We had a great Thanksgiving at our house. We ended up with 18 people including a very charming little 2 and a half year old. For Christmas, we used my husband’s Uncle Henry’s custom, hand made folding tables, which have been stored in our garage since before I was in the picture! In the midst of my preparing, and cooking, and general mania, I continually remembered when we were kids and my mother would cook these gigantic dinners for 20+ people on Thanksgiving. We always had my cousin Bob and his wife Sue’s family, although to me they will always be Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue. Back then, we were mostly children, with only a few adults and several other people at the table. As far as I can remember, no one brought anything, except maybe desserts. There was always a huge turkey that Mom put in the oven at some ungodly hour (I vaguely remember 5am being the target time, for a 3pm dinner.) Stuffing, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, huge amounts of mashed potatoes, carrots, broccoli, a huge tossed salad, and we were usually running around eating all day! This year, as I was running around chopping, baking and generally being nuts, those gatherings were really in the front of my mind, I reminded me of my mother so much. But how Mom did it, with a full time job, 4 kids and a very active social/church life, and still does on a regular basis, with lupus and all her other demands, continually amazes me.
As usual, this year, for Christmas, we drove to New York, and had a lovely, small dinner with just Tim and I, Mom and Dad and my sister Sara, brother in law Aaron and the kids, Lily and Declan. It was luxuriously quiet and small, and I enjoyed every single moment of it! Mom made, what I consider to be a minuscule turkey, and although we had decided on my new favorite method, it was small enough to roast quickly, as thought it were a large chicken. And I have to say it was lovely and juicy and tasty!
So, here’s my big secret for cooking a large turkey to delicious, juicy perfection. Have you ever heard of spatchcocked turkey? I have no idea where that name cake from, I am still suspicious it’s some mistake, but when I tell you it’s the best, fastest and easiest turkey, I am not kidding. For the last few years, I have cooked a fresh 23 lb turkey in less than 2 hours. That isn’t a typo, it’s less than TWO HOURS! It’s a little bit of work, but you will think it’s totally worth it. You can skip the brining and put some herbed butter under the skin, and a nice alternative.
Traditionally, I brine my turkey overnight, and that’s really a huge part of the flavor and juice that this turkey runs with, I can not stress enough that the brining is really what makes the turkey. Add 1 cup of kosher salt for a 23 pound turkey to 8 cups of water, in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Here you can add in any spices or herbs you want to add flavor to the turkey. This year I added one star anise (after learning from adding three last year… big mistake) and a tablespoon each of black, white or mixed peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fresh chopped sage, 2 lemons juiced, husks thrown into the pot. Heat everything together until the salt dissolves, stirring well, bring the mixture to a boil. After boiling for 10 minutes, take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool, then add 16 additional cups of COLD water. Stir well, and let the mixture cool completely, let it set in the fridge for an hour or so, to ensure it is completely chilled. In the meantime, while the liquid is chilling, line a very large bucket (I have an orange Home Depot bucket we use each year) with a brining/baking bag or a white plastic garbage bag. Place the fridge cold turkey after rinsing it out with cold water in the the bag and pour the cold brine over it. Add additional water until the entire turkey is submerged. Let this sit overnight, in a cold place. We have a non-heated mud room that gets quite cold, but if you have space in the fridge, place the whole mess in there.
About four hours before you are ready to eat dinner, take the turkey and brine to your sink. Drain all the water from the turkey, discard the plastic and place the turkey breast side down in the sink. I warn you, here comes the hard part! With a large kitchen/chicken shears/serrated knife, cut out the backbone of the turkey, taking great care not to cut your hands on the sharp bones. Again, I will warn you, I have ruined 2 very good butchers knives. A serrated knife does make a huge difference. Once the backbone is out, you’ll see that there isn’t much to the turkey, and you can “butterfly” it. Lay it open on a level surface, and push firmly down on the breastbone until you have a completely flat turkey. In doing this, you greatly reduce dead air that has to be heated in order to fully cook the bird. This year I finally figured out that if you score the breastbone on the underside, it cracks open a treat! Lay the turkey on a rimmed baking tray, flat (see the cooked turkey photo below for the correct position. I usually salt and pepper the skin to get a nice crispy, tasty skin. Preheat the oven to 450°. Now, I mentioned before that you can skip the brining, but I strongly suggest you do it. The other thing that’s very worth noting is that the bird needs to be unfrozen, or at least completely thawed. Whatever you do, avoid a Butterball turkey. These days you can easily find turkeys that re not frozen or injected with water, salt and chemicals. I strongly urge you to find this kind of turkey.
Bringing the turkey to room temperature is OK before you put it in the oven, it reduces the cooking time. Roast the turkey at 450° for an hour and 20 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to read the temp in the deepest part of the breast or thigh. It should read 160°. If it’s higher than that, it’s OK, but take it out of the oven right away and let it rest tented with foil for up to one hour. This will give you time to cook all the rest of your sides, heat everything else up. The down side to doing this is that you can’t stuff the turkey. I do think that “in the turkey” stuffing is not really a big deal, but you can place the turkey on a rack in the roasting pan, and cook the stuffing under the turkey. In any event, one and half hours is a pretty fair time to roast a large turkey. I admit, this isn’t a ladylike setting, but it works!
Good luck trying this, and as always, let me know how it turns out. And also, thank you for reading this blog and commenting on it. I so appreciate the feedback and the discussions it cause me to have! Happy New Year everyone, please don’t make resolutions, just be kind to yourself and others around you!
Best for the new year, Elizabeth.