Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alton Brown Brined Turkey, Bon Appetit, 2003- Part 2

Aromatic items such as fresh herbs, onions and celery are cleared for the cavity. Not only will they infuse the meat with their essence, but they also make the kitchen smell very nice, thus priming your diners for the glories to come. So loosely pack your bird with any combination of fresh herbs (for instance, thyme, rosemary, and sage); one onion, two celery stalks, and two large carrots, all roughly chopped. But keep the packing loose- otherwise you might as well have stuffing, and stuffing is, you know...

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a V-shaped rack set inside a large roasting pan. (I just stack together 2 of the big disposable foil pans that populate supermarkets around the holidays). A V-shaped rack is basically a heavy wire rack that holds the turkey up off the floor of the pan and keeps it kind of bunched in on it's self. If you don't have a V-shaped rack, make an aluminum foil snake, about an inch thick and three feet long. Loop it until you got an oval-shaped spiral about ten inches by eight inches. Set this coil in the pan, then place the turkey on the coil. Although V-Shaped racks and snakes will keep the turkey from sitting in it's own drippings, they can't work miracles like promoting browning on the bottom. Oh, well (a non-brown bottom is better than a soggy bottom.
Cut a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil that when folded in half is big enough to cover the turkeys breast. Lay this onto the breast, shiny side up, and mold it into a breastplate (i.e., a triangular sheath that covers the breast meat completely). Remove it, lube the underside with nonstick vegetable oil spray, and set aside.
Now rub a quarter of a stick of butter between your hands until your digits are liberally lubed (if this is just to icky for you, use disposable gloved). Rub the butter into the turkey as if you were a masseuse on a mission.
You'll probably need to re-butter your hands a couple of time in order to get a nice, even coating. When you are done massaging, ditch the remaining butter and the gloved.
Time to get the bird in the box. Since the first segment of this thermal trip is about browning the breast, I go neck end first and neck up. Set your oven timer for half an hour. When it dings, check the breast. It should be nicely browned - if not comma return the turkey to the over and cook another ten minutes. Then remove the bird and apply the breastplate. This will help reflect heat and slow the cooking of the breast meat. That way, by the time the white meat hits the target temp of 161 degrees, the dark meat should be around 180 degrees, which is ideal.
Last but not least, insert your thermometers probe directly into the foil into the deepest part of the breast. Yes, most turkeys come with thermometers installed, but since they are made to pop up at 180 degrees, they're tragically late to the party. Probe thermometers feature, well, a probe that connects to a digital base via a couple feet of insulated wire. The base has a magnet on it so that it can be placed on the outside of the oven while the turkey cooks. Most models also feature an alarm that can be set to go off at the temperature of your choice.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and return the turkey to the oven, breastplate armor securely in place. Set your probe thermometer to go off at 161 degrees (yes, I know that the instant kill temperature for salmonella is 165 degrees, but the temperature will continue to rise inside the bird for several minutes after you take it out of the oven). If you leave the oven door closed, an 18 pounder should hit the thermal finish line 2 to 2 1/2 hours after the oven temperature has been reduced. That means no basting! Basting is evil. Basting does nothing for the meat. Why? Skin. Skin is designed to keep stuff out of the bird. So, basting just lets heat out of the oven. That means the turkey will take longer to cook.
Once 161 degrees has been attained in the breast (and 180 degrees in the thigh) take the bird out of the oven and give it a rest. No matter what you do, do not skip this step. If you slice up that bird straight from the oven, all that juice you worked so hard to get into it will run out all over the platter, lost forever. So cover with aluminum, foil or the lid from your kettle grill and wait for half an hour.
When carving time arrives, first be sure to wow the assembled appetites with the whole bird before breaking it down. I like to create thick slices by removing the breast meat in two lobes, then cutting across the grain.
The only downside to roasting a brined bird is that the pan drippings may be too salty for gravy making. You can usually get around that by mixing the drippings with 1 Cup water, 1 Cup chicken broth and a cornstarch slurry. Or you can look at it this way: the turkey will be so tender that you won't need gravy. Some fresh cranberry sauce would be nice indeed. Besides tasting great on Turkey Day, the bird will still be loaded with moist flavor the next day. And let's face it, in the end, isn't it all about the sandwiches?

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