This Bird Floats

Jonathan Chodosh

We’ve all been there. A Thanksgiving meal where we sit down with the anticipation of a juicy piece of turkey and stuffing, only to bite into the turkey and feel...nothing. It’s dry. It has no flavor. It’s overcooked!  It is a tragedy the way these birds end up,requiring a heavy smothering in some thick sauce to make them swallowable. Instead, let me offer a few ideas that will save your holiday from the food horrors that should be left to other's tables.

There are three options to save your birds (and no, I’m not sure if there’s any hope for the Eagles this season) and none of them are mutually exclusive.

1. Brine your bird

2. Cut it up before cooking 

3. Deep Fry. 

Each of these steps does a different thing to help you keep your turkey tasty and moist. Even if your family always has leftover turkey, try these tricks and you may be wishing you got a bigger bird.

Brine

1 1/4 Cup Salt

1 cup sugar (optional)

2 gallon Water (16 cup)

½ cup pickling spice mix finely ground in a coffee grinder (or other spices of your choice)

Brine is a salt water solution. When you submerge a meat in a brine you are exposing the cells to a complicated and convoluted scenario. There is a chemistry phenomenon called osmotic pressure, where the salt concentration inside the meat cells is lower than the brine. Salt will migrate across the cell membranes into the cells. Once salt is in the cells it will then have the same effect on the water in brine causing the cells to plump with salt and water. In this recipe’s case, sugar and flavor too. In short, the brine makes the turkey absorb extra salt, and flavored water. When it comes time to cook the meat it will be plumped with extra seasoning throughout, not just on the surface. The added water will be an insurance policy against overcooking. You will be rewarded with extra juicy turkey every time. 

I pre-cut my turkey for 3 reasons: It is easier to fit in my brine, platters more beautifully and cooks faster. Cooking your poultry faster is the key to juicy meat. When you roast the bird whole some parts cook faster than others. The white meat will be done and the dark meat needs more time. With your bird in parts the whole cooking process will take less than 45 min in a 400F oven, which means no more overcooking! A thermometer will tell you when it is safe to eat (165F). 

A third way to avoid a dry turkey is to deep fry. It will take 30-45 min to fry a whole turkey. The reason this works better is that the heat transfer from oil to food is much faster than the air in the oven to food. Fried turkeys have the added benefit of being submerged in oil adding fat and flavor to the turkey. The goal isn't to be crispy but to have edible skin. A side note: the frying temperature on a turkey is lower than most things in order to keep the outermost part of the turkey from burning before the center most part of it is heated to a safe temperature. This is a dangerous project and not one that should be left to an amateur cook! It is also necessary to account for the level of oil displacement you will have once you submerge your Turkey into BOILING HOT frying oil. Please only try this if you are an experienced fry-er, with the proper equipment.

An alternative to all of this is to cook the turkey Sous Vide (see sous-vide-or-not-sous-vide, 25 September 2019). I think we will need a bigger pot to try that one.