The turkey, this bird has long been a frustration for many home cooks. Too dry. Too gamey. The dark meat is undercooked. The white meat is over cooked. The skin is leathery. The skin is too fatty. The stuffing didn’t cook. How do you carve it at the table. What do you do with the leftovers. How much turkey do you need? How much person? Will my turkey fit in the oven? How long do I roast it? Do I brine it? How long to thaw it? Where do I buy it?
It’s no wonder we stress about the feast as the main event can be such a problem. Cooking is something that has run in my family and brings me fond memories. I can picture my grandmother cooking, my mother cooking and now all the times I cook.
Although I can clearly recall each of us making turkey I honestly don’t remember a great turkey. Is there such a thing? When I sit to a great meal I think about every other type of meat but turkey. This large oversized fowl that we have bread to be disproportionate from it’s wild counterparts has a sketchy past and a lot of stories to support why it has made its way onto all of our tables. Was it the tale of the first thanksgiving? Most likely not. From most accounts they did not have turkey at that meal. Was it holiday classics such as Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol” where Scrooge offers the Cratchit’s a gift of a “Christmas Turkey” that created an ideal image of holiday feasts? Was it Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want”that created this Americana image of what the meal should look and feel like? Whatever lead us to this point American’s eat about 46 million turkeys every Thanksgiving, but has anyone mastered it yet?
My first turkey and several after that were from a recipe in Bon Appetite in 2000. The turkey was roasted whole covered in foil and then in the last 30 minutes of roasting you uncover and baste with a maple syrup glaze. This was a crowd pleaser but it didn’t address any of the major issues and although it might have looked good going to the table carving it at the table and serving it there is hugely problematic.
Then last year I came across a turkey roulade that had a artichoke heart and sausage stuffing that was good but I felt it was still lacking.
This year I decided I would do the same technique but change the stuffing to a chestnut and celeriac stuffing. When I boned the turkey it seemed not as held together as I remember last years bird. When I did my roulades it felt like the meat was just falling apart and not really rolling. Then when I went to bake it the indies cooked faster than the outside. The exterior seemed to get leathery and the stuffing stayed mushy almost like it didn’t bake. Then when I sliced it that rolls just fell apart making a heap of a mess and nothing as attractive as I was wanting from the effort.
So after 16 years of cooking turkeys I don’t feel like I am any closer to masting this cooking challenge. Every time I get a few more ideas and try something a little different. I am sure that next year I will make another go of it and hopefully each year get a little closer to figuring out this illusive cooking challenge.