It's November 25th and I'm elbow deep in the cavity of a turkey that smells like whiskey, an appropriate introduction to the holidays. How I got here, I'll never really understand; a week ago Alin and I were discussing what we would do for the holidays and I suggested a full Thanksgiving meal for just the two of us and my pet dachshund. Apparently a full Thanksgiving meal seems to suggest a turkey. Now I'm never one to step down from a culinary challenge, but I admit, I flinched.
I decided to brine the bird; Alton Brown did it, and what the hell did I know about making a turkey? Brining a turkey involves emerging the bird in a salt water solution overnight (or longer) so that the turkey retains its moisture. Normally brines involve about a cup or so of salt; the turkey Alin bought was injected with a saline solution of 8% and I had read somewhere that brining turkey that already had been injected could make it too salty, so I erred on the side of caution and used only 1/4 cup or so of salt. From what I could tell of turkey brine recipes, they're kind of like pickling brines, as long as you have the basics, the rest is up to you. So I just threw together a quick brine that seemed like it would work.
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup whiskey
2 tbsp dried rosemary
2 tbsp peppercorns
water to fill the rest of the pot.
Maybe I'm a child, but preparing the turkey was one of the most challenging activities I've ever taken part in. The turkey kept leaking red liquid, and I couldn't gather up enough courage to actually reach into the turkey to remove the "giblets". Morbid images of turkey organs being torn away from bones floated through my mind. Were they just floating in there? Of course as I found myself in the midst of a turkey crisis the boyfriend wouldn't answer his phone and I was on my own. Eventually shaking the bird in the sink rendered a small paper bag of, what I assume to be the giblets and also the source of the red leaking. Proud of my heroic removal of the turkey guts I quickly grabbed the turkey and shoved it in my stock pot with the brine, of course it didn't fit. The lid wouldn't go on, and the more I shoved the turkey, the more gross the whole situation became. Brine was sloshing everywhere, and as hard as I tried to be conscious of the health risks associated with raw poultry bacteria, everything in my tiny kitchen soon became covered in smelly turkey/whiskey juice. At one point I pushed the bird down and one of the bones made a popping noise, I admitted defeat and just conceded to put a bowl over the top in the refrigerator and rotate the turkey every 12 hours.
Check the pot size before adding the brine.
The big day was just as trying. After removing the turkey from the brine and washing it in the sink, I became aware of another problem, the neck. Why they include the neck of the turkey with the package, I couldn't possibly tell you. What I can tell you is it looks like something that could have been used as a prop for staged alien autopsy. Sadly the shaking technique didn't render the same results as with the giblets, so here I am, probing a turkey, and crying out of sheer exhaustion. Martha Stewart must have nerves of steel.
Alin finally called, and alarmed by a panicked girlfriend made his way to my house. Everything went much more smoothly with support. We inserted butter and rosemary just under the skin like I'd once seen Martha Stewart do to a chicken, and I filled the cavity with the leftovers from making the dressing, celery, garlic, and an onion half. With the turkey finally assembled, we could finally relax. I periodically basted the top with a mixture of honey, whiskey, garlic, and olive oil. After 2 hours of cooking at 325F I covered the turkey in foil and let it cook the remaining hour until the red button popped up. We walked it to my mother's house who "just had to see this", and though I didn't eat any, I beamed with pride from my accomplishment. Everyone enjoyed the turkey and no one came down with food poisoning; I consider this a success.
Whitney's Thanksgiving Menu
Jalapeño Cornbread Dressing
Green Bean Casserole
Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes with vegetarian gravy
Handmade Cranberry Sauce