This year we visited Peter’s parents in the Bay Area again for Thanksgiving, and as there were quite a few other guests invited to dinner, we naturally had a cook a feast. Peter was put in charge of two very important things: fresh-baked bread and the turkey. While the bread was not a problem, the turkey provided quite a challenge simply due to the sheer number of turkey recipes available on NPR, in Bon Appétit, Joy of Cooking, and every other recipe book, newspaper, and magazine in sight. The main challenge, it seems, is cooking the dark meat for long enough to get it to 165 degrees F while not drying out the white meat. My response to this, it seems, was to suggest that we make the whole turkey more most by soaking it in salty water overnight. What was I thinking? Well, it turns out that the concept of soaking a turkey in brine before roasting is quite popular, but not exactly new. We used a recipe originally from Alice Waters printed in the San Francisco Chronicle that had been tried and tested by a friend of Peter’s mother. Below is the original recipe, along with the list of ingredients we changed and left out, on purpose or accidentally. Despite the need for a bowl the size of turkey and a whole cup of salt, the brining process was quite easy and the turkey turned out quite moist, despite our best efforts to destroy it. In fact, if we overcooked anything, it was the dark meat.
Brine Roast Turkey
12-16 lb turkey
2 1/2 gallons cold water
2 cups salt
1 cup sugar
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 bunch or 4 tablespoons dried thyme
1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
4 juniper berries, smashed
1) Put the water in a large bowl or pot (make sure it fits the turkey too) and mix in all the other ingredients until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the turkey and make sure it is submerged completely, holding it down with a heavy plate if necessary. Refrigerate the turkey in the brine for 24 hours.
2) Take the turkey out of the brine, drain well, and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Massage 2 tablespoons of soft butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper over the skin and in the cavity of the turkey. Put an aluminum foil tent over the breast meat of the turkey and put it in the oven in a roasting pan with sides high enough to catch the juices of the turkey as it cooks.
3) After the first hour of baking, remove the aluminum foil tent and baste the turkey using any turkey drippings/juice. Baste the turkey every 20 minutes from then on. The turkey is done when the internal temperature of the turkey thigh is 165 degrees F, which should take 1 3/4 – 2 1/4 hours, depending on the size of the bird.
Even though we cooked our 12 lb turkey for 2 1/4 hours the white meat was still moist. Since we completely forgot to include the sugar in the brine, I think we may have to try this recipe again next year without omitting so many ingredients. We used less brine overall than the recipe called for because the bowl we used only held that much in addition to the turkey. Needless to say I look forward to turkey leftovers over the weekend.
In addition to delicious bread and turkey, we also made rice stuffing, roasted vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets), baked apples, and biscotti. Other guests brought pumpkin coconut soup, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a tossed salad, and green beans with almonds. Did I mention we ate well?
Two of our Thanksgiving crew are vegan and one is gluten-intolerant, so baked apples without crust or butter seemed like a safe bet. We mixed these tart green apples with brown sugar and cinnamon before arranging them in a couple of pie tins.
For some reason we were worried that we wouldn’t have enough desserts, so we made biscotti at the last moment. What deliciousness! I was secretly happy that we forgot to put them out after dinner in the excitement of all the other desserts, because then I got to eat them with my morning tea for the next three days.
One of the joys of baking at Peter’s parents’ house? A legitimate kitchen aid to do all the hard work. Am I a little jealous? Perhaps, but then I realize there’s nowhere to fit a kitchen aid in my kitchen and I’m happy that I don’t have the luxury of making such a difficult choice.