Well, I’m a turkey snob. Ever since I roasted my first melt-in-your-mouth, oh-so-moist, fresh-from-the-free-range- farm, meleagris gallopavo – about 20 years ago as a young mother of two – I can’t bear to sup on anything else on the fourth Thursday of November.
For one thing, I know the farm from whence my turkey came and the farmer who raised it. He’s a 30-minute, scenic drive over the Merrimack River and through the woods; a much-anticipated, perennial journey my daughters have the luxury of retrieving from their memories for as long as they have one. No trip to the grocery store can top going “way, way, way” out to the country all singing 9-year-old MacKenzie’s hip-hop turkey tune, “Dandy Tom Turkey walkin’ down the street, didn’t know what to do so he flapped in front of me sayin, “Come on, girl, bake that stuffin’, bake that stuffin’, bake that stuffin’,” at the top of our lungs to pick up Tomasina.
“Thanksgiving turkeys are female,” I explained to Sydney one particular year when she asked why our turkey had a different name than everybody else’s. Add that to all the other “this is where your food comes from” conversations as we strolled the bucolic little farm that made an indelible mark on a kid’s understanding of life.
Can’t get that in the frozen fowl section.
Granted, the frozen “cinder blocks” from mega-factory farms are a lot cheaper at an average cost of $22.23 for a 16-pounder this year, according to the American Farm Bureau – a third of the price of a fresh bird so, yeah, $65 for Ben Franklin’s idea of the national bird ain’t cheap. But consider this: the average American spends $300 a year on soda, for example, so a family of four spends $1,200 and God-only-knows how much on dental bills. I swear I haven’t touched a drop in decades, so I think I can splurge on a flavorful fowl for myself, my family and frankly, for the local agricultural economy.
It pains me to think how many farms we’ve already lost here in New Hampshire and across the country because of urban sprawl and/or their inability to compete with the big guys. On the other hand, there must be “something in the water” in New England because, in a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report, a new generation of farmers has taken to the land with a 5 percent increase over national statistics for farms with less than 50 acres. Buying their products – produce, poultry, and meat – year-round could make Farm Aid obsolete, although we’d sorely miss the gentle twang of Willie Nelson “live.”
Fortunately, there’s a dozen or more New Hampshire farms all over the state raising and selling fresh, free-range turkeys. Unfortunately, given the late date of this submission, most were sold out. Hermit Brook Farm, Sanbornton, 603-286-4121, still had some birds left as of Nov. 13. Many farms take orders 2-3 months in advance. Two sources, www.eatwild.com and www.theheartofnewengland.com, list NH farms with turkeys for future reference.
Still, those with a traditional frozen turkey, take heart. Here are some “foodie” tricks of the trade I’ve learned that will greatly enhance the flavor factor and significantly decrease roasting time for your store-bought turkey, so you can spend more of it enjoying hanging out with family and friends.
Brining the Bird
A long salt water and sugar bath will create the perfect conditions for the tissue to absorb and retain moisture when roasting, making for a more succulent bird. Additionally, the salt acts as a flavor enhancer. Here’s what you do: thaw the turkey completely in the fridge. (This could take several days so plan ahead.) Place turkey in a container – such as a 5 gallon bucket – and completely submerge in water. Add 1 cup kosher salt per 1 gallon water plus 2 cups sugar. Brine for at least 24 hours, either in the fridge or in an equally cold environment. (I use my garage.) Remove, rinse, and dry.
Vvvrroooom with a V Rack
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place V-rack in roasting pan. Secure turkey legs and wings tightly. Place “bouquet” of fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary just under the skin of breast. Place rough cut onion, celery, carrots in bottom of roasting pan and add 1 cup water. Put turkey, breast down, on V-rack. Brush sides and back with melted butter. Roast for 45 minutes.
Remove pan from oven. Baste back with drippings from bottom of pan before carefully turning turkey on its side using wads of paper towels or plasticized pot holders. Brush exposed side with leg and wing with butter. Add ½ cup water. Roast 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Baste side with drippings then carefully turn turkey over on reverse side. Brush with butter. Add ½ cup water. Roast 20 minutes.
Remove turkey from oven for the third time, turn breast side up and baste with drippings. Roast for 35-55 minutes longer, until reaching 160-165 degrees at the breast and 170 degrees at the leg/thigh.
Let rest, uncovered for 30 minutes before carving. Pour excess fat from pan and reserve drippings for gravy.
Let’s remember those in our community needing a helping hand. The NH Food Banks’ 2014 Thanksgiving Drive is well underway. Over 300 families have requested assistance for Thanksgiving dinner. Make your online contribution today by clicking here.
Carolyn Choate loves to chew on food. Literally and figuratively. In the kitchen from her garden in Nashua or her favorite market, a restaurant across town or across the globe. When not masticating, Carolyn is likely swilling wine or spirits as neither is far from her heart – or lips. Forget diamonds and Louboutins, she’d rather blow a wad on Pinot Noir and grass-fed filet with fresh sautéed morels. And write about it. You taste the picture: The “Barking Tomato” aspires to push your “foodie” button. Carolyn’s day job is producing local affairs programming for WYCN-CD.