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Turkey the Hound Way

Poultry is a topic of conversation everywhere these days.   It even came up at the conversation with Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman I attended last week.

While I do not eat meat, I have experience assisting Alex in preparing hundreds of whole birds.  Here are our keys to a great turkey:

1) Buy a Quality Bird. Free ranged birds are arguably tastier and healthier.  Buying from local producers also keeps money in the local economy and reduces transportation resource waste.  We have always been satisfied with birds from Bowman Landes farm in Springfield Ohio that are sold locally at Weiland's, The Hill's and the North Market.

2) Brine it. Store your fresh bird in a brine for twenty four hours.  Our basic brine is straight out of Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn's book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing: 1 gallon water + one cup kosher salt + 1/2 cup sugar, boiled to dissolve then cooled.  A brine evenly salts the meat and helps it retain moisture.  Aromatics can be added to enhance the flavor.  We usually add peppercorns, juniper berries and tarragon for the Thanksgiving bird brine.

3) Temper it. Michael Ruhlman said forcefully at the Thomas Keller conversation, "Don't cook a cold bird!"  Allow the turkey to come near to room temperature before putting it in the oven.  A partially frozen or very chilled bird will crisp and burn on the outside when the inside is still under temperature.  No one wants partially raw/partially singed turkey.

4) Stuff it.  Stuffing turkeys is a great debate.  Many food service websites advise against it for worries about food poisoning.  However, if you buy quality ingredients (see #1), most cooks agree stuffing is a delightful thing.  If you choose to cook dressing separately, try inserting a few cut onions, garlic, herbs, and lemons in the turkey cavity.  Both drippings and meat will pick up the flavor.

5) Cook It....But Not Forever.  Start your bird in a hot oven to crisp the skin a bit.  Lower the temperature and cook just until it reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Let the bird rest out of the oven for 20 minutes for juices to distribute.

not my picture - but this year I WILL take one!

6) Transfer Carefully.  The only turkey disaster we have experienced was the year we hosted at our tiny house.  Sixteen people were there and everyone was watching when Alex and my youngest sister moved the bird from the stove to a counter for cutting.  One of them slipped and drippings poured all over the floor!  We cleaned up the mess, the meat was fine, and now we have a good story to retell.

7) Let Nothing Go to Waste.  Provided you don't spill them, use the drippings to make gravy.  Leftovers can become sandwich fillings, salad toppings, or stew fixings.  If you have an over-abundance, chop the meat and freeze in packed containers (or vacuum sealed bags) for soups in winter.  Make stock from the carcass and freeze that.

Happy Turkey Cooking!