What can I say? It’s better late than never.
When Bert the Turkey came to our house he got some high quality spa treatment.
First on the morning of Christmas Eve, in preparation for spatchcocking, I armed myself with kitchen shears, a cleaver, and a mallet. The instructional videos out there for taking the spine out of a bird do tend to issue a warning along the lines of, “you might need to exert some extra force to get through the bones.” I am here to tell you, sharpness of your kitchen shears be damned, it’s a lot of extra force to cut through the pelvic bones of a turkey. The Serious Eats tutorial I watched made it look pretty easy. Any flies on the wall watching my valiant efforts would have probably found the struggle pretty laughable. I will admit that my arms are pretty spindly, but it was also just a difficult thing to do. Luckily, Mr was at work and I was unaccompanied, so no one needed to watch the farce of me battling the 22 pound turkey.
Once this step of prep was finished, I put together a nice relaxing briny bath for Bert, in which he languished for about 24 hours, until Christmas morning. There’s nothing like a good soak.
Brining, while it does require some forethought, does wonders for a bird and requires so little extra effort. First off, it introduces a lot of flavor, not just by salt but by any other seasonings you include in the brine. The salinity of a brine is also beneficial in two more ways: it has a tenderising effect because it breaks down tough muscle filaments, but it also improves the capacity of the muscle cells to hold water. This helps the meat stay moist. I’m certain almost anyone who’s consumed turkey has heard the associated banter for it’s proclivity to be dry, and the brine is a good safeguard against that inclination.
Holiday Spiced Brine (For a Turkey)
Per 4 litres of cold water, use:
3/4 Cup kosher salt
2/3 Cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp caraway seed
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
1 finger length stick of cinnamon
2 springs of rosemary
- Stir the kosher salt and brown sugar together in the water until dissolved.
- Add in the rest of the spices, giving the rosemary a bit of a rub through your hands to bruise it (the flavour will seep out of it more easily through burst cell walls).
- Ensure that your turkey, or other fowl of choice, has had any unwanted remaining innards removed and that the cavity has been given a rinse before immersing it in the brine.
- Allow to soak for 24 hours.
Bert the turkey was a big guy, and so, even pulling out the most gargantuan bowl in my kitchen, he wasn’t going to be able to be submerged. Innovation was required here (though the reading I have done since brings up the suggestion of a cooler being a suitably sized brining vessel), so Bert went into a brand new garbage bag. Please do not try this at home if you use scented garbage bags.
After pouring the brine over top, I squeezed the air out of the bag and tied a knot. This way, Bert the Turkey was completely surrounded by his relaxing brine bath. Being a perpetual worry wart, I added a second garbage bag, to try and catch any leaks that may have sprung up in the brining process.
Living in a climate that hovering at just the right temperature this holiday season, Bert went out to our sun room, which had become a giant walk in fridge thanks to the weather. That was a god send for me throwing Christmas dinner, we had more cold storage than we could have asked for. Bert spent the rest of Christmas Eve chilling out next to a yellow bowl full of lemon curd.
Fast forward to Christmas morning, after a breakfast of Dutch babies, maple breakfast sausages, raspberries, pears, and fancy bacon that my mum brought along, Bert got to come back inside. After removing the turkey from the brine, give it a rinse with some cool water to wash away any stuck on peppercorns, mustard seeds or caraway seeds. Mr helped me with scoring the keel bone from the inside of the cavity (see Serious Eats link above if this seems unclear), and the forceful compression that set Mr Bert the Turkey laying flat.
It’s a good idea to use a clean tea towel, or even some paper towel to pat the turkey skin dry of remaining moisture after rinsing away the brine. Dry skin is essential for it to crisp up delicious and golden during roasting. Here is a good time to let the turkey come up to room temperature in preparation for roasting, Christmas breakfast is over, but it isn’t quite time to get running on Christmas dinner yet (hopefully, if you have approached planning this dinner with some organization).
Spatchcocking is a beneficial way of preparing a turkey for roasting because you can cook it more evenly and in less time than roasting the bird unaltered. When cooking a turkey traditionally, there is a balancing act that often fails, you want the dark meat to have enough time to cook through, but you don’t want to dry out the breast meat. And the traditional method stacks the odds against you because the breast meat is the most exposed to heat, while the dark meat which ideally needs to be taken to a higher temperature is less exposed. By flattening out the bird, the breast meat is sheilded by the legs of the turkey, and the dark meat is brought up and is more exposed to the heat of the oven. The light meat and the dark meat are more likely to reach their ideal temperatures at the same time. By flattening out the turkey, the ratio of surface area to volume is maximised, heat can penetrate more easily and evenly and the cook also gets the opportunity to crank up the heat and save some time. Serious Eats and Bon Appetit both suggested that you could roast a turkey at up to 450º F and in half the time as roasting a turkey the traditional way. This isn’t the method I ended up going with, but that’s a topic for the next paragraph. Also, it doesn’t hurt that with all of the turkey skin exposed at the top, the amount of crispy skin you come away with is maximised. Crispy turkey skin is a fantastic treat.
While cooking a turkey extra quickly by doing it at a higher temperature sounds really exciting, when I was throwing Christmas dinner I had a counter full of items that also needed to spend time in the oven, and a 450º F oven isn’t an oven that is prime for cooking that many other components of dinner. Bert the Turkey went into a 400º F oven for 30 minutes, to get a jump start on browning and fat rendering, after which the oven was turned down to a more welcoming 350º so that I could cook other dishes too. Once the breast meat read 150º F and the thigh meat read 165º F, the turkey was done roasting.
All this talk makes it seem as though getting Bert the Turkey from cutting board to table was a whack ton of work, but really, that isn’t true. Yes, cutting the spine out of a sizeable turkey was a bit of an effort, I will admit to that. Making a brine though, is a matter of stirring and pouring, and brining the turkey is about as difficult as steeping tea. You just let it sit in the liquid until the right amount of time has elapsed. And roasting isn’t really that work intensive of a thing to do either, spatchcocked turkey or traditionally done. You put it in the oven and peek in on it periodically to check to see how it is progressing. The minimal extra effort to spatchcock and brine the turkey you intend to serve will really elevate it though. I can’t suggest it highly enough. Bert the Turkey was the first turkey I’ve ever cooked, and he was reviewed as pretty divine all the way around the table!
Bert the bird did not burn, nor was he raw in the middle. He was practically perfect in every way.
Mr says: It was the best turkey he has ever had. “It was super ridiculously moist. Where a turkey can be dry, this was moist like a roast chicken can be moist. It was very flavourful, and even with my inept carving it was a 10/10.”