Friday, December 24, 2010

A Turkey Less Ordinary

Turkey is certainly one of the finest gifts made by the New World to the Old.


Cooked poultry has the following ideal characteristics:
  • well-seasoned,
  • tender, moist flesh, and
  • crispy, browned skin.

Holiday turkeys should also provide the makings for flavourful gravy and stuffing.

It's difficult to meet all the above requirements with the traditional roasting method. Since turkeys are so large, they don't cook evenly. The breasts, being white meat, cook faster than the legs, and to bring the legs to the correct temperature usually means overcooking the breasts, leaving you with dry meat.

Traditional stuffing, cooked inside the bird, creates a similar problem: by the time the dressing (soaked in poultry juices) is brought to a safe temperature, the surrounding flesh is dry.

I propose the following as a remedy to these common problems.

Break the raw turkey up into two breasts and two thigh-leg portions. There are two advantages to this. First, the raw carcass can be used to make a stock that's much more flavourful and gelatin-rich than the one made with the cooked carcass. This stock can be used in the gravy and stuffing, making for a more turkeycentric feast. The second advantage to breaking the bird up is that the breasts and legs can be pulled from the oven separately, each at the proper finishing temperature (165°F).

Large roasts like turkey are problematic in that you can usually only season the exterior, leaving large masses of unseasoned meat within. Brining lets salt penetrate into the flesh and seasons the roast throughout. I soaked my turkey in a conventional brine complete with nitrite, which gave the turkey a good flavour but a slightly unsettling pink colour.

Long cooking at low temperatures yields the tenderest meat. For extra flavour I smoked mine on the barbeque. My hot-smoke set-up cooks around 225°F. It took almost five hours for the thighs to come to temperature.

Gentle heat doesn't promote the delicious, delicious browning reactions that give us crisp, golden skin. Once the turkey is done smoking, put an oiled pan over medium-high heat and brown the turkeybits until the skin is deeply browned and crispy. As an additional benefit, you'll be left with lots of fond with which to make gravy.

This process yields the tenderest, juiciest turkey I have ever eaten. The one problem with it is that few around the table will even recognize the dish as poultry; with the curing salt, smoke, and moist flesh, the final product resembles ham. My guests actually referred to it as "Ham-urkey."

I don't know how I feel about that.

1 comment:

  1. I believe the term "ham-urkey" was coined out of love. It was delicious.