T-Day Seven Days Out: The Bird

The bird is the word.

We used to go to my aunt’s house in North Oaks for Thanksgiving. I clearly remember her perched on a chair next to the oven, heater and scotch in one hand, turkey baster in the other as she dutifully doused the bird every five minutes. From that chair she barked orders to the rest of the family to execute the remainder of the meal, I was in charge of rolling butter into pretty balls. Others can mash the potatoes or slice the beets, but she couldn’t, wouldn’t leave her post or her mission, all in the name of moisture.

A dry turkey is a sin. You don’t build an entire feast around one main protein only to realize you’ve served a chew-toy. I can’t seem to get my mother-in-law to see that you don’t need to start cooking the bird at 6am for a 4pm dinner. Gravy needn’t be the real main course, there is another way.

In the past few years, it’s been all about the brine. Brining a turkey involves soaking the thawed bird in a salt and herb solution. The theory is that the meat absorbs the flavorful solution and the proteins, when heated, lock the moisture inside. Although it does change the texture slightly, the resulting meat is ultra-moist, even when slightly overcooked.

Change the flavor of your brine with the addition of cider or different herbs, just don’t oversalt. The first time I made my own brine, my turkey tasted like ham. There are a ton of good brines on the market, Golden Fig’s locally made brine mix is one of the best.

If your bird is frozen, start thawing it in the fridge on Monday. By Tuesday, you should mix your brine solution and let it sit overnight. If you don’t have a big enough pot or bucket, don’t worry, there are plenty of giant bags meant for brining. I don’t even need to say that you shouldn’t use a scented garbage bag, do I? Get the bird into the solution by Wednesday and let it soak until you get it ready for the oven.

I guarantee that any old-timers who haven’t had a brined bird will flip over the juiciness.

Now for the ultimate question: to baste or not to baste? I’ve never basted a brined bird, and have yet to be disappointed. I have a chef friend that laughs at the basters, swearing that they only thing you have to do is slow-roast the bird at a low temp wrapped in parchment paper and foil, followed with a turn under high heat to add the crispiness.

I’m sure I could have explained this all in detail to my aunt, but I fear not even a lecture from the turkey himself could have moved her from her perch.