Go big or go home. Generally, an accurate idiom. Sometimes, though, you can go big and stay home, as was the case for me this Thanksgiving. A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving I tested a super slow roast method of cooking a turkey. The method I used was 45 minutes at 450 degrees and about 16 or so hours at 170 degrees. While my test turkey was not a disaster, it was by no means a complete success. Nor was it good enough to clearly warrant using the approach on Thanksgiving Day. The problem was it was almost good enough, which left me conflicted and wondering how much risk I wanted to take on Turkey Day.
There was no doubt that I had cut some corners and made some mistakes with my test turkey. Due to time constraints, I shortened my normal brining period. I do not know if that impacted the moistness of the cooked turkey, but I know it impacted the flavor. I put liquid in the pan at the outset instead of when I turned the oven temperature down to 170 degrees, leaving me with a burnt pan with too little liquid in it. Though I added more liquid before I went to sleep, I do not think I added enough. When I woke up the next morning and checked the turkey, the pan was too dry. I think cooking the turkey at 450 for the first 45 minutes was too much. My understanding is that the value of starting out at a high temperature is to seal the bird and to get it up to a temperature that will kill the bad stuff lurking on and in it in a hurry. Given the smoky kitchen, burnt skin and hard spots in the breast meat just under the skin, I was not convinced it was a good idea.
I spent the week or so after my test mulling over my strategy for Thanksgiving Day. I was on the horns of a first world dilemma. I had to choose between the super slow roast process with some adjustments and my tried and true cooking method, the one I have used successfully for the past ten plus years, the one which uses a more traditional 350 degree oven. As I really did not want to take the risk, I decided to chuck the super slow roast and use the tried and true method.
I guess subconsciously I was not convinced I made the right decision, as I awoke early Thanksgiving Day with turkey on my mind. Cooking turkey to be precise. I was second guessing my decision, something I do too often and something that drives Pam nuts. But, hey, I’m a Pisces so it comes with the territory. And more often than not, my subconscious is right. So I spent some quality time with Google, reviewing all the posts I could find about slow roasting turkeys. Not super slow roasting, because I had run out of time for that, but regular slow roasting at, say, 250 degrees, a process for which I still had just enough time. I was about ready to give up when I stumbled onto a post written by a guy who shared some of my beliefs. A guy who found religion in the culinary sense by slow roasting chickens and then extended the process to turkeys. I have been slow roasting my chickens for the past year or so, and I was already a convert. This was a guy who went through the same pilgrimage upon which I wanted to embark. He had instant credibility with me. If he said slow roasting worked, I believed him. I just had to commit to doing it.
I checked the time. It was about 6:30 AM. I needed about half an hour of prep time, seven hours and 45 minutes of cooking time and about an hour of cooling time. I did the math. I had about two hours before my decision would be made for me. So I did what I always do when I need to make an important decision. I went to the gym. While there, I decided to go big, or in this case, slow.
I came home and pulled the turkey out of the brining solution and prepped it for the oven. Even though I like giblet gravy, I do not like to use the neck and the other stuff to make it. But I do like to use the wings for it. So I spent some time hacking the wings off and put them aside. The brining solution I use, which I found years ago on Epicurious.com, consists of salt, pepper, honey, garlic and thyme. It provides more than enough seasoning, though I did grind some more pepper into the cavity and onto the skin. Then I squeezed lemon juice into the cavity, which I then stuffed with fresh sage and thyme, half an onion, four or five peeled garlic cloves, the rind of the lemon and half an orange. I tied the legs together and, voila, the bird was ready for the oven.
At this point, I need to remind the few of you that are reading this that I am by no means telling you how to cook your turkey. I am simply relaying a story about how I cooked mine. I opted to start the oven at 425 degrees to avoid all the smoke I generated with the test bird. I put the turkey in and, guess what, it started smoking again. I lowered the oven to 400 and then to 390 and the smoking stopped. So I kept it there for about 35 more minutes. After that I basted the bird with some chicken broth and added about a quart of broth to the pan and roasted the 21 LB bird for seven hours at 250 degrees, basting it and adding liquid as needed to keep the humidity in the oven up.
I took the turkey out and let it sit for about 50 minutes. By now my family and my guests were milling about and checking out the turkey, and I was equal parts curious and nervous. Well, maybe much more curious than nervous. I knew just how good it was going to be about two minutes later when I took the drumsticks off and sampled some of the meat around the edges. The turkey was amazing. It had the fall off the bone quality I consistently achieved with my roast chickens, and the white meat was moist, moist enough that I could eat leftover white meat two days later without gravy or water to wash it down.
So slow roasting was a success. It was the way to go this year. I, as well as everyone else, was really pleased with the result. Having said that, I know my slow roasting pilgrimage is not complete. I will have to slay my lingering super slow roast demons before I can decide how to cook next year’s bird…..