I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my family and the occasional friend nearly every year for the last 14 years. There have been only four exceptions: two fun years when we were vacationing over the holiday and two depressing years where I decided that a restaurant might be a nice change. For the record, it was not.
In addition to the 10 Thanksgiving turkeys, I have frequently prepared a Christmas turkey. Over the years, I have honed my technique, from oven roasting to smoking on the grill. Without exception, they have all turned out beautifully. For a woman still in my early thirties I have impressive turkey credentials.
I tell you these things, not to boast, but to prove that I am no turkey rookie; I am experienced.
Which is why yesterday’s disaster is so funny.
This turkey’s story did not begin on Tuesday, but that is the day it came into my life. That is the day when it was lovingly placed into my arms by our local butcher. It was just as I had imagined when I ordered it: Ten to twelve pounds. Natural, no additives. Fresh, not frozen.
I brought the bird home and placed it on its own specially cleared shelf in my refrigerator. Then I got busy preparing a brine. I use a concoction of my own invention (salt, apple-cider, whole allspice, whole peppercorns) placed in a cooler lined with a large browning bag. After immersing the bird in its lovely bath, I tied the bag closed and filled the cooler with ice. Before closing the lid, I taped a thermometer to the interior cooler wall, thus enabling me to monitor the temperature and keep the nasties at bay. No one is getting salmonella on my watch. That’s a promise.
The next day and a half were quiet for the turkey, but busy for me. My lovely assistant, nine year old Newt, and I busily prepped all of the recipes in my repertoire and created a lovely edible centerpiece – more on that to come. Meanwhile, my other lovely assistant – my husband, cleaned and prepared the grill.
Finally the big day came. I lifted the turkey from the brine and gently patted it dry. Tenderly, I massaged a mixture of melted butter and olive oil into its skin. Parsley, fresh from my garden and a specially prepared poultry spice rub were then liberally applied. It was ready for the grill.
I decided on three hours of smoking with an occasional spritz of apple cider to caramelize the skin. Then I turned up the heat and watched for the meat thermometer to reach exactly 178°. I pulled it out, knowing that the temperature would climb to a safe 180° while the turkey rested.
After resting for 15 minutes, the bird was transferred to its place of glory. Our family gathered around and gave thanks. A hush fell over the room and my husband took up his carving knife.
Reverently, he made the first cut for our daughter – white meat, please. Only…it wasn’t exactly white. It was a sort of translucent pink color. And a bit…jiggly.
The whole family stared first at that bit of meat and then at each other.
The turkey is still raw.
Everything else is ready. We’re starving. And the turkey is raw.
This has never happened before.
I shouldn’t be happening now. The thermometer said 178°!
What do we do?
I was the first to recover my senses and I instructed my husband to slice off a few small portions. Those would go in the microwave for a few minutes to finish the cooking process. The rest of the turkey was returned to the grill.
We began our meal as I kept an ear out for the microwave ding. Once the turkey was deemed to be fit for human consumption, I passed the plate around. There was enough for each of us to have one small slice, but there were so many side dishes that a small slice really was plenty. And even with the microwaving, the turkey was juicy and flavorful.
We quickly forgot about the meal’s rocky start and settled in to enjoy ourselves. Newt had the idea that we go around the table and each person share something he or she is grateful for starting with the letters of the alphabet.
She started with A – apples.
I was next. B – books
And so on…
My husband got T. He did not say turkey. We had forgotten all about it.
I wasn’t until two hours later when I was contemplating all of these…
…that I remembered. I asked my husband, “Honey, where’s the turkey?”
And that is the story of how I managed to both under-cook and utterly burn the turkey. In the same year.