I cooked my first turkey this Thanksgiving, after a 16 hour stint in a brine bath based on the Bon Appetit recipe here (I omitted the mushrooms, replaced the scallions with leeks, doubled the star anise, added some cider vinegar and increased the brown sugar a little).
It was, to my surprise, ridiculously delicious and not a bad looker either. I definitely recommend cooking the bird "upside-down" ie: breast-side-down, for the first hour (and contrary to the Bon Appétit recipe, I had the oven at 475 for the first hour as well). Luckily my neighbors are quite far away and presumably are sleeping at 4:30 am, as I woke up with vivid visions of a bear on the porch opening the cooler (giant bird's home for the night before Thanksgiving) and stealing the 17-pounder. I lept up from bed and ran outside, not bothering to stop for clothing nor weapons to fight off aforementioned visualized bear. Alas, I found the beast pleasantly soaking up its delectable liquid... And then began the wrastling in order to achieve this:
There was some pretty involved maneuvering going on (luckily not at 4:30 am with a bear) between removal from brine and time to put this beast in the oven. My woodsman had gone off to plow the 10 inches of snow blanketing the driveway and I was left alone with a major job ahead of me. Unfortunately I needed both of my hands and couldn't adequately document the "procedure"... it was convenient that the cooler had wheels (why we have a cooler with wheels I don't know... or don't remember... could have had something to do with this mission...
(the first and last Walmart journey that ever needs to occur... in preparation for the memorable White Trash New Years Extravaganza of 2010)
So I took the bird out of its sweet rolling cooler bath and spent about 20 minutes drying the thing off as best as I could. To my dismay, the thing looked haggard... I actually might complain to Misty Knoll Farms... the tail had a slice in it, the skin appeared to be shedding off the meat... it was a bad scene. I pulled out a fancy French "Kitchen Essentials" book and consulted the trussing department... and then decided I didn't like how that looked and proceeded to do my own version with some kitchen twine. Conclusion: truss-schmuss, fancy-schmancy French book schmook - it is easier and quicker to wing it. Just make sure you have an extra long piece of string.
Originally, when I had started thinking about Thanksgiving (like two days beforehand) I wasn't going to bother with turkey; not that turkey doesn't have potential – but in my 30 years of thanksgivings – ok I probably didn't have any turk for the first couple... and I did live in foreign countries where they don't try to reenact weird pilgrim legends that are realistically most likely just another tall-tale scribed by the whitest, richest historians of the era, for another couple of those years, so I've probably participated in eating 25 of the giant birds. The point is – in all honesty, the delicious factor never-ever comes close to comparing to that of our off-the-charts chickens (Bliss Ridge "yard birds")... And the freezer is full of them because we raised 50 of them this past summer... And killed 49 (I don't know what happened to #50...)
AND I don't think that any inkling of pride I feel for being brave and unsqueamish of the day of death, has anything to do with the sublime flavor profile of the meat...
Ok so maybe theres something to the fact that a splash of Rolling Rock may have made its way into a drumstick or two...
But those birds did live a blissful 11 weeks roaming around up here eating bugs and grass and organic grain and drinking Bliss Ridge spring water... not a bad life...
And then we ended it.
While outfitted in T-shirts we felt were fitting to the task at hand.
We enlisted the help of some enthusiastic friends...
And got right to work...
(Warning: for those of you who answer the question "where does meat come from?" with "the store", you may find the following to be slightly mind-bending and reality-altering... and maybe a wee bit graphic for your taste...)
There was a 7:30 debriefing
which covered general anatomy of the chicken, as well as volunteers being warned of the consequences of using the hose in an unorthodox fashion...
We do everything by the book, clearly
Locked and loaded...
Assemble the killing cones
Is that morbid? I think I am desensitized... Hey, I'll challenge you to look after 50 chickens and then tell me that (after they grow feathers and instantly switch from cute fuzzy yellow creature to vermin) you don't visualize the beautiful sight of a freezer full of neat carcass-containing ziplocs every single day.
We have clearly developed some good visualization techniques.
Speaking of technique
You would never believe it but this man had never participated in a blood-bath prior to this memorable morning! And he is beaming! Observe the joy.
You too, could transform from a 'meat-in-a-package-no-this-beast-was-never-alive-I-don't-wanna-think-about-what-nasty-hormones-or-chemicals-were-involved-in-raising-this-"food"-kinda guy/gal' to a 'Bad-ass Backyard Bird Slayer' or at least a supporter of such backyard bird slayers (ie: your local farmer)... I'd like you to trust me with regard to the fact that consuming random supermarket meat is not a good idea – or furthermore nonorganic meat in general. You do not have to be a health-nut or an environmentalist or an outspoken extremist or a hippy or rich or even have a lot of land, or have any idea how to garden (it is easy, see potato example here) to believe in clean, home(or local farmer-)grown food. There are a lot of radical variables in the environment that effect the length and awesomeness potential of our lives, that we can't control on an immediate level, but we can certainly control what we put in our mouths... and that is HUGE . So do the best thing you can do and grow/buy FOOD (hint: "FOOD" is perishable, does not incorporate ingredients that you can't pronounce and does not live inside a package for long – ie: most of the stuff on the shelves of the supermarket is not FOOD)
Some reading for you skeptics:
Feel free to pose questions or rant, etc. I'd like to hear your opinions and suggestions! xoJvT