Tom Petty was right. The waiting is the hardest part. It’s Sunday, 11 days before Thanksgiving. It’s not hard for me to wait for Thanksgiving. Even though it is my own fault, the 24 hours ending with Thanksgiving dinner are just about the toughest 24 hours of the year for me. I never intended for them to be. Yet here I am 11 days before Thanksgiving, suffering while I wait for a turkey to finish slow roasting.
It started innocently enough. About 10 or so years ago I was pleasantly sitting at the dinner table feeling the effects of the tryptophan in the turkey course through my veins. Even though the science does not validate it, I am sure I was in a turkey induced haze. In any event, I announced to the family that I would make Thanksgiving dinner the following year. Appropriately, this came as a shock to all at the table. I had never cooked any type of whole bird before. I had never made a side dish for Thanksgiving before. If pressed, I would admit that I hadn’t really cooked a whole lot before. For some reason, it just felt like something I wanted to do.
Kim, my younger daughter, loves Thanksgiving. As I made my announcement, she almost fell out of her chair. She said something like, “Dad, you have no idea what you’re doing. You know I love Thanksgiving. Are you sure you want to do this?” I have to admit it. I was not sure at all. But as I sat there, I was committed. Sort of like the pig in the bacon and egg breakfast. I had told everyone my goal. Like Tom Petty, I could not back down. So I said something like, “Relax Kim, it will be fine.”
Kim does not like to change the things she likes so she said something like, “Okay, but make it the exact way Uncle Dale made it this year.” Dale had made a great meal, and we all had enjoyed it. For those who know me, my response was predictable. I said, “Dale did a great job, but I want to do it my way.”
Kim groaned. Then she got indignant and said something like, “Fine. Just don’t screw it up.” I lamely said, “Don’t worry. It will be fine.”
51 weeks went by. I finally got around to thinking about Thanksgiving. I went online and found a recipe I liked. It was nothing like Dale’s. Thanksgiving day came. I read the recipe, freaked out because while I could read the words, but I had no idea what they meant. With Pam’s help and despite lots of my dysfunction, Thanksgiving dinner was superb. So superb that Kim said, “That was great. You can make the exact meal next year.” As I said, it started innocently enough.
Except for the year I did the bourbon brine, I have always used the same turkey recipe I found that first year. I have shared it with many people. They have all loved it. The truth of the matter is that, like Kim, I am afraid to change. I have changed some of the sides. I have changed the dressing. I have added apple pie to my list of todos for Thanksgiving. My workload has increased. But I leave the turkey alone. Until this year. Which brings me to why I am cooking a turkey 11 days before Thanksgiving.
For the past coupe of years I have been roasting whole chickens. I have tried lots of recipes and techniques, but I have settled on one that works for me. I slow roast the chicken at 250 degrees for four hours. My family likes the way it just falls off the bone when we eat it. For the past few months I have been thinking about slow roasting a turkey. Too bad I did not act sooner.
The other day I found a slow roasting recipe. It called for cooking the turkey 15 to 20 hours at a low temperature, something I could not fathom, after searing it at 450 degrees for about an hour. The theory was that because the oven temperature is low, 170 degrees, which is just about the internal temperature the turkey should be when it is done, you can roast it without fear for hours and hours. I was skeptical. This was a significant departure from my norm. I just could not bring myself to try it for the first time on Thanksgiving day. I knew I had to test it first.
I bought a turkey yesterday. I was surprised at how few thawed turkeys are in the market this time of year. I think there were three in the whole place. Lots of frozen ones, but few thawed ones. I went out and bought an oven thermometer, something I had never used before, so I could get a sense of just how well calibrated the oven was. Turns out it is pretty close, though I have no idea if it is the oven or the thermometer that is right.
I have a bad habit of screwing up the implementation of pretty much everything I cook the first time. I am not sure why, but even though I read the directions, I somehow do things out of order. Last night was no exception. The goal was for the turkey to cook overnight. That meant starting it at about 10 pm, just about the time I go to sleep. Right after I put the turkey in the oven, I realized that I should not have put the liquid in the pan until I was ready to lower the temperature from 450 degrees to 170 degrees. I figured it would be okay. Not smart. After dozing for brief periods while watching TV, I went back to the kitchen. On the way I noticed the smell. As I got closer, I noticed the smoke, which was sort of billowing out of the oven. I guess the liquid did not like 450 degrees. I rationalized it and said to myself, “I guess we will have a smoked, slow roasted turkey.”
I opened the windows, lowered the temperature and then added some liquid. I prayed it would come out okay and went to sleep. Before I did, I told Pam I sort of screwed it up. She laughed in her sleep.
I have to admit that I did not have a great night. I kept waking thinking I would smell smoke. I was convinced the house would burn down, something I would never have thought of if my 1974 Porsche had not caught fire in the garage a year and a half ago. But that is another story. In any event, I checked on the turkey early this morning. Most of the liquid was gone, but it didn’t look too bad. The skin was a little charred, but the smoke was long gone. I had some hope that all would be okay.
As I write this, I have no idea how it will turn out. It is now about 3 pm. The turkey has been in the oven for 17 hours. There is no smoke. The house is still intact. The turkey looks cooked. Literally. Kim is over and Shelby and Bryan are coming over. Dinner will be at 6 pm. I think I will take it out in about an hour. Pam and Kim keep asking me about the turkey. I say to them, “Don’t worry. It will be fine.” I hope I am right. Meanwhile the waiting is still the hardest part.