Brand building through storytelling

Taming the Christmas turkey

In my decades of obsessive cooking, I’ve made my own fettucine and dried it over the dining room chairs. I’ve left French fries to soak before rushing to the office. In my stock phase, I simmered bones and scraps every week. But I’ve somehow made my way through adult life cooking fewer than five turkeys. So when I do attempt a big bird, there’s always some kind of drama.

First turkey ever: sudden bout of illness that sent me reeling to my bed, leaving our guests to fuss with the baster and meat thermometer. First turkey cooked for my husband’s family, which I had ordered boned: salmonella scare when the beast arrived stuffed. Even turkey novices know that you must never stuff your bird the day before you cook it, but that’s just what the expensive, old-school butcher had done on my behalf. I nearly sent my husband to the Jewish part of town for a couple of capons, but was persuaded to trust the butcher. Only downside of the feast: most people preferred the butcher’s bland, soggy stuffing to the one I made myself, served on the side, laden with painstakingly roasted chestnuts (never again!).

This year’s turkey–my first in a good 20 years–was all about crisp, golden skin. As my husband reminded me a time or two, no bird I’ve ever roasted, great or small, has met the standard. They’ve all emerged from the oven in the shadow of my mother’s toothsome birds, which never failed to deliver both succulence and crunch. My mother was so famous for her roasted poultry that when she died, we distributed her chicken recipe at the memorial service. It has been suggested that my poultry technique, or lack thereof, could pose a worthy challenge for therapy. I’m done with therapy, but guests were coming for Christmas.

So began a research project that tethered me to Google for days. To truss or not to truss? Should I baste or, as one cooking teacher says in a widely circulated video, “Just put the f***ing turkey in the oven?” I knelt at the virtual feet of Martha, Ina, Jamie and a fractious procession of no-name experts.

At last I settled on a dry-brined, spatchcocked turkey, cooked at 450 degrees according to the recipe here. Within 20 minutes, she was blistered and fragrant. After an hour, she was done (a tad overdone, but after the second glass of wine, who cares?). Yes, that’s right–a 12-and-a-half-pound turkey, minus most of its bones, will be ready in under an hour, lolling on its rack in trollope position. And if you’ve given it 24 hours to sit in the fridge under a generous dusting of salt (a nifty trick known as dry-brining), the skin will be a thing of beauty.

You had better have your trimmings ready to go, or the skin will lose its crispness as the bird sits. This was the fate of my turkey, but our guests seemed perfectly happy. As for me, I felt so pleased with myself that I didn’t even notice the two round blisters on my left hand–burns from flying turkey fat. It looks as if I’ve just acquired two scars. And that’s okay. They’ll remind me of the night I tamed the turkey. It may not be quite as crispy as my mother’s. But hey, she never cooked one in under an hour.

Posted by Rona

Leave a Reply

Stay up-to-date with Rona.

To see what’s on my mind these days, friend me on Facebook.

Miss my old site?

Visit the archive to find your favorite blog posts and Chatelaine editorials or browse my published articles. Sorry, I’m not blogging anymore.