Leland’s first turkey
This year, instead of traveling through the woods to Grandma’s cabin for Thanksgiving as we do most years, we accepted an invitation from a dear friend on the far Upper East Side. It was his first time hosting, and he was glad to have some help. After a few days going back and forth, he asked me straight up if I would take care of the turkey. I was dreading this moment, since it would be my first time and it would be for some people I didn’t know. But I figured I might as well. What’s the point of all this cooking if I’m too shy to roast a turkey?
Everyone I talked to had strong and unique opinions on turkey. (Oddly enough, only Mom said, “Just look at a recipe!”) Some people had me cutting slits in it to stuff the skin with various things; others had foil on the breast, or a bag around the whole bird. Some recipes had the breast down, while others had it up. I came to the conclusion that you should just follow your instincts, be confident, and listen to the bird.
On Wednesday night, I boiled one gallon of water and mixed in one cup of kosher salt and a half cup of sugar. I squeezed in two lemon halves, and then basically put in whatever I could find: quartered onions, halved garlic cloves, chopped carrots, bay leaves, star anise, fennel seed, peppercorns, herb sprigs, leek greens, etc. It was essentially a huge vat of vegetable stock. I brought it all to a boil, let it cool, and then poured it into an immaculately clean trash can. I threw in a bunch of ice cubes to bring the temperature down fast, and then I submerged the bird, putting a bowl on top to hold it down.
Into the fridge it went for about 10 hours (Ruhlman recommends up to 24). I awoke Thanksgiving morning, drained the turkey, rinsed it off, and sat it on the rack in the roasting pan to drain in the refrigerator. A few hours before showtime, I stuffed it with some vegetables and a lemon, tied it up, and prepared it for its trip to 91st Street. And at this point I worked from common sense. I started the roasting at high heat to get some browning on the tacky skin. Then I slathered it with butter and continued to roast, turning the heat down gradually and basting every half hour. It took close to four hours for a 12-pound bird. It came out browned and beautiful.
It rested about 45 minutes, but it was still hot enough to burn my fingers during the carving (I used the butcher method with some success).
The meat was moist, salty, and lemony. The breast was cooked past temperature, but it wasn’t dry or stringy at all. It didn’t need gravy to be edible, which was the goal. Here it is on the buffet. Also in view are Nathan’s sweet potatoes; Crescent rolls; mashed potatoes, which we did through the food mill; Mom’s apple sauce; green bean casserole; cornbread stuffing; and then the turkey, with Alex’s cranberry sauce, in the back.
It was an excellent meal, and I didn’t have to do any dishes!