Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Turkey

Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Turkey

Article excerpt

With the holidays approaching, foodies are grumbling again about turkey.

The domesticated bird is overweight, too fat to fly; in cooking, turkeys easily dry out; their meat, especially the breast, is tasteless. Why bother? So I thought many years ago, when I served instead at Christmas a suckling pig, beautifully stretched out on the platter, paws forward, an apple in its mouth, skin goldenglazed, flesh succulent. My spouse accused me of culinary sadism, my son was driven to years of vegetarianism. The cooked bird is certainly inoffensive by contrast and -- who knows? -- perhaps therefore theologically more acceptable.

Still, there are steps you can take to make turkey more interesting without tarting it up with fancy sauces or stuffing; all it takes is time.

Don't be misled at the butcher into thinking that the bird splayed out on the marble slab is 'fresh'; most of these turkeys are in fact simply unfrozen, and you might as well buy the bird in the same state the butcher bought it.

Defrosting the monster block of flesh takes about five hours a pound; this means a 20lb bird should spend about four days in the fridge. (As with all birds, leaving a turkey to unfreeze at room temperature will invite colonies of unwanted bacteria to form. ) Were you to cook two small turkeys rather than one monster the unthawing process would, obviously, speed up; small birds are easier to cook properly; they are easier to carve. But tradition demands the monster, father hacking with knife and tongs pound after pound of white flesh . . . perhaps it is a more savage moment of the year than theology would suggest.

Defrosted, your turkey is ready to be brined, to ensure it will stay moist while cooking. Brining -- basically just a matter of soaking the bird in salted water -- was the traditional way of preserving meats on ocean voyages or in the field during military campaigns. Modern brining uses much less salt, and only kosher or other non-iodised salt. Salt ions stimulate meat fibres to open up and absorb water; the protein structure of the meat thereby changes, so that the water is retained in the flesh. This chemical magic translates into really tender meat.

Into a large tub (a five-gallon bucket is perfect) put a cup of salt for each gallon;

immerse the turkey, weighting it down in the water, cover the tub, and let sit for a day. …

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