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Column: To roast a turkey
by Robin Jean Marie
Guest Columnist
November 20, 2012 10:59 AM | 9615 views | 3 3 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Robin Jean Marie
Robin Jean Marie
More often than not, I’ve been the two-sides-and-dessert purveyor when it comes to family Thanksgivings. But this year, the grandparents are spending Thanksgiving in Florida and we’re forgoing the large extended-family gathering and opting to have a quiet family feast.

I’m thrilled by the prospect of cozying up with my kids while we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in our pajamas, yet I’m confounded by the bird. Now I will tell you that I have roasted my share of turkeys; it’s just that I haven’t done it often enough to be married to a method. Suffice it to say that I have not gone there enough to have a go-to recipe.

A few years ago, I decided it was time to chart my own course, to claim my own technique, as it were, and I launched an investigative approach to finding the ideal turkey-roasting technique. Once I started my indirect polling of my friends and their recipes, I learned that cooking a turkey is as personal as a finger print. And like snowflakes, no two methods are exactly alike.

For starters, the bird can be bagged or brined, tented or basted, fried or smoked. Some of these methods, I eliminated immediately. I don’t even take the time to paint my nails, so I am not one to brine a turkey — I know that about myself. Likewise, I will happily pot a plant, but I have no desire to bag a 20-pound bird — it’s just not my style.

There is considerable cave-manly appeal to smoking a turkey or frying it in a vat full of boiling oil, but I am not a cave man. Yet the benefits of these methods cannot be extolled enough: Enticed by the primitive allure of fire, the men folk take over the turkey cooking, and the womenfolk have time to take a shower on Thanksgiving Day.

Sadly, there are no cauldrons or Big Green Eggs at my house.

So I am left with tenting and basting. My mother uses the tenting method. To be honest, I really can’t tell you more than that about how she roasts her turkey. She uses all the basics — salt, pepper, butter, onions, celery, carrots — then covers the bird with foil and bastes it occasionally, and it comes out tender, juicy, and absolutely delectable every time.

I decided it was futile to try to replicate her recipe; my mother’s buttered toast still comes out better than mine, so who am I to think that my tented turkey will turn out as wonderful as hers?

I then discovered the Martha Stewart Cheesecloth Method. I chose this recipe because it includes a bottle of white wine. You simmer the wine with a cup and a half of melted butter and then soak the cheesecloth in that mixture, so the house smells ridiculously fantastic at 8 in the morning. I have used this recipe for a few years, and I admit that during those years the prospect of that aroma was all that had been getting me out of bed at dawn on the fourth Thursday of November. But I will also admit that, although the bird would come out of the oven looking positively Norman Rockwellian, it still didn’t approach the flavor that my mother manages to conjure with some foil and a 30-year-old basting brush. It was back to the internet with me. I decided to explore the intriguing yet unorthodox method of upside down turkey roasting. I happened upon a website called “Serious Eats,” and that title alone should have been sufficient warning to me. I scrolled through the community conversation until I started reading words like “spatchcocking” — at first glance — thinking they were typos but then realizing, unfortunately not. These cooks are clearly over my head, and perhaps the upside down is over my head, too.

Now, here I am surrounded by links, printouts, and recipe books, each method promising perfection. I am still confounded by the bird.I don’t know which recipe I’ll end up trying this year, but there is one thing I can promise you: come 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, I am opening a bottle of wine.

Robin Jean Marie is a writer and mother of four, who lives in Dunwoody and is currently mashing potatoes. She shares “Traditions and Tidbits from the Continent to the States” in her blog,
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Lorna McInnes
November 22, 2012
What a marvellous article. I'm completely bamboozled by the options for roasting a turkey, but most impressed by your dedication to researching it. I bet your bird will be absolutely superb!
November 21, 2012
The upside down cooking method is the way to go. You prepare the turkey the way you normally would but just place it breast down in the roasting pan. The juices the dark meat run down into the breast and it comes out SOOOO moist and juicy! If you're really good, try flipping the turkey right side up for the last 30 to 45 minutes so the skin browns real nice but If you're not worried about the whole pre-carved turkey being a table centerpiece, just leave it upside down the entire time.

Last year was the first time I cooked a turkey that way and suffice to say, I'll be doing it that way again this year. It was even moist the next day. Good luck with which ever way you go!
Robin Jean Marie
November 21, 2012
Thank you, Phil-Lee! I actually did decide to spring for the upside-down this time around. I did wonder about the flipping, though, and if we all gather round for the flipping of the bird, that might be a nice preview of coming attractions. Happy Thanksgiving to you!
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