Turkey Trials

Three birds. Two days. A novice conquers fears with a roasting marathon.

Thanksgiving Made Easy

We help you prepare for the feast. You can thank us later.

November 07, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun Reporter

WITH THREE TURKEYS in his arms, the meat guy cavalierly dumps one into my cart where it lands with a thud. I poke it with one finger.

"Is this a fresh one?" I hesitantly ask, because it feels kind of icy and the luxury of a slow thaw is not mine. I've got three turkeys, a completely different recipe for each and two days to achieve Thanksgivingworthiness.

I also have no idea what I'm doing.

The meat man mumbles something about only the outside being frozen and all but guarantees that these turkeys are fresh, oven-ready, good to go.

So with a toss of some official butcher's string into the cart -- I think I need that -- Operation Three Turkeys Two Days begins.

The thing is, although I'm not a kitchen rube -- not even a turkey virgin -- the food editor sussed me out as someone with a near-clinical case of Thanksgiving insecurities. I am to take on this poultry so that as I stuff and roast and brine, I'll cook off the anxiety inherent in the holiday mission.

It's a public service, really. I'll reach my hand inside the cavity to pull out who-knows-what. I'll curse the meat thermometer that's stubbornly set on salmonella. I'll consider the aesthetic, ergonomic and philosophical implications of breast-side up.

A panel of The Sun's most discriminating palates will rate my results. All so that on your holiday, you can be thankful, at least, to avoid a few faux pas.

The experiment involves roasting recipes based on slightly different methods and varying degrees of sophistication. They're all supposedly easy, however -- from ridiculously basic to fairly reasonable.

First comes the very reassuring sounding "Can't-Go-Wrong Roast Turkey" from the encouragingly named Real Simple Celebrations book. I immediately attempt to calculate the embarrassment factor of going wrong with the Can't-Go-Wrong. Limitless.

Next up is an intriguing dry-brined concept from Fine Cooking's new book, How to Cook a Turkey. Even the office foodies confess that they've never heard of dry brining, only the annoying wet kind that involves soaking a turkey overnight in a giant vat of salt water and seasonings.

Finally is an Italian-influenced recipe recommended by the Food Network's impossibly perfect Giada De Laurentiis, a woman who prepares feasts, tours exotic lands and flirts with dozens of waiters -- without a hair out of place.

Each turkey endeavor starts pretty much the same: peeling off the wrapper, digging around in the cavity for optional parts they store there as if the bird is some kind of valise, and then giving it a good rinse and pat dry.

My turkeys come with little plastic harnesses, seemingly there to hold the legs together and seal the bigger of the two openings. The turkey people might want to think about skipping these because their usefulness is debatable and they're all but impossible to wedge off. I actually had to pry them out with a knife. Maybe there's some trick to it that I would have realized had there been a fourth turkey. Anyway.

The "Can't-Go-Wrong" recipe was suspiciously easy. Aside from the turkey itself, it involved just three ingredients -- olive oil, salt and pepper. And as for the preparation -- what little there was -- if you can turn your oven on, open the door and put a turkey down in there, you're golden.

Yeah, I did have to reopen the door at one point to cover the turkey with a sheet of tinfoil, and I did have to reduce the oven temperature for the final portion of the roasting. But really. That's it.

Of course, the simplicity came back to bite me.

Though the recipe resulted in a nicely browned bird just like the one resting plainly on a platter in the book, the tasters at work -- all of whom lived to tell, by the way -- were less than enthused. They complained it was serviceable, but too dry, too chewy, too bland. Only one person chose it as his favorite of the three, appreciating its traditional, humble, Pilgrim-esque sensibilities. He then turned to buy a pack of Pop-Tarts from the snack machine.

Turkey No. 2 involved dry-brining, which meant I sprinkled kosher salt all over it -- inside and out -- and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning there was no rinsing off the 1 / 4 cup of salt. The recipe just called for stuffing the cavity with celery and freakishly unpeeled onions and carrots.

Unlike the first recipe, which started out with a higher temperature and then dropped it, this one opted for a steady 400 degrees the whole way through. The trick here, however, was a midroast flip -- exactly the gymnastic move it sounds like.

An hour into cooking, I was supposed to take the turkey out of the oven, wad paper towels in each hand, and then grab the bird and flip it breast-side up. I miraculously didn't drop the hot bird midflip, but my dismount faltered when a wing snagged on the side of the pan and almost ripped off.

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