Let’s Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – a day that is centered around a great meal.

My mom is all about Christmas. She spends 6 months of the year shopping for presents and starts playing the Christmas music as soon as she’s packing turkey leftovers into the fridge. By December 1st she’ll be talking about the tree. But me? I sent out a cheerleader email the first week of October encouraging past, present and hopeful future guests to join us for our now annual feast. As I type this blog post there is a 19 pound turkey salt-brining in my refrigerator.

Drawing by Aaron Newman, aka Baarbarian

For the past six consecutive Thanksgivings I have roasted a turkey.

The first year Brad and I cooked the turkey in our oven and then transported it to our friend Megan’s house where a most memorable meal took place. I should note that we arranged for the turkey from our CSA at the time, who informed us just a week in advance that the turkeys had grown bigger than they planned. My 15-pounder would now be a whopping 23 pounds, as I recall. Nothing like a little challenge for your first time.

There was the year when my friend Paul invited his Korean girlfriend. When she saw me open the oven door to check and baste the turkey, she squealed and immediately started taking photos with her cell phone to send to her friends back home. She had never seen a bird so big, not in an oven anyway.

Our Brooklyn friends all remember the Thanksgiving that never ended. It started at 4pm and most of our guests finally went home at 4am. There was dinner, dessert, after-dinner and after-dessert cocktails. We moved the furniture for a dance party and there were activities involving hats, glasses and “the splits”.

And then there was the “doublestuff” incident in which I made cornbread stuffing and encourage my friend Christine to make a delicious looking parsnip bread pudding. Shortly after dinner we all slipped into a slightly painful carb-induced coma. Lesson learned.

A personal history of turkeys, and Thanksgivings, 2005-2010

So now it’s Thanksgiving Eve and you can’t turn around without coming across some advice about how to cook a perfect turkey. I’m not really one for perfection – although ironically Thanksgiving is the one time of year I find myself gravitating towards Martha Stewart recipes – but I thought I’d throw my 2 cents into the roasting pan.

Here are a few tricks and recipes I’ve picked up over the years:

Know Your Bird! I’ve had heritage and non-heritage birds, but I’ve always purchased my turkey from someone who knew what the bird looked like. If you have the privilege, do the same, but regardless, be conscious of where your meat comes from. This year I’ll be cooking a bird from DiPaulo Turkey Farm.

Butter! I put butter under the skin before I roast my turkey. It makes for one tasty, succulent bird. I typically make a compound butter blended with a mix of sage, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Maple Syrup! Your turkey needs to be basted, but why settle for water or wine? My favorite basting liquid has been maple syrup. When diluted with water you can use the syrup to baste and ultimately glaze the turkey. If you make a gravy from the drippings it’ll have a deliciously subtle sweetness.

Aluminum foil! I tend to make larger turkeys. I like a crowd and I also like leftovers. By the time your turkey is good and roasted (but don’t overdo it, take that bird out between 160 and 165 degrees and let it rest), the skin will be far too brown unless you tent it with foil. One year I tried using cheesecloth instead, it didn’t work. Check out how to roast a turkey the Fleisher’s way.

Silky Gravy! I don’t use cornstarch, I use flour. And I whisk it into some of the fatty pan drippings before I add the stock. Just try it.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you enjoy a wonderful meal and have much to be grateful for.

Aaron Newman has been a participant in several Thanksgivings, including the epic 2007 extravaganza. He is also an Austin-based illustrator. baarbarian.com

6 Responses to “Let’s Talk Turkey”

  1. #

    Daughter Fish says:

    My stomach is still scarred from the double stuffing incident. But my mind is ready for all the fixin’s this year, and maybe a dance party! Wish the Newmans could join!

    • #

      Heather says:

      Me too! I have a good feeling about this year’s menu. We’ve got this Thanksgiving thing down.

  2. #

    Dad says:

    Happy Thanksgiving Eve … Big dinner tomorrow. About 20 people will be attacking the Big Bird now resting in the laundry room sink. Mom got you a poinsettia but you will need to come pick it up. Enjoy your party!

    • #

      Heather says:

      Next year – deep fry?

  3. #

    pk killa says:

    Thanks for mentioning me in your blog! :)

    • #

      Heather says:

      That was a key moment in Thanksgiving history! K-town, here we come.

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