Thanksgiving Cooking Lessons

Perfect Roast Turkey

Every year in preparation for “Turkey 911,” On Good Morning America I read up on the latest turkey roasting methods and generally try out a few. This year I tried two new things (at least they were new to me): dry brining and cooking a turkey in an oven bag.

I tried out dry brining because it seemed so much simpler than wet brining and so much less messy. I had read a recipe in “Cook’s Illustrated,” last year for this method and I thought, aha! that makes sense. I had been experimenting over the summer with salting steaks and chops an hour or two before cooking them and concluded that this method gave them much more flavor. So why wouldn’t it work with turkey and besides, good old “Cooks Illustrated,” had recommended it? So I ordered a small fresh turkey the Sunday before Thanksgiving and got to work. The trouble is I broke my first cardinal rule: “When you are making a recipe for the first time, follow it exactly.” I read the recipe, which involved salting the turkey all over inside and out and under the skin, chilling it for many hours and then rinsing and soaking it in ice water before patting it dry and roasting it. Here is what I figured – I don’t have hours and hours to let it chill, and I don’t want to bother with an ice bath, so I will do what I have been doing with steaks and chops and decrease the amount of salt that “Cook’s ” called for.   I salted it and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours figuring that the salt would do its thing faster at room temp. Then I patted it dry and roasted it at 325 F. It reached 165 F in the leg thigh joint in a little over 2 hours (it was a small turkey after all) and I let it rest for 45 minutes. Then I carved it with great excitement.

Well, it was moist in tiny parts of the breast but not like I had hoped and guess what, it was quite salty. DUH!! How stupid was I ? I didn’t even rinse off the salt before I cooked it. I imagine that that ice bath I decided to skip was kind of key to getting moisture inside of the muscle. So, I cannot report on dry brining since I didn’t really follow the instructions…

(The family does not really like turkey anyway so this was not a very popular meal.)

I realized one other thing with this particular turkey – it was organic but even so, it said on the package that 6% “solution” had been added to it. I didn’t focus on that when I was taking it out of the package. I didn’t focus on it until the next day when I was talking with my producer at GMA, Anthony Underwood, and he said he had gotten the same brand of turkey and thought it was odd that “solution” had been added to an organic turkey. What is usually in a “solution” ? Water, spices and —  salt!!!!

I did not actually cook a turkey in an oven bag. Given that we are not huge fans of the bird, I did not want to cook two. I decided instead to try out an oven bag on a 3 1/2  pound chicken. I usually blast my chicken at 450F for 45 minutes and then let it rest for 15 before carving. It always comes out with beautiful crispy skin and moist meat. I was a little out of my realm here but I decided to go with 325F and follow the instructions carefully on the oven bag package (which tells you to put flour in the bag, punch holes in it and make sure it does not touch the sides of the oven).

Well after about 40 minutes, I took the chicken’s temperature and it was already at 165F. But it looked steamed. There was no golden skin. I was already sad. I transferred the chicken and the enormous amount of liquid that must have come out of the chicken to a platter. I let it rest for 15 minutes and then carved it. It was ridiculously moist and juicy. The meat was delicious.

I might cook a chicken this way again, if I was just going to use it in a salad or sandwich. I know I won’t ever cook a turkey in a bag. The only part I like about a turkey is the crispy skin.

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