Last week, we discussed the allure of both antique and modern appliances in the log home kitchen. Of course, either can be put to good use when preparing quality ingredients into a superb meal. And no holiday can beat Thanksgiving for the importance of a well cooked meal. With Thanksgiving three weeks away, we thought we would review a few techniques for cooking turkey, the most common main course at Thanksgiving. These methods, both traditional and new, are a great fit for the log home kitchen.
This is probably the traditional method that people are most familiar with. Turkeys need to be brined due to their large size and low-fat content. A pork or beef roast has a high fat content which helps to braise the meat as it cooks. Lacking this fat, turkey will tend to dry out during cooking. Brining causes the muscle tissue to take on water and also denatures proteins, creating more tender meat.
For this application, a basic brine consists of half a cup each of salt and brown sugar per gallon of water. Typically, two or three gallons of brine is sufficient to cover the bird. After dissolving the sugar and salt in cold water, herbs like thyme, peppercorns, bay leaves and garlic can be added to taste. Refrigerate the turkey in the brine overnight for best results, then roast the turkey.
This traditional yet uncommon technique recognizes that the dark meat and white meat need to cook in different ways. While white meat starts to dry out above 165 degrees, the dark meat has over double the saturated fat and is best cooked to around 175 degrees. Barding addresses this issue by protecting the white meat at the start of the cooking process.
Before cooking, the white meat is pricked with a fork and then covered with a layer of salt pork, which is itself covered with wet cheesecloth and foil. The pork bastes the meat as it cooks, and helps keep the white meat cooler than the dark. After about three hours in a 350 degree over, the white meat is uncovered and the bird is cooked at 450 degrees for another 45 minutes. The result is a crispy skin with juicy meat throughout.
This technique means “under vacuum” in French, and consists of cooking food in a vacuum sealed bag in a water bath held at a precise temperature. By holding the water temperature just above the desired meat temperature, you can precisely cook the meat without worry of overcooking or drying out the meat. This method does require you to purchase an immersion heater, but with modern electronics you can buy everything you need for under $200.
While sous-vide can be great for other large roasts, for turkey it is best used only for white meat like turkey breasts. A good starting point is to season the breast with salt and pepper and cook at 145 degrees for two-and-a-half hours. The skin can be removed and crisped separately if desired.
Whether you’ll be using antique or modern appliances, we hope these traditional and modern turkey cooking methods inspire you in the log home kitchen this Thanksgiving.