Dirty bird blues
This year, like last year, I asked the family if they wanted a traditional Thanksgiving meal or if they really just wanted their favorite sides and could flex on the main course.
Last year the favorite sides won out, and we had marinated flank steak with them.
The truth is, none of us are crazy about turkey. We’ll eat it, we’ll even call it tasty, but we’re just not big turkey cravers, and considering how much of a hassle it is to cook one, and how much more of a hassle it is to cook a truly good one, I’m just as happy to not mess with it.
But this year the Baton Rouge Sparkette wanted a full-up traditional meal, turkey and all.
It’s been a few years since I cooked a turkey. For a number of years we were buying them smoked from a local BBQ guy, which let me off the hook and kept my oven open for all the other stuff we like. But as I began to look at my various recipes for turkey as well as research new ones, a couple of techniques I’ve never used kept popping up, and it totally made sense that these were potentially superior methods for dealing with a turkey. I was finally convinced I needed to give them a try.
Come hell or high water, I was going to spatchcock and dry brine that bird.
There’s no high water involved in dry brining, which is why it’s called DRY brining. I should have considered what was left after the high water was eliminated.
Had I purchased a fresh bird, my usual preference, the process wouldn’t have been so stressful. But I got a crazy good price on a frozen bird that wasn’t shot full of fake basting solution. It came with a pedigree that promised no antibiotics or hormones or any other strange turkey games. These are options I like in a fresh bird. So really…all I have to do is thaw the thing on time, right?
The problem is turkeys don’t thaw. I am convinced that if you put a frozen bird in your fridge for two weeks, on day 14 the outside of it would seem pliable but the inside would still be solid ice. By this afternoon it was obvious that I was going to have to resort to the cold water thawing method.
This meant that as I was preparing tonight’s dinner I was also trying to avoid the turkey ice-cube bobbing in half of my sink, all the while fighting paranoia as visions of salmonella danced in my head. I swear it was over there splashing, too. In my mind, my entire kitchen was dripping with vile, greasy, germy turkey-water. Nasty.
Hours past the time I thought it would be thawed, I gave up and started holding the bird upright and running cold water through its cavity, trying to get the inside thawed enough to work with it. Eventually I declared it good enough, drained it as best I could, and moved it to a big baking sheet to begin surgery.
I grabbed the sharpest knife we have (which is pretty sharp) and eyeballed the bird. I’d read plenty of articles and I watched a video clip of Alton Brown spatchcocking a turkey, which is just a weird word that means butterflying it by cutting out its backbone. How hard could this be?
I’m sure I don’t even need to answer that question for you. Just consider how slippery a big naked bird is, and how hard frozen bones are. But I can say this: I didn’t cry, even though I wanted to and came mighty close to doing so.
I eventually mangled the spineless bird into submission and began dry brining it. However, because I couldn’t get the bird totally dry due to its recent hours-long soak in my kitchen sink, I’m not sure the salt didn’t just drain back out. I don’t even know where all that water was coming from. I just know that when I see poultry juices, I might as well be looking at a radioactive spill.
For all intents and purposes, my kitchen was now a Super Fund site.
That dumb cluck is now squashed and salted and is reclining in my garage fridge, where it will remain until I get ready to pop it in the oven on Thursday. In theory, I just lightened Thursday’s work load. In reality, I think I just transferred some of the kitchen stress to tonight.
My kitchen has been sprayed and swiped and sprayed and swiped some more. My hands are near raw from the amount of scrubbing I’ve done to them today. I should probably check to be sure I still have soap left in the kitchen. I may very well have used it all.
All this, and I don’t even know for sure it’s gonna be worth it. I better plan for extra large pans of sides, just in case it turns out to be a no-gobble gobbler.
Or maybe just extra pie. Pie covers a multitude of sins, after all.