Okay, I know Thanksgiving has past, but there’s no law that says we can’t eat turkey on other days, right? And I cooked such a stupendously good bird this year, there’s no way I can keep it to myself.
For the last several years, I’ve brined my turkeys in a variation of the usual salt/sugar/water/spices bath. And they’ve been great. You can buy the cheapest, nastiest turkey imaginable–you might forget to shop earlier and then remember at the last minute that you forgot the bird and only the gross ones are left, NOT THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED TO ME–and if you brine it, you still get something delicious.
But brining is messy. It’s heavy; it requires pre-planning and effort, and we all know I am stratospherically lazy in the kitchen. While I was pondering the necessity of mixing up several quarts of what eventually becomes salmonella-water, I started thinking about the very best chicken I make–Thomas Keller’s version. It is salty, easy, succulent, and shockingly juicy. As I thought about that delectable chicken, I was struck by the thought that turkeys are just big chickens. (Okay, they’re NOT, but work with me.) And what’s good for the chicken must be good for the gobbler…
So, on Thanksgiving Day, I proceeded to make my turkey according to the following method, and it was the most delicious turkey I have EVER made.
First, take the turkey out of the fridge two hours before you want to start roasting. I’m not kidding. TWO HOURS. When you’re almost ready to start, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the turkey from the wrapping and dry it with paper towels, inside and out after you remove the giblet pack and neck. (Do whatever you like with those. We toss them, but your family might play games with them like the girls do with the pig bladder in LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS. I don’t judge.)
Once the turkey is dry, salt the inside lavishly, and truss that bad boy up. Place it in the roasting pan–and here’s the kicker: you MUST have a rack. If you don’t, just ball up enough aluminum foil to lift it off the bottom of the pan. The turkey needs elevation. When the turkey is resting comfortably in the pan, salt the bejeesus out of it. I’m not kidding. PACK the outside with kosher salt. Do not butter it; do not smear it with a mixture of oil and herbs. Just salt it. Then bung it into the oven, and here’s the best part–DO NOT GO NEAR IT UNTIL IT IS DONE. No basting. No peeking. It will go VERY brown and crispy and it will look sandy and dry like the Sahara. If you want a golden, glistening bird, this is not your recipe. Use Nigella’s chart of roasting times based on the weight of your turkey. The time will seem short, but for a room-temp turkey without stuffing, it will be correct.
Take the turkey out, tent with foil, and leave it alone for half an hour before you carve. It’s not the most beautiful of beasts, but it IS delicious–salty, succulent, with very crisp skin and very juicy flesh. You wouldn’t think so, and I don’t understand the alchemy behind it, but it will taste like wizards made it. It’s a Hogwarts turkey. It’s MAGIC.
Note: you cannot make gravy from the drippings, but you can’t do that with brined turkeys anyway, so no harm, no foul. Or fowl.