Ay, here’s the rub

Henri tries a different approach with his turkey

Henri loves tradition and always looks forward to Thanksgiving, an all-day cooking, drinking and eating marathon. And, of course, movie-watching. Traditionally, I watch The Wizard of Oz with a good Bordeaux while my bird roasts and then retire to the couch after dinner for Cognac and Yentl.

On the other hand, Henri loves variety, and in fact this year, assuming it comes in time from Amazon, he’ll be sipping his after-dinner digestif while watching his new DVD, Doogie Howser, M.D., Season One. I’ll also be cooking my turkey a new way this year, after a wonderfully successful experiment last weekend.

Henri has long advocated brining turkey as a way to keep it moist—the salt seals in the natural juices. However, the traditional method calls for chilling the turkey in the brine in a large plastic bag for 24 to 48 hours, and even a small bird takes up a lot of room in a refrigerator or ice chest. A good alternative is the salt-roasted turkey, which calls for a kosher-salt rub to seal in the moisture but still requires keeping it refrigerated for a day or two, in addition to the time it takes to thaw.

Confession: My turkey wasn’t all that experimental. I actually followed, loosely (see below), a recipe in the current (November/December) Cook’s Illustrated, my favorite cooking magazine.

1 turkey (14 to 16 pounds)
1/2 cup kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 5-pound bag of ice
plastic wrap
2 1-gallon Ziploc plastic bags
2 1-quart Ziploc plastic bags
heavy-duty aluminum foil
wooden skewers

If you’re not using a fresh turkey, make sure it’s completely thawed. A 14-pound turkey can take up to 48 hours in the refrigerator. You can speed up the thawing time by placing the turkey in cool—never warm—water in the sink or a large pot.

1) Carefully separate the skin from the breast, thighs, legs and back, using a chopstick or thin wooden spoon. Rub two tablespoons salt inside the cavity and one tablespoon under the skin of each breast and each leg. Wrap the turkey tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

2) Remove turkey from refrigerator, rinse salt from cavity and from under skin and pat dry with paper towels. Put enough ice in two Ziploc bags to fill them halfway and place them in a large roasting pan with the turkey breast down on top of them. Put enough ice in smaller plastic bags to fill them about a third of the way and place one in the cavity and one neck recess. Keep turkey on ice for one hour.

3) Adjust oven rack lowest to position and preheat oven to 425. Line large V-rack with aluminum foil and poke 20 or so drip holes in foil.

4) Remove turkey from ice, rinse and pat dry. Tuck tips of drumsticks into skin at tail and secure wings with skewers. Place turkey breast down on rack, brush with melted butter, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes.

5) Remove turkey from oven, and reduce heat to 325. Turn turkey over so that it’s breast-side up and return to oven. Continue roasting until thickest part of breast reaches 160 and thickest part of thigh is 170, or about another hour and a half (total cooking time should be roughly 12 minutes per pound, more for larger birds). Transfer to carving board and cool for a half hour.

6) While pinot noir is traditional and pairs excellently with turkey, Henri also likes a good sparkling wine. Try Gloria Ferrer’s blanc de noir—absolutely divine.

Notes: Henri rarely follows recipes verbatim and so naturally he improvised with this one. After I rinsed the salt rub from underneath the skin I rubbed the meat with another couple of tablespoons of Seasons of Taos (sea salt, paprika, garlic and red-chile powder) that L. sent after a shopping trip to Santa Fe. It gave the meat a nice, spicy edge. I also quartered two apples and an orange and put them inside the cavity, along with several sprigs of fresh rosemary, while the turkey cooked.