I don’t expect anyone will care about turkeys now that everyone is off to the mall, but we do our Thanksgiving on Saturday, so I’m just now finishing the “Service Turkey.” I thought I’d make notes here and to have something to refer back to next year.
We bought two 20.2 turkeys from Pleasant View Farm in Altamont. These summer boarders had a nice life and good, sweet nonGMO feed. They were processed on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. I picked them up on Saturday morning, putting one in the cottage fridge and the other in the cottage freezer. The refrigerator turkey would be brined Thursday and cooked on Friday. The freezer turkey (or Show Turkey as we call it) would be cooked on Saturday for carving. Our plan was to cook the "Show Turkey" au naturel without brining so we could see whether brining diluted the real turkey flavor, as claimed by the experts over at Serious Eats.
All seemed copacetic until I discovered on Tuesday that the freezer turkey was frozen solid (surprise!). I looked up thawing a turkey and learned that it can take 5 days to thaw a 20 lb. turkey in the refrigerator and, oh by the way, we didn’t have any refrigerator space! Luckily we had a blizzard and a cold snap so the back porch has been at a pretty constant 40˚ all week. We’ve been using it as a walk in cooler and moved the show turkey over to the house on Wednesday.
Nancy baked nonstop: wholewheat dinner rolls, cornmeal-sage dinner rolls, breadsticks, crackers for cheese and crackers (!) and a beautiful apple tart with salted caramel glaze for Thanksgiving dinner #1 next door.
I found this recipe too salty last year but I liked the cider flavor in the meat. I chose to brine the service turkey so the cider would flavor the gravy. I also hoped that the brine would allow the turkey to be reheated without drying out on Saturday.
- 4 quarts apple cider
- 1 ½ cups kosher salt
- ¼ cup allspice
- 8 bay leaves
- 4 quarts cold water
- One 20 lb turkey
8:00 a.m. Simmer one quart of cider with salt, allspice, bay leaves for five minutes, stirring until salt is dissolved. Let it cool completely and then pour mixture, water and cider into a brining bag. Let the turkey swim in the brine all day.
8:00 p.m. drain brine, rinse turkey thoroughly and let sit in the fridge (or on the back porch) overnight.
Friday: Everyone else in the world is shopping. We’re still cooking!
8:35 a.m. Cracked the wings and put them under the turkey. Slathered it all over with one stick of melted butter and put it into the oven (legs toward the back) at 325˚. Closed the door and never looked back.
12:00 p.m. The house smelled overwhelmingly of turkey so I checked the temp. The legs were cooked but the breast was still at 135˚ so I flipped it around and closed the door.
12:35 p.m. The breast was 168˚ and everything else was hotter than that. I didn't link the legs to allow heat into the cavity, hoping the thigh junction would cook. Exactly 4 hours to cook a 20 lb. turkey at 325˚.
2:30 p.m. Finally got around to carving the turkey so I could save the drippings and make gravy this evening. About half way in I sampled a bit of dark and a bit of light meat. This might be the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. The meat was flavorful and moist -- almost unbelievably good.
3:00 p.m. I finished carving and after Nancy came back for a second “taste test,” we decide to end the experiment and brine the Show Turkey. Of course I used all the whole allspice in the first brining so we ran out to the store for more. The Show Turkey has thawed a lot and I’m going to follow my sister’s advice. "Put it in water (cider), throw in salt and call it brining!" It’ll be a slightly quicker soak. I’ll take it out tonight before I go to be and we should be good for tomorrow.
On to roasted vegetables, gravy, stock, and stuffing!