After 16 years of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, I’ve learned a few things about Roasting the Bird.
In prior years, long ago, my sister raised turkeys and I had a hand in the slaughtering for the holiday dinner. Then, in the earliest years of hosting at our house (or apartment), we traveled out to the Heartland on a pilgrimage to buy a fresh, free-range, organic, and exceedingly expensive turkey. Then we got tired of the drive but continued to buy fresh free-range from the grocer.
About 10 years ago I started to brine the Thanksgiving turkey, which I am convinced is the single most important element for roasting a bird that is flavorful and moist. If you haven’t tried brining your turkey — regardless of whether you intend to deep-fry, roast, or crock pot the thing (blech) — you’re doing it wrong. Heed the Quartermaster’s instructions for brining your bird and be amazed.
The beauty of brining is that it elevates a cheap frozen turkey, so much that spending more money on fresh almost seems a waste. Not only will the meat be flavorful throughout, it will be much more forgiving in roasting, so that dry turkey is still theoretically possible, but practically difficult to achieve.
Moreover, with brining you can entirely forgo the whole basting ridiculosity, which I’m convinced does nothing more than slow down even cooking and reduce efficiency with all the periodic opening of the oven and removing of the turkey. And you can forget about roasting bags (a mistake), covered roasting pans (no), or starting with the breast down and flipping mid-way through cooking (LOL).
This year, I’m intrigued by something new, which I intend to try: in place of butter or oil rubbed onto the skin of the bird, I’m trying it with….. mayonnaise.
On the one hand, mayonnaise for cooking seems slightly gross. Any time I’ve gotten a mouthful of hot mayonnaise I’ve been pretty disgusted. But it does have an interesting viscous texture and composition that leads me to believe it would cling to the bird longer during cooking rather than melting in the heat and running off quickly like butter, thereby retaining juiciness in the meat and crisping the skin nicely. So, we’ll try it, and I’ll report back.