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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Who Wants Turkey Jerky??

I find it utterly amazing that I can graduate from culinary school with honors, pass every single skills test thrown in front of me, and sear meats perfectly and reach the requested temperatures of rare, medium rare, etc. while at school or on the job but when I cook at home I overcook meat left and right.  It's embarrassing actually.  It makes the people that matter the most look at me with that nicey fake smile and say "no, no... it's fine" as they saw away at their entree.  I know in their head they're thinking "I don't know how she passed, but God help the restaurant that hires her.  Maybe they'll put her on the salad station."

It makes me want to scream in my defense actually.  "Well what the hell did you expect?! I've got a two year old blowing zerberts on the backs of my thighs the whole damn time I'm trying to cook, people are talking so friggin loud out there that I can't even here timers going off, I've got all your friggin appetizer mess in my dang way because people don't know what a trash can is, and I think O just stole my tongs.  WHERE THE HECK ARE MY TONGS?!"  Add the inevitable burn or cut into that mix (because I can't make it through the evening without one), or on your average evening you can add a kitchen full of hot wheels and a little red rocking chair that O pushes around everywhere as his little stool.  Now you understand why I can't cook a proper meal.  Pssshh... Hell's Kitchen??  Gordon please.  Try cooking at my house!

Maybe I can't get the whole family meal out flawlessly yet, but I do have a couple tricks that I would definitely recommend for your Thanksgiving turkey.  Nobody likes a dry turkey, but it seems commonplace on Thanksgiving, doesn't it? Try brining it.  This has been my fail safe solution for the past two years.  Not only does it keep your turkey moist and juicy, but it adds great flavor through and through.  People have a lot of different ideas on how to really incorporate flavor by injecting it and seasoning under the skin, but let me tell you something about injecting meat: you're poking numerous holes in the meat giving the juices many places to run right out through the cooking process.  Not only that, but the fluids and seasonings you are injecting do not seep much further than the point of injection which suggests that if you want all over flavor, you would have to inject it A LOT.  More injections = more holes = less juicy.

Seasoning under the skin is a practice I would encourage, though.  In fact, I brine my turkey for 1 1/2 days (or at least 24 hours) before the big day, rinse it off and pat it dry, and then I make a herb butter mixture that I rub underneath the skin before seasoning the outside of the bird.  I always stuff a few extra herbs, 1/2 an onion, and a couple garlic gloves in the cavity before I tie up the legs, and tuck the wing tips under the body to prevent them from burning.  I always make sure I use a rack in the bottom of my pan to keep the turkey raised up.  This keeps the bottom of the bird from "stewing" in those juices.  Then I cover the pan with foil and cut a slit in the top of the foil for a vent.  In the preheated 350 degree oven it goes.  I usually have to roast a 20-22 pounder to feed my family, but a 16 pound bird should take somewhere around 2 1/2 hours to roast.  When a probe thermometer inserted deep into the breast reads 135 degrees, remove the foil and crank the oven up to 500 degrees.  Now it's time to crisp that top skin.  This will probably take about 30 minutes, but you'll know your turkey is ready when its a nice golden brown, and your probe thermometer reads 160 degrees when inserted deep into the breast.  Take it out of the oven immediately and let it rest.  The turkey continues to cook out of the oven for at least another 5-10 minutes and will reach that 165 degree that some people so desperately seek out of salmonella paranoia.

I have included a brine solution that I have used a couple of times, as well as a top skin seasoning and suggested herbs and spices for the butter that I put under the skin.  I would also recommend that you try to buy a fresh turkey as opposed to a frozen one.  Frozen turkeys are fine, but I often find that the skin is damaged or broken and I attribute this too the fact that those frozen "bowling balls" get tossed around too hard during shipment and as people sift through them in the supermarkets.  Damaged skin doesn't retain the herb butter very well, or protect the breast meat very well.  Just a suggestion. 

Cider Ginger Turkey Brine (Brine your turkey up to 2 days in advance)
1 Gallon apple cider
2 Quarts vegetable stock
1 Gallon water
1C Kosher salt
1/4C Black peppercorns
1T Allspice berries
6-8 Slices of fresh ginger (no need to peel it, just slice it about 1/4" thick)

Use a cooler, very tall stockpot, or a really big bucket with a lid for this process.  Make sure whatever you choose is clean and sanitized.  Combine all ingredients together in your cooler.  Remove giblets, neck, etc. from the cavity of your turkey.  Rinse turkey inside and out and place turkey in the cooler with the brine.  Make sure the turkey is completely submerged in the juices.  If not, add a little more water until it is covered.  Close the lid.  Half way through your brining process, turn the turkey over and add more ice to the mix if necessary.  At the end of the brining process (at least 24 hours), remove turkey from brine, rinse off, and pat dry.  Be sure to discard your brine.  Store in refrigerator until ready to roast.

Herb Butter for Under the Skin 
1 Stick of unsalted butter, softened
1T Fresh chopped sage
1tsp Kosher salt
1tsp black pepper

Mix all together in a small bowl.  Gently lift skin off the breast by inserted your hands in the loose area by the base of the turkey and wiggling your fingers gently to open it up.  Using your hands, smooth 3/4 of the herb butter under the skin and all over the breast.  Rub the remaining 1/4 of the herb butter on top of the skin.

Seasoning Blend for the Top of the Skin
1tsp Kosher salt
1tsp black pepper
1tsp Paprika
1/2tsp Garlic powder
1/4tsp Ground cumin

Mix all seasonings together and sprinkle all over the breast and legs of the bird before roasting.

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