The turkey mocks back

On November 6th, I made this wise statement: After years of panicking about cooking, I’m now confident that a) there will be enough food b) I know how to cook a turkey.

Ah, hubris!

Also, this might be a good time to mention that I try very hard not to be superstitious because I do not believe in superstition. It’s totally a load of crock, in my humble opinion. Also, I TOTALLY JINXED MYSELF WITH THIS STATEMENT. That was nearly as bad as talking about a no-hitter, people.

I changed two things about how I cooked my turkey this year.

1) I bought a new pan. My old pan always stuck to the top of the turkey, and pulled flesh off when I went to baste it, and was really too small for the behemoth birds that occupy my oven on Mocksgiving day. So I saw a new, bigger pan that didn’t have a lid but did have a cool little rack thingy and I went for it.
2) I read Cook’s Illustrated. Their November edition had some neat ideas on roasting turkeys. I didn’t do the pork one only because I couldn’t find the pork. I didn’t do the brining because I’m really lazy. I didn’t do the baking powder crispy skin bit because I have a hunch that the extra oil I add is needed to make the amount of gravy I produce.

But I did try the temperature thingy. I cooked the bird at 325.

And here are the results. Glorious, no?

Quite possibly the finest-looking bird I've ever cooked
Quite possibly the finest-looking bird I've ever cooked

And completely underdone. The breast was done, mind. The popper thingy popped out. The temperature was right for that breast meat. But the bottom of the bird — the dark meat and thighs, etc? Totally undone. Completely.

I hadn’t flipped the bird. I’d cooked it right side up. And since the skin looked so amazing, I didn’t crank the heat up (note: I actually think that was the right call).

We had let the bird set for half an hour, as recommended, and everything was on the table when my husband started carving and we realized that we had a turkey-disaster on our hands. Thinking fast, we pulled out cookie sheets and put turkey parts on the sheets to cook that way. It actually worked out ok. And frankly, I’m not sure that anyone would’ve even noticed if I just failed to put the turkey on the table period. There were so many fantastic options that the turkey was, well, gravy. Mocksgiving was by no means ruined by the total turkey FAIL.

Additionally my gravy was also a fail. I’m good at gravy. I make gravy all the time. But the open-topped pan allowed for much greater evaporation of delicious turkey-juices, so I kept adding water to the drippings. I added too much, and it came out as weak sauce. I actually usually (shhhh) add chicken boiullion (however you spell it) to my turkey drippings when they start to percolate to increase the volume of gravy. Since it cooks with the turkey for several hours, it ends up tasting like turkey gravy. But this time, it just tasted weird. If I want to use the open pot, I’m going to need to come up with a better plan for gravy. Of course, the fact that the turkey wasn’t COOKED might also have led to a diminution in drippings and subsequence chickenosity of the gravy.

Lessons learned:
1) It’s probably a good idea to start the turkey wrong-side up and flip it halfway through
2) Wrap the entire pot in tinfoil before cooking, not just turkey, to prevent evaporation
3) Maybe cook a larger turkey at 350 instead of 325.

I’m actually half-tempted to make a turkey on Thanksgiving just to tinker and figure out what I did wrong. (I can hear you saying “WHAT? Thanksgiving IS turkey day!” Not for me. If I can’t cadge an invite to a Thanksgiving dinner someone else cooked, Thanksgiving is likely to be a pizza night.) Also, the turkey and gravy didn’t come out well. This means NO HOT TURKEY SANDWICHES FOR ME. This, friends, is completely unacceptable.

As an additional Mocksgiving note, I made this Cranberry sauce ahead of time. More than 50% of my motivation was that I’d previously made pomegranate molasses for a recipe I didn’t end up making and it was lurking in the ‘fridge making me feel guilty. This was a fantastic make-ahead dish. It tasted excellent and looked amazing. If you need to bring a dish to a Thanksgiving, I’d heartily recommend this one. I doubled this recipe, and really. Don’t double it. All 28 of us having a serving barely made a dent in it.

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6 thoughts on “The turkey mocks back

  1. Flipping the bird is good. Also, mostly we have given up on presentation and butterfly our birds. That saves us a lot of time. As a third point, Matt makes gravy by pressure-cooking all the bits we don’t eat out of the bird. Delicious every time!

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  2. Man, I am really nervous about the turkey this year. I’m just not sure I will be able to get it right. I will certainly not say I know how to make the turkey now that I know the results.

    Actually, I want to buy one of those things for skimming the fat for the gravy. It has been really greasy for a couple of years.

    The TO DO list.

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  3. My dearest, let me suggest a wonderful book: the 1967 version of Joy of Cooking. There it goes over my tested and true method of a very quick high heat roast (oven to 450, leave at 450 for 10 min, then reduce to 375, at 10-12 min/lb). The second thing is to ice pack the breast while allowing the legs and thighs to come to almost room temperature. This devilish little trick has saved my turkey for 5 years running. Good luck in the future Mocksgivings!

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  4. okay… so i must add (i just read the gravy fiasco) gravy is easy: make a roux with the drippings, tossing in flour until you have a thick paste. I trust you made stock of the neck, gizzard, and heart (not the liver), and tossed in onions, celery, mushrooms, garlic, and a touch of carrot towards the end. When your roux paste has just started to brown, toss in the rest of the drippings, and whisk like you’ve never whisked before. Then use the stock you made to thin the gravy. Tada. Or you are welcome to come all the way to my house and help me eat my turkey dinner.

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    1. I would like to take the opportunity to point out that this is like my 20th turkey — I just tried some new things which threw a wrench in my standard operating procedures.

      I make a dripping gravy, not a gizzard gravy. It’s a point of preference.

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