Every decade or so, someone comes up with a new way to prepare a turkey. Let's face it:
domestic turkey, while lean and inexpensive, is not too flavorful. The breast meat tends
to be dry and uninteresting.
Tricks to remedy turkey's shortcomings have been to stuff the bird with aromatics
("stuffing") which helps impart a flavor to the breast meat, and to repeatedly
baste the bird while roasting in a futile effort to put back some of the skin fat which is
rendered off during roasting (but only serves to keep the skin from drying out). Chefs
have used horse hypodermic needles to inject fat into the breast, while one meat packer
patented this "deep-basting" technique and called it "Butterball®"
(although the fat is hydrogenated oil, not butter).
One method popularized in the '70s was to slowly the roast the bird overnight at a low
temperature. After a number of deaths from salmonella poisoning (not to mention a funny
aroma), this method began to lose its appeal.
More recently we have been introduced the vertical roasting method, the brining method,
and the deep frying method. (I have not tried the frying method, as I don't have a place
to store the huge fryer, and don't relish the thought of cleaning such a contraption).
Stuffing and basting are no longer necessary (nor practiced except by some die-hards). Nor
do you need to pay extra for a "deep-basted" or "pre-basted" bird
(with those unreliable plastic pop-up "thermometers"). The butterball.com web site is worth a
visit for other preparation tips, though.
The reason I like the vertical roasting method is because it allows heat to enter the
cavity, cooking the bird more evenly, and most importantly, does not cause the meat to dry
out, eliminating the need for basting (which doesn't work anyway). You just put the bird
in and leave it alone for 2¾ hours, regardless of size (you can use a meat thermometer to
be absolutely sure).
The brining method prepares the bird for roasting, and improves the flavor and texture
of the breast meat, eliminating the need for stuffing, which interferes with
roasting process. (If you really like stuffing, make a stovetop version). It takes some
planning, but it's worth it.
Alton Brown's recipe does not use the vertical
roaster, but it can be easily adapted.
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
1 (14-16 pound) frozen young turkey
For the brine:
1 c kosher salt
½ c light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 T black peppercorns
½ T allspice berries
½ T candied ginger
1 gallon iced water
For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 c water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves of sage
Combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a stock pot and bring to
a boil. Stir to dissolve solids, then remove from heat, cool to room
temperature, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Early on the day of
cooking, (or late the night before) combine the brine and ice water in a
clean 5 gallon bucket. Place thawed turkey breast side down in brine, cover,
and refrigerate or set in cool area (like a basement) for 6 hours. Turn
turkey over once, half way through brining.
A few minutes before roasting, heat oven to 500°F. Combine the apple, onion,
cinnamon stick and cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on
high for 5 minutes.
Remove bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard
brine. Place bird on roasting rack inside wide, low pan and pat dry with
paper towels. Add steeped aromatics to cavity along with rosemary and sage.
Tuck back wings and coat whole bird liberally with canola (or other neutral)
oil. Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500°F for 30 minutes. Remove from
oven and cover breast with double layer of aluminum foil, insert probe
thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing
temperature to 350°F. Set thermometer alarm (if available) to 161°F. A 14 to
16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 ½ hours of roasting. Let
turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving.