Cooked by TFW: The Turkey Saga

[Cue Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme Song]

Nooooooooooooow this is a story

All about how

I hate cooking turkeys… the end… I don’t need to rhyme… 

Y’all… This week has been a culinary nightmare. Spoiler Alert: what I made was absolutely delicious, because I don’t fail at food… But there is absolutely no way you can tell me the taste is worth the effort that went into making this bird… Zero.

“Respect and appreciation for those who’ve come before us.” That's what Coach Mike – the husband of the owner of the gym (Shout out Coach LA, and F*** the Patriarchy [Actually, LA, I don’t think we’ve discussed profanity in the blog… If ever there was a week where I’d do it, it’d be this one… I cursed A LOT while cooking]) – always says after our fights. Well, much respect to every person who has ever cooked a turkey before.

This week isn’t so much a recipe as it is a retelling of the worst cooking experience of my life. It all started a few weeks ago. Coach LA told me she had won a free turkey… or something… November was already a blur to me, y’all, and this thing has drained my will to ever step into a kitchen again. (This week’s drinking game is… hyperbole and whining. I hope you didn’t have anything to do today, cuz I’ma get you DRUUUUUUNK!!!!*) Anyway, Coach LA got a frozen turkey and had this whacky idea to have me document my experience cooking it… because apparently she hates me. (drink.) I have never cooked a turkey before, but I’ve also never said no to a bad idea (please see: my dating history and career choices).

She gives me the bird on Monday November 20th. I did my research and learned that it takes about 4-5 days for a frozen turkey to thaw in the fridge. For those who are actually going to attempt to cook one in the future: you can also do a quick thaw by submerging it in cold water… I think 30 minutes for every pound… and you have to constantly change out the cold water. Point is: Give yourself time to just thaw it in the fridge. I put it on a rimmed baking tray, just in case any liquid dripped out the bag; and then I got to google-ating how to cook a turkey. Did I mention there was a lot of profanity? Well… There was. So sit down and strap in… Lemme tell you kids a story…

Preparing the Bird

FIRST OF ALL!!!!! Did you know once you’ve waited five days to thaw this thing out, you then have to brine it for another day? Technically a minimum 6 hours, but every brining technique I read about suggested 12-18 hours. What is brining? OH LET ME TELL YOU!

Brining is soaking the turkey in super salty water… It tenderizes the meat, adds flavor, allegedly reduces cooking time, and most importantly… ruins my weekend. I had planned to cook the turkey this past Sunday only to realize NOPE! Gotta brine it first… There are two ways to brine a turkey. The method I originally had planned on doing is a dry brining… Basically you just massage a metric ton of salt all over the turkey. It seemed simple enough. I’m good with my hands. I buy my salt in bulk… from Costco, of course… 

But then, I spent part of my Thursday holiday with my friend/mentor/boss and her family. Her husband peeped me to not just the traditional wet brining game, but he also introduced me to giant oven bags. He apparently put a bunch of “fall time herbs and spices” and sliced apples in his wet brine. He swore by it and to brining in an oven bag. He told me the key to a good wet brine is 1 full dang cup – WHAT?! – of salt and a gallon of water. The rest is all just choose your own destiny. So I said “sure” and on a whim changed up my whole brine gameplan last minute.

Y’all… With a wet brine, you don’t just toss some salt in bag full of water, add your local grocer’s entire spice rack, and then soak your turkey in it. NOAP! That 1 cup salt and 1 gallon water… You gotta boil it… AND you add a half cup of sugar. You see, you boil the water so that the salt and sugar fully dissolve. Fine… that makes sense. Usually this food science stuff is my jam… and my jelly… but cooking a turkey is just so much dang work. (drink.) I tossed in whatever I had available into my brine: a messload of different seasonings, a couple crushed cloves of garlic, an apple…  I stirred it up like I was Bob Marley and the Wailers (that’s a dope reference) until the salt and sugar dissolved and I thought I was ready to go.

NOAP!

You gotta let your brine cool to room temperature. Luckily, I learned this time-saving trick: Remove your brine from heat and dump like 6-8 cups of ice into it. Stir til ice melts. BOOM!

But then, I was confronted with probably my biggest fear when it came with cooking this bird: removing the innards. Actually… it was my second biggest fear; we’ll get to my first later. In all honesty, the guts and stuff weren’t all that bad. Some of the giblets were in a bag. The neck and gizzard were sorta just in there. I cut away some of the neck skin and found… some weird knob thing… Real talk, y’all… raw bird grosses me out. Chicken, Turkey, Duck… It doesn’t matter. I’m super freaked out about E. coli and salmonella. The turkey skin was loose and just… yuck. Give me a boneless, skinless chicken breast or like a nice cut of beef, and I’m happy… give me a whole bird (or a fish… You’ll never see me mess with a whole fish) and I’m… bruh… I’m shook just writing about it…

IMG_0618.jpg

Anyway… I got the bird ready. It took me about 25 minutes to figure out how to get the plastic thingy that holds the legs together off… I left the weird neck meat knob in. I got the oven bag into my stock pot, plopped the turkey in, head first, and filled it with my room temperature brine. I topped it all off with a little more water so the bird was fully submerged, and put it back in the fridge for the night…

Acutally, before I put it in the fridge, I had to be “that guy” and lifted the filled bag all the way out the pot. When I did this, I stupidly snagged the bag on the bolt for the pot’s handle and it sprung a leak… I’m such an idiot, y’all… Luckily, I dropped the bag back in before it fully tore, and the pot was compact enough that it kept all the water in the bag overnight. Now for the fun part.

Cooking the Bird

So, confession: I haven’t been sleeping well lately. It’s really messing with my day job activities, my gym participation, my life in general. It’s probably why I’m such a Grumpy Gus about cooking this turkey… I got the brine and bird ready LATE Monday night (like… 11:30pm). I didn’t cook the bird until around 8pm Tuesday night… because, of course I didn’t… It wouldn’t be a Cooked By TFW if I wasn’t cooking Tuesday night. Planned to cook it Sunday afternoon… here we are Tuesday night. Now, I took a picture of how you would normally cook a turkey: in a roasting pan, using a roasting rack… That way, the bird wouldn’t sit in its own drippings and air could circulate around the whole thing, or something… I dunno… I duncare… 

CUZ WE’RE USING OVEN BAGS!

Another confession: I was LIVID getting this bird ready. The oven bag instructions on the box said to add your ingredients and then seal the bag shut using the provided nylon tie… Well, I didn’t see any ties. I didn’t know if it fell out and a dog ate it, or I just happened to get the one box of oven bags that didn’t have ties. I was bigly heated for probably a solid 45 minutes. I was getting my butter mix ready, cursing the whole time. I tossed the teaspoon of flour into bag and shook it all around, as instructed – it helps keep the turkey from sticking to the bag – and I’m just dropping F-bombs about these missing ties. I was fuming so bad about some dang ties, I cancelled my trip to the grocery store to grab some aromatics for the bird – a lemon and onion, maybe some celery stalks, to toss in the cavity – and decided to just crush a whole bulb of garlic instead. “[bleeping] celery doesn’t even [bleeping] taste like anything… and [bleeping] lemons are overrated. It’s my bird! I’ll just put a [bleep]load of garlic in it! Garlic has NEVER let me down!”

And that’s when I found the provided ties… inside the paper instructions… inside the box… WHOOPS! Crisis averted. Anyway… fun fact: after you’ve soaked this turkey in your brine mixture, you have to THOROUGLY rinse it off in cold water. More profanity. “What’s the [bleeping] point of marinating the [gosh darn] thing overnight if you’re just gonna wash off all the mother [bleeping] seasoning?!” You’d think I would’ve known all this going into the process. I had 6 days to learn how to cook the bird. Like I said… I haven’t been sleeping well. I sorta was learning and cooking on the fly.

I rinse the bird. I thoroughly pat it dry with a bunch of paper towels, inside and out. While patting it dry, I noticed that it still had some feather. Naturally, I took a picture of that.

IMG_0643.jpg

After patting it dry, I rubbed the whole thing down with a stick of butter, melted and slightly congealed with a mix of herbs and spices (oh… so I rinse it and then add more spices?! Blarg!) I tossed the bird in the bag with some garlic in and around it. Then I sealed the bag up with the provided, recently found nylon tie. Into a roasting pan sans roasting rack and got it in the oven, cooking at 350º.

IMG_0646.jpg

About 2 hours later, the bird is ready! For those at home trying to follow this winding story and possibly learn how to cook a turkey from it: The bird is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165º. You take it out of the oven at 160º and let it rest a good 20-30 minutes before carving. During that time, it will still cook and get up to that 165º desired temperature. Another way to tell the turkey is ready: It has a little meat thermometer in it and that pops out… but that’s the cheater's way out.

IMG_0661.jpg

New issues: 1) How the hell do I get it out of the bag and on to a cooling rack? (I figured it out) 2) I really wasn’t looking forward to carving it up… Have I mentioned that whole birds freak me out? The aforementioned, lesser “Biggest Fear” was messing with the raw bird. The major “Biggest Fear” was dealing with the bones during carving. I don’t like bones in my birds… It’s the reason I don’t eat chicken wings. Plus you can’t feed them to your dog because they splinter easily. Poor Rosco! So, I’m terrified of bird bones, y’all… The idea of cutting up this turkey and having to snap tendons and pull legs and wings off the body… ugh… gross.

IMG_0662.jpg

But I did what I had to do… FOR YOU PEOPLE! Solved first problem by cutting open the oven bag, shoving a wooden spoon inside the cavity and lifted the bird out and on to a rack over a clean baking sheet. More on the carving in a second… 

Making Gravy

There was a bunch of drippings left in the oven bag and roasting pan. Like a smarty, I poured the drippings through a strainer into a medium saucepan over high heat. I brought it to a boil and then turned the heat down to a simmer. Now, I’ve never made gravy, but I’m a pretty smart guy. I know you add some flour and it thickens up and life is set. Well, because of the brining, the drippings are SALTY! How salty? The drippings are so salty, you’d think they went to the University of South Florida and just watched the Bulls lose on a kickoff returned 95 yards for a touchdown with 1:28 left in the 4th quarter! How did we make it nearly 2100 words and this is the first mention of UCF beating USF 49-42?! This turkey has my priorities all messed up, gang.

 

Back to the gravy. I’m smart; the drippings are salty. I added about a cup of water to the simmering drippings to dilute it a little. Again, I’m smart: you don’t just drop flour into your drippings. That’s how you get clumpy gravy. Instead, I put about 1/3 cup of flour into a separate bowl and ladled some of the drippings into that bowl and mixed it into a smooth paste. Then, I gradually added the paste to the saucepan, stirring regularly. Boom. Gravy, y’all!

 

Carving the Bird

This is my nightmare… I punch. I get punched. I’ve fought on broken toes. Richard kicked me in the face once and blood poured out my nose. I’m a tough dude… Cutting up a roasted turkey and dealing with its bones nearly took me out… of life itself.

The trick is separating the leg from the breast. Cut the skin along the line. From there, you’ll be able to pop the hip joint out. After you’ve gotten the legs out the way, you find the breast bone in the center of the bird and just cut along either side. Then you just cut horizontally down near the wing and boom, you’ve cut off the breast. I took a couple pics of my carving technique to help guide you goons through the art of cutting up the bird.

 

From there, you want to pop the wings off. Find where the shoulder meets the breast, and just pop that joint out with your hands. You should be able to cut the wings off after that. When you are cutting up the turkey breast, cut across the grain… it allows everyone to get some crispy skin. Naturally, I was so grossed out about detaching the thigh from the drumstick, I forgot to take pics of that, but it’s pretty easy. Cut along the knee line to expose the joint, use your hand to pop the knee out and then cut to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Then just cut the meat from the thigh bone… so gross… Use the same method to cut the wings.

Once you have all the meat off the carcass – can we agree that’s a disgusting phrase? I think I went vegan writing this post – save the bones. You can boil them and make a turkey stock for soup. Maybe that’s what I’ll do next… who knows… 

And there you have it… I suffered through making a turkey just to say I did it. The gravy is delicious. The bird was tender and moist. The citizens of Whoville were thrilled… I promise you, this is the last time I ever put myself through the hassle of cooking one of these things… It was delicious, but eff that. Thanks for listening to me whine about how awesome I am… I’ll have a more traditional Cooked By TFW recipe for y’all next week. Hope you enjoyed your meal times with friends and family… ALSO, DID YOU SEE UCF BEAT USF?! And – as always – even tho I really didn’t teach you how to make anything this week, you can still thank me in the morning… when you wake up from the massive hangover you got from playing this week’s drinking game.

*So long as you are of legal drinking age. 

LA Jennings