Like I’ve told you, Thanksgiving is my Super Bowl. And this year it was nearly a tragedy…
This is a “Rachel talks about food” post and not a recipe post. I’m not including the recipe here because it’s the exact same method I used for the chickens. Same recipe, same deliciousness. This is a long post with a lot of WORDS, I know. Settle in with some popcorn, it’s gonna be a wild ride.
In third grade we had a karaoke contest at school. Due to the incredible cringe factor of this event I remember it vividly. Growing up, my mother had us listening to Nirvana and Biggie, none of this “The Wiggles on Ice” bullshit. My sister and I started our lives with a rather eclectic taste in music but up until that fateful day in third grade I had no idea this wasn’t what everyone listened to. I got up there and sang my little heart out to “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. Guess how many other third graders listened to ABBA? Given their confused stares I deduced that the answer was zero. While others were belting their Brittney and Backstreet Boys, I sang a friggin’ disco song. I was a weird kid.
Looking back on it, ABBA fucking rocks and I have zero regrets. I still love that song and appreciate my mom for raising us to love music from all generations. Anything with a good beat that we could dance to on the coffee table when my dad wasn’t home. That’s right, my love for dancing on elevated surfaces was ingrained in me from a young age by my mom. Rock on.
At this point youre probably thinking, “Why are you regaling us with tales of your painfully awkward childhood, I thought this post was about Thanksgiving.” Well, hold your horses. Turns out Dancing Queen is the PERFECT thanksgiving song. I woke up singing something that goes a little like this (to the tune of Dancing Queen, shoutout to you, ABBA):
OHH SO BUTTERY”
YOU’RE GONNA BE
SO DAMN TASTY OOOOH YEAAAAAAH!!!”
If you’re one of my younger followers, go look that song up on YouTube and tell me that isn’t too damn catchy. I sang it all day in spite of the the confused stares from my family. I think I embarrass them a little. I cannot be convinced, however, that singing to your food while you cook it doesn’t make it better. If you’re not having fun, your dinner knows. I promise.
I really almost completely boned this Thanksgiving and had a conniption. This is only the second year I have been allowed to take over the turkey reigns and I was very excited to add a spatchcocked turkey to my repertoire. As I mentioned in my post Butter, I hardly even know her!, spatchcocking is my new go-to technique for bitchin’ birds because it gets rid of that weird, flabby, not-beautifully-brown skin underneath and makes the whole shebang cook up much more evenly. We are better than dried out white meat!
The other blessing of spatchcocked birds is the VAST improvement in cooking times. Unfortunately for my turkey, Tom XVIII, this increase in speed was almost my downfall.
I’m sitting there in the kitchen, staring down a TWENTY MF POUND FOWL and wondering how the hell my tiny arms, more akin to overcooked spaghetti than human limbs, are going to provide enough force to hack the backbone out of this sucker. Spoiler alert, they couldn’t. My mom helped. I’m not proud. I really need to start hitting the gym and lifting something other than food to my gullet.
The unfair thing about my family is that half of us (like my sister) have obscenely strong upper limbs while the other half (me) look more like an earthworm with toothpick arms. Life really ain’t fair. My half of the family genes does get nice butts though while the other half is stuck with tragic cases of plywood-ass so HA.
Anyways, after my obscenely difficult struggle with this thing I finally had the backbone out and the legs splayed. SUCCESS. There was kind of a weird thing where the backbone didn’t crack completely (even though I gave it my best BeeGees CPR) and it ended up doing kind of a wonky angle (you’ll see in the pictures). Sure, I could have probably figured out a way to fix it, but I liked the bad-ass shoulder lean. Tom XVIII had attitude. He was serving you LOOKS. I dry brined him in a mixture of salt and baking powder for maximum crispyness and settled him into his little bed in the fridge with a pat on the head and a “Sweet dreams, see you in the morning, mama loves you.”
I hopped out of bed at 8 AM with more vigor than a little kid Christmas morning. I preheated the oven, I pulled my sweet Tom from his chilly slumber, and I shoved a shitload of compound butter under the skin. With one final profession of my undying love and devotion to turkey day, Tom XVIII was posted up in the oven and ready to get his tan on.
Here he is, ready to go in the oven.
Here is where things got hairy. When I did the chickens, it took about an hour to get them done to perfection. This turkey was FOUR TIMES their size. Normal turkey cooking times are up to four hours for a bird this big (depending on temperature) so I assumed checking it at 2 hours wouldn’t nearly cut it. I didn’t want to open the oven too often and slow down the process by letting out all that good heat (this was not the best oven I’ve ever used and was, inexplicably, tilted at about a 25 degree angle so that everything you cooked tilted backwards. Crooked-ass stuffing, anyone?
I pulled my good friend Tom out at 2 hours and he looked GORGEOUS. Browned, juicy, with an obscenely beautiful crust in the bottom of the pan that was just begging for gravy. I excitedly stuck my ThermaPen in, expecting to be just about right, and it registered 200 DEGREES. I had a panic attack. For reference, a turkey should be done and perfect at 165. At 200 it should be a burnt and have the texture of a pile of napkins. I thought I had flat out murdered my beautiful Tom XVIII. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?! HE DID NOT GIVE HIS LIFE TO BE DRY AND NASTY!” I screamed internally. I was in a cold sweat, racking my brains and preparing to go out and hunt a new one myself. I was NOT about to ruin the star of Thanksgiving.
The more I looked at my sweet Tom, the more it seemed like he couldn’t be that overdone. It wasn’t time to carve and I wanted to make sure he rested well because he was very sleepy and we couldn’t afford to lose any more of that precious juice if he was, god forbid, overdone. The more I looked at him, the more my heart rate slowed down and the less “Where to find a wild turkey in Savannah” searches I frantically typed into my phone. The meat on the breast sprang back when I poked it, it was firm but not hard, it didn’t feel dry. When I gently wiggled the legs they moved freely but with just the right amount of resistance. I was cautiously regaining my optimism. I moved my darling Tom to a cutting board to rest and crossed my fingers.
Here is a picture of me with my pride and joy:
I took more pictures of this thing than my mom took of me graduating.
I looked at that sizzling hot pan full of browned bits and the fortified stock I had made earlier that day and thought to myself “Well THAT will save me some cleaning time.” And deglazed like my life depended on it. When I poured that stock back into its container… y’all I don’t even know if I have the words to describe it, it was the most beautiful stock I’d ever seen. It was DARK brown, almost black, and had a depth of flavor I had never attained before. It wasn’t even salted yet and I swear I could taste the spirit of turkeys past and present. I think I blacked out a little. On my headstone I would like “HERE LIES A TURKEY QUEEN WHO NEVER WASTED FOND.”
When it came time to finally carve, I held my breath. I took the first bite of white meat and… IT WAS TOTALLY FINE. As I exhaled all of my anxiety I tasted a bite of dark meat and it was DELICIOUS. Tom XVIII was not a total failure after all. The upper part of the breast was the tiniest bit over, but the vast majority of the bird was moist and delicious. Tom got many compliments at dinner and not one mention of dryness.
There are two things I learned from this experience, wait.. make that three.
1) CHECK YOUR FUCKING TURKEY EARLIER RACHEL. This was the big one. Never again will I risk my pride and joy drying out like Nickleback’s popularity.
2) Technology isn’t always king. I love the ease and convenience of modern amenitites like the ThermaPen but that doesn’t mean doing away with the old tried-and-true methods. A poke here, a leg wiggle there, those methods that your mom or grandma showed you from back in the day are not obsolete. The ThermaPen I used happened to be on its last legs and not reading well.
3) DEGLAZE YOUR TURKEY PAN (after removing the fat, of course). I could talk about the beauty of that deep brown stock all day long. I know a lot of old school gravy methods cook the gravy in the turkey pan, but I find that with electric burners (especially weird-ass tilted ones like what I had to use) make this way too uneven and you are more likely to burn your fond than get it right. Deglazing with the stock and then reserving it to make gravy later got all that flavor with way less hassle. It was actually the best gravy I think I’ve ever made. And all that turkey fat? You bet I saved it. Something is getting confit-ed.
All in all, it was a beautiful Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s not about buying shit or outdoing your neighbor’s decorations. It’s about taking time to appreciate the beautiful things in your life while growing a massive food baby. It’s my love for my sweet cousins, one of whom, when asked about his Thanksgiving meal, loudly proclaimed “IT WAS SOOO GOOD. I ATE CRANBERRY SAUCE, ROLLS, AND THREE BEANS.” That boy ate cranberry sauce straight out of a bowl and took full advantage of no one forcing him to eat vegetables. Thanksgiving is about scheming in the kitchen with my mom and sister, taking turns running out on the back porch to cool off and bitching about kitchen hot flashes. Thanksgiving is about sitting at that long table, realizing I was surrounded by people I love with all my heart and eating fabulous food. That’s all I could ever really wish for. I am so thankful to be a part of my wonderful family, and I am especially thankful we are a family of great cooks.