and then struggled to turn it breast side up halfway through the cooking time. I’ve started the turkey at a high temperature and then turned the heat down at some point as directed. I’ve also tented the turkey, breast side up, with foil, and cooked it at a steady 325-degrees, removing the foil and brushing the turkey with melted butter about an hour (or slightly less) before it’s done cooking to give it a chance to brown. I admit I never tried covering the entire turkey with mayonnaise, even though the woman who shared that particular technique with me swore she did it all the time. And according to her, the turkey was always delicious. I’ll take her word for it.

I consulted one of my turkey books (I have two; I’ve written a lot of Thanksgiving stories) and decided to spray the skin with canola oil and then cook it, breast side up, at a steady 325-degrees F. The skin was a beautiful shade of brown an hour before the turkey was done. I laid a piece of foil-loosely- over the turkey and let it continue cooking. When the turkey showed signs of being done a little ahead of schedule, I simply turned the oven off and let it sit. 

I don’t stuff the turkey, preferring to cook the dressing as a separate casserole. Actually, my daughter-in-law Michele made the stuffing, and it was delicious, as were the pumpkin cheesecake and everything else she made. She’s an excellent cook, and when I worried about the turkey getting cold before I got it carved and on the table, she reminded me that it didn’t have to be piping hot. She was right. 

Carving the turkey is the real issue. An experienced, designated carver is worth their weight in chocolate. Failing that, you need to make a space just for the turkey. And you need to have the right kind of knife, and it has to be sharp. Take the turkey out of the pan, reserving the juices in a separate container. Be sure to have the container in a convenient place. I didn’t, and it added to the confusion. And, of course, you need a serving platter for the turkey.

This was the first time I’d done Thanksgiving since I moved to the city. It’s my favorite holiday, and I always enjoy hosting. But it’s a complicated meal with lots  of side dishes. Minus the help I got on the front end with the cooking and the great clean-up assist I got on the back end, I might still be on bed rest.

A Last Comment

Did I mention that the turkey was frozen? Did I mention that I didn’t brine it? I know I’m compromising my “foodie” credentials, but-bottom line- the turkey was delicious, and so was everything else.  

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