(…or how Adam and I cooked a meal for 16 people -including a 21lb turkey- and survived)
As an American living in Canada, I have taken it upon myself to bring Thanksgiving to November for my Canadian friends. Even after being here for 6 Canadian Thanksgivings, I’ve never really gotten used to the idea of Thanksgiving being in October… and on a Monday. It just doesn’t seem right.
So 5 years ago, when Adam and I first had our apartment together, I decided to invite a few friends over for a US Thanksgiving dinner. That year was quite small – 6 people total. As big of a gathering as our 700 sq ft apartment could handle. We also kept it a bit non-traditional and skipped the turkey. It instead became a Vegetarian US Thanksgiving – with the main course being my now famous mac & cheese along with some roasted veggies in a puff pastry cornucopia (I was so proud of those!), a recipe found in an issue of Vegetarian Times (they keep their recipes locked or I’d include the link).
It has since become an annual tradition among our friends, and now the group has ballooned up to a whopping 16 people. I really love this tradition – it means that we get to spend Canadian Thanksgiving with Adam’s family, and then US Thanksgiving with our friends. Bit of a best of both worlds sort of situation (except for how I wish we could spend it with *my* family sometime, but I guess that’s what happens when I move to another country). Anyway, I’ve started offering the traditional turkey, and this year I finally stopped wimping out… no more cook-from-frozen-pre-stuffed turkey! I’ve always kind of gone with a fingers-in-ears approach when preparing meat: I’m not eating it, so I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT IS NAH-NAH-NAH-NAH. Clearly, not the most sensible thing. If my money is going to be used to buy it, and my kitchen used to prepare it, I want to know that the meat I am buying is coming from a responsible source and that I’m not supporting factory farming. I ended up going with Fresh From The Farm – a sort of co-op of local Amish and Mennonite farmers – not organic like the widely-known The Healthy Butcher in Toronto, but also nearly 40% less cost. And as much as I want to support local/organic/humane, I also don’t want to go totally broke. And when purchasing a turkey for dinner for 16, you need a big turkey!
So… 21.4lb turkey. It’s big! Really really big! And I had to cook it! Eeeeek! Herein lies the rest of my comedy of errors in preparing our Thanksgiving meal (beware vegetarians… lots of details of turkey preparing below):I had agreed with Adam that the turkey would be pretty much entirely my thing. He has a bit of a weird issue with raw meat – especially raw poultry. Thanksgiving is my thing and I’m the one that wanted to do this – so I was ok with it being all me. Trouble is, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.
The turkey itself was heavy and hard to manage, not to mention a bit bloody. Yeesh. I’d read up a lot, and gotten a lot of tips from others who had prepped turkeys before – so I had a recipe in mind and knew pretty much what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, the freshness of the turkey provided a few extra challenges. For one, it didn’t quite look like turkeys I’d ever prepared (er, cut open from a plastic bag and stuck into the oven). There was something still attached on the back end that was holding the two legs in. I still don’t know what the heck that was, but I managed to cut it off entirely. Ok, first success. Then I look inside the body cavity to see… this… thing. I had a brief freak out. I thought for sure that the turkey would come with what most recipes talk about – a plastic bag of innards that you can easily just remove from the turkey and either throw out, or use in gravy/etc. But… no plastic bag here. Just this round thing sticking out of the inside of the turkey.
And this bit is especially embarrassing to admit, but I thought for *sure* it was attached somehow, though I had no idea what it was. I actually found myself Googling things like “removing turkey innards” and “fresh turkey – removing parts.” I briefly thought for sure I was going to have to cut things out from the inside and actually considered calling my trained chef friend to come over and rescue me. Luckily when I finally got up the nerve to reach in, I found that (of course) these were the same giblets that are usually found in a turkey, simply thrown loose into the body cavity. Whew. Reaching in and pulling them out wasn’t *so* gross in the end.
Then I moved on to finally cleaning the thing. Unfortunately that led to the discovery that it still had a good number of quills attached. Yeesh once again. I had to pluck them out, one by one, and by the end probably pulled a good 30 out. I kept thinking I was done, only to turn it and find a whole bunch of them hiding under some new crevasse. Finally, I was able to consider the turkey clean and ready to brine.
So so glad I was able to find a brining bag. It seemed like a bit of a rip-off at $5 for what was essentially a giant ziplock bag, but it would’ve been a major pain to do any other way because the turkey was just. so. BIG. A pretty simple process – mix everything into the bag according to Alton Brown’s recipe and add a ton more water to ensure that the bird was totally immersed. Then into the fridge until it was ready to roast – we let it soak for about about 16 hours in the end.
Next post: Day of – last minute prep and roasting!