She who makes the turkey is the head bitch.
In the South, holiday meal preparation is an example of pack structure in action. The head bitch [usually the eldest woman] coordinates all of the subordinate bitches’ activities. The head bitch is also responsible for baking the turkey and/or ham (One large source of protein is never sufficient at Southern gatherings.).
Every head bitch has her secret method of cooking her turkey. Most methods are passed down the matriarchal line for generations and rarely is the method shared outside of that line. It’s kind of like asking a woman if you can borrow her husband for the night – just not something that you do.
In my mom’s family, my grandma was the “pack leader”. She gave any females in the family who were old enough to stir or chop their tasks and ruled with an iron fist. She was also the one who slapped hands and shooed interlopers out of the kitchen.
Since my grandma died a few years ago, family dinners have been a bit unorganized and various women have been tasked with the making of the turkey (and/or ham and/or whatever other animal was being cooked).
For some unknown (and idiotic) reason, I opened my big trap and offered to cook the turkey this year.
While we were in Florida and away from all of our family, I found a brined turkey recipe that Alton Brown did on his show Good Eats. (You can find my version by clicking here.) I tried it and LOVED it and have made it several times since. The issue is that I’ve never made the damn thing with a set dinner time. We always ate whenever the thing was done.
So today, I’m faced with not only the first time that I’ve cooked a turkey for this large of a crowd but also the first time that I’ve had a time that the damn thing had to be done by. And of course I had to add another degree of difficulty by purchasing a new roasting pan AND cooking this thing in an oven that I’ve never cooked a turkey in.
All of these variables could possibly equal disaster which will mean that I will be the laughing stock of my mother’s family as well as a hated member for a short period of time since to screw up a Southern family’s food is close to a punishable-by-death offense.
Basically, I foresee two outcomes.
#1 I attain the position of head bitch when this turkey is THE BEST THING EVER but I will probably have to cook the turkey from here on out.
#2 This turkey is a massive flop and my pack rank is dropped to somewhere around my mom’s miniature dachshund’s. The silver lining to this pack position is that I’ll never be asked to cook anything again.
At this point, I’m not quite sure which is the better option so I’m crossing my fingers that the turkey is at least edible and done cooking with enough time to spare that we can pack it, ourselves and the two kids up and make it to Mom’s in time for the thing to be carved and served by 2pm.
I’ll update after we get home. Hopefully, I’ll have retained all of my body parts and haven’t been flogged too badly.
- Turkey (I usually buy one between 12 and 18 pounds.)
- 1 cup kosher salt (I don't use iodized/table salt but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that would probably work in a pinch...of salt. heh)
- 1/2 cup sugar (I always use dark brown sugar but I bet it won't matter.)
- 16 cups water
- A handful black peppercorns
- Several cloves of smushed garlic
- Handful of cardamom pods that have been toasted and then whacked with a meat cleaver
- 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
- Handful of fresh thyme
- Handful of fresh rosemary
- 1 onion quartered
- 1 cup of roughly chopped carrots
- 1 cup of roughly chopped celery
- 1 gallon (16 cups) heavily iced water
- 1 red apple, sliced
- Zest of an orange and/or lemon
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 sage leaves (If you only have dried, use like 1/2 - 1 tsp dried.)
- Vegetable/olive oil
- Big cooler
- Start with a thawed turkey. I've been known to cut it short and toss a frozen turkey into the brine but I also put the turkey in a few (CLEAN) garbage bags that was then placed in the bathtub for about 12 hours. Probably not the safest way to brine a turkey. If you do that, you can't sue me cause you followed my stupidity and then got sick.
- Put a heavy-bottomed stock pot on a hot burner, add a bit of olive oil and add your vegetables excluding the garlic. Cook until you begin to smell the vegetables.
- Add in the spices and herbs.
- Add the garlic and let it all cook for about a minute or until you can smell the garlic.
- Add the salt and sugar.
- Stir well and add the water.
- Bring the mixture up to a vigorous boil and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
- Turn off the burner and leave the brine to sit overnight so it can cool.
- Place your rinsed turkey (innards removed) into the cooler
- Add the brine and the ice water.
- Stir around to combine.
- Give the bird a turn about 1/2 way through the brining process.
- Move the oven rack to the lowest position and preheat the oven to 500°.
- Pull the bird out of the brine, dry the bird off and dump the brine.
- Put the ingredients for "the aromatics" (excluding the rosemary and sage--if you're using fresh) in a bowl and pop it into the microwave for about 5 minutes.
- Stuff that mixture into the turkey's body.
- Truss up the turkey and cover with vegetable oil.
- Roast for 30 minutes.
- Knock the oven's temp down to 350°, place a digital thermometer into the bulk of one of the turkey's breasts (OUCH!) and set the alert temp alarm to 155°. Expect it to take about 2 hours...longer if you're roasting a monster.
- Once it's done roasting, loosely drape the turkey with foil and let it rest for 15-30 minutes.
- Cut that sucker up and savor the awesome.
- The point of a brine is to get all cellular up in yur meat and infuse, if you will, the meat with the flavors you've added to the brine. You can add just about anything you want to the brine as long as you keep the salt:sugar:water ratio stable.
- Remember, people: this IS NOT rocket science. This is just regular, awesome science you can eat...which makes it even more awesome
- Experiment. Have fun! Do the aromatics part. Don't. Whateves. Everything will turn out fine and your belly will be pleasantly full.
- You can brine just about any meat--though the ratios will be different and the time in the brine will vary depending on what you're brining.