I’m still recovering from a week of food preparation and a day of serious hostessing. The heavens smiled on me and food magic happened, which means all my food turned out great, except for the gravy, which was a little iffy. From now on, it’s only flour, no cornstarch in my gravy. My guests were wonderful, there were no awkward pauses in conversation, and my kid’s friends turned up too, which was great because I think of them all as my kids.
And, I did something different with my turkey this year.
It involves salt, bacon and a good massage.
Oh stop it, I know what you’re thinking.
And, it’s not Thanksgiving without minor pandemonium and a little bit of insanity in one of the Tunno households. Plus, this year we had an upset victory in the Annual Cutthroat Tunno Pumpkin Pie Contest!
At my brother Bernie’s house in Ohio, apparently, the electricity went out, leaving an oven or two not working for a while. People were leaving food willy nilly, in the upstairs kitchen, instead of the downstairs one (two kitchens are mandatory in Italian households to promote more eating) so, hostess Donna was left in a tizzy trying to prepare a meal upstairs while being crowded out by everyone’s casseroles.
Bernie was busy deep-frying a turkey in the garage and was blissfully unaware of some of the commotion, but said afterward, “It was kind of cool, like it used to be at Grandpa’s house when everyone converged at once.”
Controlled chaos is something you get used to in big Italian families. Our family simply increases our decibel level, – we learned that from my mom. We could host a convention of profoundly deaf people and they probably wouldn’t miss a thing.
Overall, it was a beautiful day, with sunny, blue skies and temperatures in the 60s on the east coast and the west. The Ohio kids, and their elders, got to toss the football around outside and life was pretty dang good.
But the big news was the first upset in five years in the Annual Cutthroat Tunno Pumpkin Pie Competition.
This year a new champion was crowned and the winner is the indomitable Nate (I’ll Make My Own Stinking Trophy) Tunno. Nate came in first, Chris Tunno, the winner of the last four years, came in second, and Elissa, Nate’s mom came in third.
As you may recall, Nate was so distraught over not winning last year, that he hand-crafted his own trophy. That tenacity paid off because this year he got to go home with that big beautiful? trophy each of us covets.
My grand-niece Julie, was the distraught one this year when she didn’t win, but some years are like that. Take heart Julie, I’ve never won either! One of these days, maybe we’ll both get lucky enough to win it, but for now, it’s in good hands.
As for my turkey, it was awesome! I dry brined it (got the recipe from the L.A. Times) and not only put a combination of chopped fresh rosemary and butter under the skin when I roasted it, but I also slipped a few slices of bacon under the skin. In addition, this recipe calls for massaging the turkey as it sits in the refrigerator. (As long as no one sees, I think you’ll be OK, but I would draw the line at buying it lingerie.) It was my most moist turkey ever and the slight bacony flavor was a cool addition. I highly recommend this recipe!
Fran’s Dry Brined Turkey with Rosemary and Bacon
1 12 to 16 lb turkey, or larger (mine was 23 lbs.)
Kosher Salt, plus 4 1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary (for the dry brine)
(This rosemary is for the butter under the skin) 1 1/2 Tbsp. Finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup butter softened
1 package of cheesecloth
6 slices raw bacon
The Monday before Thanksgiving or three days before roasting day, wash the turkey inside and out and pat it dry. For every five pounds,, measure out 1 Tbsp. salt. If you want to add flavoring (I added finely chopped rosemary to the salt) you can.
Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with the salt, then salt the front of the turkey on the breasts, the sides and back. It should look well seasoned, but not oversalted.
Place the turkey in a 2 1/2 gallon sealable bag, press out the air and seal it tightly. Put it in the refrigerator , breast-side up. Chill for three days, leaving it in the bag, but massaging the salt into the skin every day.
Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Wipe the turkey with a paper towel, put it breast side up on a plate, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. (This will make the skin nice and crispy when you cook it!)
Mix your softened butter with the additional 1 1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped rosemary.
When you’re ready to roast it, remove it from the refrigerator. Put it in a large roasting pan. Carefully, slip your hand under the skin of the breast and separate the skin from the meat. Once it’s fully separated, take a quarter of the butter-rosemary mixture and put it under the skin of one breast. Then do the same with the other. Then take two to three slices of raw bacon and tuck them under the turkey skin of each breast. so the breast is covered. Then take the rest of the butter mixture and rub it all over the outside of the turkey.
Take the cheesecloth and cut it into strips about the length of your turkey. Wet it liberally and just squeeze excess water out. Then drape the cheesecloth over the turkey. (Let the turkey sit for one hour at room temperature before cooking it.)Place the turkey in the oven and place a meat thermometer in the breast or in the thickest part of the thigh.
Remove the turkey from the oven each hour of cooking and, with a spray bottle, spray the cheesecloth with water liberally so it’s wet, then put the turkey back in. If the breast is browning too soon, cover the turkey lightly with a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. Bake until thermometer reaches a temperature of 165. But check thigh and if juices are running and look bloody, let it cook longer.
Remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 1/2 hour to let the juices redistribute before slicing it. Enjoy!