This year it was our turn to host the family Thanksgiving dinner. We have a moderate sized family, but large enough that honor only falls upon our shoulders every 7-8 years. Knowing this year was our year, I started watching some of the cooking shows on PBS looking for the a few tips on ways of doing things different.
More than a few years ago, Uncle Charlie was doing pretty much the same thing when he decided to deep fry the turkey. He was seduced by all the promises this cooking method promises: moist, sweet turkey meet, He heeded most of the warnings: don’t fry a frozen bird, don’t let the oil get too hot, and never, ever, do it indoors. There was one warning he somehow missed: don’t use too much oil.
Fortunately for Uncle Charlie, he also paid attention not to set up the deep fryer underneath the patio or too close to the house. When he lowered that bird into the oil, it just boiled over and that hot oil dripped into the propane flame. Wow! Aunt Betty was not impressed. Fortunately, Uncle Charlie also paid attention to the warning about not using a hose to put out a sudden flame and he had a fire extinguisher nearby that was able to knock down that eruption without any burns or property damage.
So this year I saw this one PBS show where they claimed they could cut down on cooking time, get the best tasting bird, and have stuffing that tastes just like it was real bird-stuffing.
The essence of this technique called for removing the bird’s backbone, and soaking it in brine then cooking it the traditional oven way, but with the stuffing tucked underneath the bird.
My wife didn’t want anything to do with the spine removal, so that job fell to me. It was a little unnerving, but if you don’t mind the sound of bones breaking, it’s no problem. Next we put the bird in a large plastic bag filled with water and salt and a few herbs.
Cooking the bird went fine. It cooked really fast compared to the old method. The first problem I noticed was the stuffing that had been carefully tucked under the bird was extremely dry. The TV cooks said the turkey juices would drip down into the stuffing and keep them moist. Not good, but not catastrophic. A little extra gravy would moisten it right up.
After the bird sat for the prescribed 30 minutes, it was time to carve. This is when things got crazy. I first cut off one of the breasts. To my surprise, it was bright pink! Bright PINK! Our 20 or so guests were ready to eat, and I’m about to serve them a pink turkey. The mashed potatoes are ready, the gravy is ready, the stuffing is ready, the drinks have been poured, the appetizer tray was empty and I’m about to serve up pink turkey.
Even though my instant read thermometer said the bird was cooked to 165 degrees (I checked it multiple times in multiple locations). I figured something must be wrong and that the bird really hadn’t been cooked long enough. The only solution was to put it back into the oven for another 15 minutes.
I had visions of all our dinner guests all showing up at the local ER with food poisoning. After the additional cooking time, the pink was only slightly less pink. We couldn’t wait. I carefully sliced the breast with my new Cuisinart electric knife into perfect pink slabs of turkey breast. I put sprigs of parsley around it and we served the meal.
Everyone raved about the dinner (our family is very polite). Despite my fears, no one got sick! Big success. By Sunday afternoon everyone had gone home. It was then that I started doing a little research into what had happened. I don’t know the science behind it, but when a turkey is brined, then cooked, it will have a pink tinge to the meat. If the bird is allowed to drain after removal from the brine in the refrigerator, then the meat color is fine.
Who knew. When it’s my turn to cook in another 7 years or so, I’ll try to remember that one.