Last week I cooked a turkey all by myself. It was fun and kind of freaky.
Our parents love to cook for us. They prepare beautiful meals when we return to Minnesota and pull out all of the stops on holidays. Last week, we stayed in St. Louis over Thanksgiving. This was our first holiday away from home and so we prepared the meal together.
One of my favorite, local grocery stores Straub’s made it easy to reserve a fresh (not frozen) turkey the week before Thanksgiving. I visited the meat counter to pick up my bird the day before. When the butcher appeared from the backroom with a large box that he insisted on carrying to the register, my eyes widened in surprise. The small turkey I had ordered turned out to weigh 15 pounds. With our small fridge, wet brining was out of the question, so I followed Kim Severson’s dry brine method instead.
First Dry Brining Attempt
Removing the raw, fleshy turkey from its packaging and transferring it to a storage bag proved to be slippery and challenging. After I poured out the excess liquid from inside the carcass, I dried the outside of the bird with paper towels and rubbed it with kosher salt. Then, I wrapped it in two plastic bags and let it sit overnight in the fridge. This process involved a change of clothing.
The next day, I set the bird on my counter for a couple of hours to get closer to room temperature and blotted it dry again with paper towels. I rubbed it with butter and stuffed the inside with apple and onion. To make sure the white meat stayed moist, I also rubbed butter between the breast and skin. Finding a large enough baking dish was tricky. I smashed the turkey into an old, crinkled disposable baking pan and hoped for the best. It literally took up my entire oven. If the turkey had been any bigger, it wouldn’t have fit. Phew.
Roasting Upside-Down First
To roast my turkey in our convection oven, I followed these instructions from the Purcell Murray blog, except that I started roasting the bird upside-down. Somewhere on the internet, I remembered reading suggestions to roast the turkey upside down for the first part of the cooking time and flipping it during the second (until the temperature reaches 160 degrees F). The skin covering the turkey breast is so thin. This method seemed to prevent the white meat from becoming tough and dry. In fact, the combination of dry brining and roasting upside down seemed to work well as a whole. I only basted the bird with butter once between flips. Our finished turkey was perfectly seasoned. The meat was moist and tender and the skin was crisp. “Don’t tell our parents, but this is the best turkey I’ve ever had,” said Jake.
I did goof up, though. When I was breaking down the cooked turkey for freezing, I pulled out a paper bag filled with the gizzards. I had been wondering where they were!
What I learned
Our turkey tasted notably seasoned, but just shy of being too salty. If you do try the dry brining method, my word of caution is to thoroughly dry the bird before rubbing it with butter and roasting it. For one thing, the salt and butter won’t adhere to a wet surface. Most dry brining recipes don’t instruct cooks to rinse the bird before baking. To avoid an overly salty turkey, don’t go overboard and crust it with salt when dry brining. I didn’t even sprinkle any salt inside the bird. Finally, make sure you really blot off the excess moisture afterwards. The pan juices after roasting are delicious, but they concentrate and become salty. Keep this in mind if you plan to add them to your gravy.
My favorite part about cooking my own turkey was making sure that the special bits like crunchy wing tips and oysters didn’t go to waste. We remember a couple of turkey dinners where the host/hostess served only white meat and cast aside the skin and legs. I think they assumed that nobody wanted to eat them.
What are your tried and true tips for roasting turkey? Do you have any favorite recipes that utilize leftover turkey?