On the doorstep of this year’s Thanksgiving, I offer this silly one-off post, the likes of which you should not expect on a regular basis.
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It’s that time of year again when the media’s shameless and unrelenting assault leaves the turkey tattered and tired long before the dreaded day arrives. My stomach turns at the thought already.
Why turkey? Why didn’t the pilgrims give thanks with foie gras, or squab, or squab stuffed with foie gras? Or a nice, juicy, dry-aged steak? Or sushi, however culturally inappropriate that might have been for their native-American guests? I don’t think I’d tire of hearing about or eating those foods.
Why turkey? The infamously dry bird poses a challenge to cooks across America every November.
This year, a friend (and a chef) decided to conquer Thanksgiving with modern technology. Last night, I watched him bag and bathe two birds, cooking them whole, sous vide. I tagged along to keep him company in the quiet kitchen and lend a hand when his were covered with turkey slime. And, of course, I took some pictures along the way.
My friend didn’t know that I was going to blog about this (neither did I until just now). But the one thing he did stress to me, which I repeat for his benefit more than yours, is that he knows it would make more sense to break the birds down and sous vide the parts. This time, however, he wanted to have a little fun and cook them whole.
This isn’t a tested recipe, so please don’t follow these steps and expect a great product.
Step 1: Buy a turkey. (The current culinary zeitgeist demands that you buy a “heritage turkey.”) Take out whatever parts that have been stuffed in the cavity – neck, giblets, liver, etc. Rinse the bird, and pat it dry with towels.
Step 2: Toss together your favorite aromatics. Here, we have an assortment of roughly chopped onions, fresh thyme, fresh sage, dried bay leaves, smashed garlic cloves, black peppercorns, and salt. Slices from two lemons were squeezed over all of it, and the lemon slices were chucked in.
Step 3: Make like a proctologist and stuff the bird with the aromatics.
Step 4: Cube one stick of butter into tablespoon portions. Stuff the cubed butter under the skin of the bird, focusing mostly on the breast area.
Step 5: Make a glaze with salt, honey, and a splash of soy sauce. Do this in a ginormous bowl. Roll the stuffed turkey around in the glaze to coat. Drop the turkey into a large, heavy-duty plastic bag suitable for vacuum sealing. Season the bird in the bag with salt, rubbing it all over.
Step 6: Slice one stick of butter in half and add the pieces to the bag.
Step 7: Using an industrial vacuum sealer, seal the turkey in the bag.
Step 8: Set up a large water bath fitted with an immersion circulator. Set the temperature to 163F, or thereabouts. Weight the turkey down with a plate or a small rack and let it cook for 12 hours (this was a guesstimation; it may take longer). (The plan is to brown the turkey in the oven the day of the dinner.)
After everything had been cleaned and stowed, the hood vent having been turned off, we were left in a quiet kitchen with the gentle hum of the immersion circulator. “You hear that,” my friend asked? “That’s the sound of deliciousness.”
Update: After the sous vide cooking the turkeys, the birds were chilled overnight. The day of the dinner, the turkeys were browned in an oven preheated to 425F for 20 minutes. They were then wrapped, separately, in aluminum foil and put in a roasting pan. The roasting pan was covered with more foil and put in an oven preheated to 325F to warm the birds through, about 40 minutes.