This weekend, I roasted a turkey.
For the first time ever.
I was really, really nervous.
There’s something about roasting a turkey that seems particularly grown-up. Maybe it’s because it always seems like that daunting task is reserved for the eldest generation … grandmothers, mothers, but rarely daughters (until we grow up and have kiddos of our own). Maybe it’s because it only happens once … maybe twice? … a year for most families. Maybe it’s because of their size, or their status as THE centerpiece of THE most important food holiday of the year.
And there are thousands of ways to do it. I mean, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the sheer volume of information available on and off line about how to cook a turkey is staggering. There is so much pressure, so many opinions … it’s absurd, really.
But this weekend, we hosted the most perfect of evenings with some of our closest friends … 21 of them, to be exact. It’s a sweet little tradition started last year and this year we got to host and it was utterly delightful. I may or may not have been planning it since October and have been so excited ever since. I truly love parties and hosting and rooms bursting at the seams (literally!) with friends and food.
Last year we had ham, because it was a work day and no one had time/courage to do a turkey. But I’ve been itching to try it, daunting as it seemed, and I must say it turned out quite successfully … not due to anything but the wisdom of tried-and-true-turkey-cookers and a tremendous amount of patience and encouragement from the husband.
Tremendous. That word should not be glossed over. He is tremendous, and showed it in his grace and patience. Particularly when at 12:30 AM on Sunday morning, I spilled no less than several gallons of hot turkey brine ALL over our tiny kitchen.
So when our RSVP reached its tipping point around 20, I decided to trek to Costco to find the bird of my dreams. My first bird. 20 lbs. We bonded. It is an intimate thing to cook a turkey, and by the end of it I was actually sad. I felt like we had endured something together. He didn’t know he would end up with a first-timer, who was nothing short of clumsy and awkward and hesitant. He could have been fried. Or smoked. Or any number of delicious, exotic, fancy things. But we ended up together and made the best of it, my turkey friend and I.
I started with a brine, courtesy of the Pioneer Woman. Of course. Who else?
It bubbled away on the stove, apple cider and spices and orange peel and peppercorns:
This is, of course, the first batch of brine. When I was happy, excited, and oh-so-naive.
Turkey lesson #1: An oven bag is not the same thing as a brining bag. (Note: I didn’t think it was, but when the husband volunteers to go BACK to Publix at 9:45 on Friday night, you don’t question what he comes home with. And you definitely use it.)
After the spill, the turkey found its way (with a new batch of brine!) into the gigantic stainless steel bowl we were given as a wedding present. (Note: GIGANTIC. As in, big enough to hold a 20 lb bird. I had no idea how we’d ever use it. Until it saved Thanksgiving.)
My bird spent the night and most of the following day hanging out in the refrigerator (uncovered, but only for a few hours, because it makes the skin dry out and then it’s even more crispy!), before I took it out and had to give it a bath.
This is when I first started to feel a special connection to my turkey. I had to give it a turkey bath.
Then I had to pull gross things out of him. Things I couldn’t even identify. Things that I thought were giblets (though I was pretty sure they came in a bag) until my friend Dave found a bag (I was right) while he was carving the turkey. Oops.
But I did find this. Still not sure what it is officially. I’m guessing a neck?
It was icky. But not as icky … or intimate … as the next step, which though I was initially insistent that I would not do it, turned out to make all the difference.
There are no pictures. It was too gross. But imagine having to separate the skin from the turkey, but not tearing a hole in it, so that you can gently rub softened herb butter all over the bird. Hand under skin. Halfway up my forearm, with the latex-y skin and the squishy butter. Ick, ick, ick. No picture, but you probably have a mental one … which is better than reality because you can’t feel it.
You can kind of see the lumps of butter in this picture. This is right before I wrapped up my little friend in tinfoil for his 4.5 hours in the oven. Props to my awesome friend-and-experienced-turkey-roaster Michelle who told me to wrap him tightly and put it in the oven at 450 until he was done. SO moist. It was perfect.
And 4.5 very long hours later, out he came in his fabulously crispy brown skin. Beautiful!
And so after several hours and a little bit of this:
A whole lot of this:
And ultimately, some of this:
My little turkey friend was done. This is all that was left:
And a little bit of leftovers that became soup tonight.
So my first turkey is done, with only minor incident. I am wise enough to know that in my lifetime there will be many a turkey tragedy and many a triumph. It’s inevitable. They are tricky birds, but my first will always have a special place in my heart. And now I look forward to real Thanksgiving, when my brother-in-law is taking the turkey helm and smoking one for the family.
I’ll stick with the baked goods for that one.