Several readers commented on my post about volunteering to cook the turkey for this year’s Yanksgiving at my parents’ house. Though my stint in the kitchen was not a planned happening so much as the result of a change in Mom and Dad’s travel plans, I nevertheless viewed this as a passing of the torch. Those readers seemed to view it the same way and, mindful that my track record with fire isn’t all that great, chimed in with all sorts of suggestions. They agreed wholeheartedly with my brining. They also told me to remember to bring a meat thermometer and butter, but if I happened to remember only one of those two things, make it the butter.
My friends Marvin and Gil expressed their concern by inviting me to their home Wednesday night so we could talk turkey in person. They’ve put on a big Thanksgiving spread for as long as I can remember, so I headed over there. I felt certain they’d offer me quality pointers, or at the very least a glass of wine. I sat on their sofa, a full glass of white in hand, and leaned forward in anticipation of receiving the insights only a seasoned turkey pro could offer.
“Remember to turn on the oven,” Gil said. And because Marvin and Gil are the kind of people who stop at nothing to help a friend in need, they topped off my wine.
On Thursday at noon, I showed up at my parents’ house with the star attraction –my 15.8 lb brined bird, escorted by a bottle of bubbly –as well as potatoes and asparagus, which to me are sort of like backup dancers. By 12:15, I had the bird stuffed full of apples and spices and ready for its champagne bath.
Thank goodness I stole a last peek at the recipe, otherwise I would’ve doused the turkey with an entire bottle of champagne rather than the mere 2/3 it called for. It’s one thing to ruin a turkey and another altogether to waste a perfectly good glass of champagne.
Disaster averted, I somehow managed to get the bird into the oven bag. As soon as I tied off the bag, I had my mother snap a photo of me downing the remnants of the champagne.
I texted Marvin and Gil, “Chef and turkey are both in the bag.”
They wrote back, “Keep him in plastic and you in paper. Gotta breathe.” I have such supportive friends.
I plopped the bagged bird into the roasting pan my mother’s been using ever since I can remember. It’s black with white speckles that are either decorative or a function of the fact that the pan has spent a lot of its life in my parents’ basement near paint cans. I’m sure there are better and fancier pans out there, but that flecked pan is the only one that holds our family traditions, so when the time came, I didn’t consider using anything else.
After loading up the pan, I stuck it in the oven and had Mom set the timer to go off every hour, expecting the turkey to take at least three hours to cook. Heavenly smells began to waft through the kitchen after an hour. I fully intended to give the meat thermometer a go at the two-hour mark but got sidetracked by an opportunity to try out some new tunes on the piano while my sister Suzi sang along. (We crushed “Piano Man,” in case you’re wondering.) I wasn’t worried, thinking there was no way a nearly 16-lb bird would finish cooking in under three hours anyway.
When the timer sounded at the third hour, I pulled out the turkey and popped in the thermometer. Turns out my gold-plated, free-ranging bird was advanced in every respect, including done-ness. While I suppose it’s better to cook a turkey to within an inch of its life instead of your family’s, I worried that it might be too done. We raced to get the backup dancers caught up with the star, and by 4:45, the stage was fully set. We took our places and gave the usual thanks for family, friends, and freedom from salmonella.
If I were rating my first effort on a 100-point scale, broken down into three categories –texture, taste, and artistic impression –here’s how I would grade myself:
- Texture (possible 30 points): 23. The dark meat had perfect texture. The white meat? While no one would have bitten into it and mistaken it for a Topsider, it didn’t exactly melt in your mouth.
- Taste (possible 40 points): 40. Maybe the brining had something to do with it, but I choose to give full credit to the champagne, mainly because doing so gives me license to douse all future uncooked poultry with a bottle of bubbly. And the gravy? So otherworldly good it has visited me in my dreams.
- Aesthetic appeal (possible 30 points): 22. It came out all in one piece and would generally be recognized by the sighted world as a cooked turkey, so that’s a plus; however, as I removed it from the bag, some of the skin ripped off, making it look like the bird had been tossed out of a speeding car and skidded along the pavement before coming to rest on the platter. So maybe my turkey won’t be asked to pose for the cover of Bon Apetit any time soon, but it’s not a Pinterest fail, either.
I give myself an 85 overall, which is a solid B effort. Not altogether bad for winging it.