This weekend, I decided to make a Thanksgiving feast. What’s that you say? Thanksgiving isn’t for another 3 or 4 weeks? Why go to all that trouble?
Because I wanted to, and darn it I like turkey!
It’s a shame we limit ourselves to having certain culinary treats to one or two times a year, and only on special occasions. Oh I understand the traditions and all; nothing says Thanksgiving to me more than turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, but why wait for special occasions? Why not make every day, and every meal a special occasion?
All this turkey goodness originated from Ree over at The Pioneer Woman Cooks, where she was discussing (and showing) just how truly easy it is to brine a turkey. A lot of people are hesitant to brine a turkey, and I really think it’s the salt factor and the possibility of ruining an expensive (and important) meal. People worry about making the bird too salty or the resulting meat quality afterwards. Plus there’s all the preparation work, and waiting, and hoping you made the right salt-to-water-to-bird-weight-ratio. It IS intimidating. But is brining the way to go?
Now I have brined with the best of them. Alton Brown turned me on to brining several years ago and got me thinking about moist turkey possibilities. Still not entirely brave enough to try brining, years later I saw another wonderful example described in Pam Anderson’s “The Best Recipe” and decided that I would brine the next turkey I roasted. By that time, I had seen my sister-in-law brine a turkey, and I really did notice a considerable difference in the bird’s moistness and flavor. No more chalky, dried out turkey breast! So, off I went into The Brining Bird Abyss and never looked back.
So here I was this past weekend, drooling for dark meat and gravy, but didn’t want to go through the hassle of brining a turkey. Then I remembered when I was a little girl, my mom used to roast her turkey and pot-roasts in one of those oven roaster bags, and never had any dryness or flavor issues. Of course, I’m biased and everything my mom made was wonderful, but I thought, “What ever happened to those oven roaster bags? Why don’t people use those things anymore?”
Now, from what I understand, when you cook a turkey in one of those oven roaster bags, you are basically steaming the bird. Moisture can’t effectively escape, and viola, you have a moist bird. Not to mention you also get the best turkey juice for gravy! But the drawback is the bird doesn’t end up looking like a picture-perfect, roasted turkey. Usually, the thing just falls apart, and if you’re a crisp, turkey skin lover, you’re in for a big disappointment. The end result is a pasty, steamy creature that once resembled the turkey you placed in the bag three hours ago. But it tastes great!
So, this got me thinking. Surely there had to be a way to get the moist, flavorful benefits from one of those oven roaster bags, yet have a presentable, brown and crispy bird.
It turns out all I needed was a pair of scissors!
I did a little research and found out from some of my Cooking Jedi Masters over at The Cooking Forum that oven roaster bags work wonderfully for turkey if you cut the bag open about 45 minutes before it is done roasting. This gives the skin a chance to brown up without the bird drying out; all the steamy goodness has already happened. The rest is just vanity.
So, I went out and bought a nice 16 lb. turkey and gave it a shot. A little salt and pepper, a little seasoning, a sliced lemon and onion in the cavity, and three hours later I had turkey nirvana! Perfectly moist in every way and a nice brown skin. Heaven! I’ll never go back to brining and all that trouble, unless I’m trying to impress someone with my cooking repertoire.
So I guess what’s old can be new again. I’m good with that just as long as they don’t bring back those nasty aspic or jello salads. You know the ones with chicken livers or shredded carrots? Shudder.