Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who's the Thanksgiving Turkey NOW, Bubba Geek?!

I can hear you out there right now. "How," you're thinking, "can a mechanically illiterate, redneck coon-ass Cajun in Texas who knows way more about computers than cranberry sauce screw up a Thanksgiving turkey in the most spectacular way possible?" Well first, my friend, you need a new hobby, because clearly you have too much time on your hands.

I can't blame you, though; after all, what other Thanksgiving turkey instructions are going to involve a hacksaw, a bowl of apples, and a used water bottle full of pickling juice? Not too many, I can tell you that for sure, because no one else is this stupid. I mean come on, look at that photo -- clearly, I'm an idiot.

What You'll Need to Brine Your Turkey the Redneck Way

  1. A turkey in some indeterminate state of defrostitude, soaking in cold water to thaw it out faster;

  2. Something heavy to hold down the turkey, because apparently frozen turkeys float. Who knew? If you don't have a bowl full of apples, use any fruit you have lying around the house, or even a smallish dog if that's all you've got;

  3. A used water jug (shown here in its decapitated state);

  4. A tape measure, to make sure the turkey will fit into the jug before you hack it up (real men can skip this step, measuring is for wussies);

  5. A hacksaw, for removing the top of the jug;

  6. A regular saw, for when you figure out a hacksaw won't get the job done;

  7. Kitchen shears, for when you realize that the plastic dust kicked up by the regular saw is not quite the right complement to a delicious defrosted turkey;

  8. A marker for noting on the jug how much water you need to fill it with so that when you accidentally drop the turkey in, as much salty brine/turkey water as possible will splash around the kitchen.
Dateline - Monday Night Before Thanksgiving: After perusing the Internets for some cheery holiday tips, I discovered that I should have started defrosting our enormous 22 pound turkey on ... let's see ... (doing math), carry the two, how many hours per pound?! CRAP! ... yes, apparently August 4th would have been the ideal time to begin thawing this bad boy. I figured this out, of course, on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Not good.

I left it in the fridge Monday night, as doing math is pretty exhausting and I wasn't up to figuring out just how screwed I was, time-wise, until the next day. Once at work, and armed with the power of Windows Calculator, I discovered that I was more screwed than a child-proof Viagra bottle on Co-Ed Dance Hall Night at the nursing home. I definitely didn't have enough time to defrost that bird in the refrigerator like I had hoped. And yet, leaving it out to defrost at room temperature was, I read, approximately as deadly as dressing the turkey up in a turban and sending it through LAX security with a "Death to America!" bumper sticker plastered to its giblets.

After a bit of frantic browsing, I learned that overnight temperatures on Tuesday night were expected to get into the low 40's or upper 30's. My refrigerator is set just above freezing, and the thermostat in the house is pegged at 71. Logically, if the turkey wasn't thawing fast enough in a fridge, but would thaw too fast at room temperature, then something in the low-40's range would be perfect! Why that'd have to be twice as fast as the fridge and yet twice as safe as just leaving it out. Brilliant!

Immediately upon returning home, I lugged the gigantic lump of frozen poultry out to the back yard, confident that nature had provided me with the perfect temperature to thaw my bird in a timely, but bacterially-safe, manner. Remembering the coyotes roaming about, not to mention our ravenous and very curious
(especially when it comes to unprotected meat) dogs, I realized I couldn't just heave it out in the gravel and be done with it. Luckily, the Ford Motor Company had provided me with the perfect device.

Yes, I put my turkey in my truck overnight to thaw. I am not making this up.

Wednesday morning arrived like an early Christmas, and I eagerly bounded out to the truck to see how things had gone. Unfortunately, it was still hard as a rock. A little squishier, yes, but definitely in some sort of undefined state between solid cube of ice and squishy ready-for-cooking meat. Not good.

Returning to Google, I learned that the ultra-fast method for thawing a turkey is to submerge it in cold water, changing out the containment liquid every half hour to prevent contamination. I, however, was supposed to go to work on Wednesday.

And just like that, a day early, I already had something to be thankful for -- vacation time.

So I stayed home to nurse the turkey. At this point I really didn't know how thawed it was, since the truck is not a precision-calibrated defrosting mechanism, and it had already been in the fridge for a day and a half when it needed five days for full thawitude. How many days in a cold fridge does one night in a chilly half-ton translate to? Frustratingly, Google has no answer to that particular question. Damn the Internet and its foolish tubes!

Feh. I had already tried two of the three preferred methods for thawing a turkey, I figured I might as well go for broke and give the third -- defrosting in a tub of cold water -- a run for its money. You can see how it is that I never come back from Vegas with money. Unfortunately, this still wasn't going to be quick -- you have to soak it for half an hour for each pound of meat, and at 22 pounds it was going to be a long day.

So at that point I had a turkey of indeterminate thawing status soaking in a sink full of water and a large number of hours to fill while it did its thing. Suddenly I had a "Critical Man Problem" on my hands -- there's nothing more dangerous than a man with time to think, domestic chores waiting to be done, and an Internet connection. Because thanks to another trip to Google-land, while waiting on the timer go go off signaling the need to change the turkey's bathwater, I discovered the power ... of pickeling.

Yes, pickeling. "I," I think, "am a genius." Apparently pickling, according to very reputable sites found online, is "the secret" to the delicious nature of restaurant turkeys. How could I not try it, the day before Thanksgiving? What could possibly go wrong -- I mean, come on, I read it on the Internet, it had to be true!

The big problem (literally) was going to be finding a container large enough to soak this massive bird in. It needs to be refrigerated while pickling in the brine, so I couldn't leave it in the sink like I was for the thawing process ... hmmm ... Need ... something ... bigger ... No, no pot is big enough ... can't use the horse feed bucket becase a) Annie would freak out and b) eeeew! ... where am I gonna find ...

And then I saw it -- the empty water jug we use for loose change. Perfect! In a flash I had the coinage removed and was eyeballing the turkey to see if it looked like it would fit. But how to squeeze it into that little bitty hole at the top ... ? Yes -- tools! I have tools! A quick trip out to the garage and I was back with a hacksaw. Wedging the water jug into the sink next to the thawing turkey, I began hacking away. (Or is that "sawing away"? Whatever, it was a hacksaw, either way works, move on Jeff, move on!)

The hacksaw was not a good solution, it turned out. Plastic dust was flying everywhere. And what does a man do when one size of a tool doesn't work out? Say it with me now, men out there -- that's right, you just go get a BIGGER SAW!

Alas, a bigger saw just means bigger hunks of plastic flying around the kitchen. If I didn't get that crap finished quick, Annie was going to come back in and at last have definitive proof that I am insane. I needed to end it, and fast! Casting about the kitchen, my eyes fell on the kitchen shears. Cutting, yes, that's the ticket -- quickly the top of the water jug falls to my clever mechanical engineering and I had my container.

Several hours (and sinks full of water) later, the turkey was ready for the brine. Carefully taking it up, I moved to slip it into my water jug of brackish Thanksgiving love, filled with herbs, spices, sugar, and salt.

Quick science break here: Did you know that wet turkeys are slippery? Well, they are. You have the good fortune of learning about that by reading the internet. I wasn't so lucky, I had to learn the hard way. It turns out brine water filled with sugar, salt, and various spices will, when mixed with turkey juice, splatter in a surprisingly large radius when a mostly-unfrozen turkey is dropped into it at a high rate of speed. I was scrubbing up sticky turkey jizz from as far away as the master bathroom. Blech!

I managed to get the entire contraption, complete with turkey soaking in brine inside a sawed-off water bucket, into the spare fridge. Before I go to bed tonight I'll remove it from the brine and allow it to dry in the fridge, so the skin will get "nicely crispy", according to my Internet sources.

What could possibly go wrong tomorrow, right? I mean, I have it all planned out so carefully --te turkey has gotten incredibly moist, sitting in its hacked-off water-bottle pickling container, it thawed in at least three different ways, and eighteen hungry people are showing up at noon, all relying on me to get the turkey right.


Maybe it's not too late to make a nice meatloaf instead, I wonder what Google has to say about that ...


Allen said...

As I was reading this I began to wonder when or if you would employ explosives. Of course, atomizing your turkey wouldn't be the best approach... unless you intended to make meatloaf out of the result. ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving from the Pacific NorthWet.

annie'sbuddie said...

Did you ever lose a manatee off a trailer on a hot highway in Florida because you needed to pee?

OK we're waiting for Thursday's installment.

annie'sbuddie said...

Whoops, meant to say dead manatee.

Sara and Trey said...

Now that you mention it, yes. Yes, I have lost a manatee carcass on the highway because I had to pee. However, all the while I knew that a 22 lb semi-defrosted turkey would be quite slippery (somewhat like the dead manatee after frying on the asphalt).

annie'sbuddie said...

It was the first thing that came to mind as I read this brine turkey story.
Still laughing over the manatee on the highway saga everytime I think about it! The visuals are hysterical.

Jimmy Mac said...

Well that made my day! I don't think I've ever laughed out loud so much while reading a story before.
Jeff, we have got to get you into a reality show. Your life is MUCH more entertaining than Nick & Jessica ever were and a movie that followed you around would be much funnier than Ed TV or Truman Show.
Your adventurous spirit is topped only by your writing abilities. Thanks for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving.

Jeff Hebert said...

Thanks for the kind words Jimmy! I hope everyone had a great holiday.

Anonymous said...

Jeff -- where's the rest of the story!!! I have to say, in my 51 years on earth, I have never, and I mean never, heard of pickling a turkey to cook it. For next time --- put it in the microwave on defrost for a while (this is minutes per pound -- call Jimmy Mac for the numbers) and then put it in the bathtub. Of course, take out the rubber duck, dog hair, bubble bath and soap scum and then soak it. Your brother, Jimmy, knows a little bit about defrosting frozen turkeys because he promised to cook them on Thanksgiving Day. I think this is when Jimmy discovered frying turkeys. There's nothing like scathing hot boiling oil to defrost anything in a New York Minute. Those Cajuns, they are so quick on the take!!! I have to say, I've never heard of losing a manatee on a hot highway in Florida. The last time I looked, they are quite large, about the size of Jeff's Thanksgiving turkey. Was it frozen? Because if it was, leaving it on the Florida asphalt for, say 5 minutes, would defrost anything, even a Neandrathal Man. Here's the question -- did you take the giblets out before you cooked it? My first turkey, didn't know that kind of stuff was inside that bird. I mean who willingly would put their hand in the cavity of a dead, frozen, slippery turkey?! Okay, I want to know how it turned out and if it tasted like a Kosher dill pickle. -- Denise (who once cooked a whole ham for four hours, basting it carefully every 30 minutes, without knowing to take the plastic wrapper off...)

Jeff Hebert said...

Glad you all enjoyed the story, thanks for posting. I'm writing that explosives suggestion down for next year, Allen, don't think I'm not ...

Strangely, the turkey actually turned out to be extremely tasty. This is probably my fifth or sixth Thanksgiving turkey, and it was by far the juiciest and most flavorful. I'll definitely pickle (geez, I think I spelled that wrong throughout the whole post, I suck!) again next time, though I'll make a special trip to the store for kosher salt -- I think the regular Morton's was too fine-grained and penetrated the meat a bit too much.

Cooking it breast-side down was also a great tip as it turned out. It isn't a very attractive presentation, but I've never yet had the classic whole-turkey-on-a-platter situation, so it doesn't really matter -- it gets carved before setting it on the table anyway. The combination of the breast-side-down and brining really kept the meat moist.

The problem with turkeys, of course, is that white meat cooks faster than dark meat. That means when the dark meat's just right, the white meat's overdone and dried out. Cooking it upside down lets the juices from the rest of the bird flow down into the breast, keeping it moist during the roasting process.

As far as defrosting goes, microwaving is (according to The Internets) the worst way to defrost a turkey. Some spots invariably get cooked faster than other spots and you end up with a very uneven texture. Plus, this particular bird was too large to fit in our microwave, so I was sunk on that score. Defrosting in a tub of cold water would be all right, but you'd end up wasting a lot of water from changing it out every thirty minutes -- the constantly changed cold water keeps bacteria from forming. The sink worked out perfectly, although to be fair we do have a pretty big sink.

In one of those serendipitous happenstances, the other half of the sink was also the perfect size for wedging in an empty water bottle so I could saw off its top half. Lucky me!

Unfortunately now I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate power tools into every holiday meal. That probably won't end well ...