After two relatively smooth Friendsgiving turkeys, I got a bit cocky this year. I took some chances and made one major mistake, but learned a number of life lessons along the way …
After receiving my turkey on Thursday, I very quickly dry brined it at midnight on Thursday, packed a bag and headed home to Delaware on Friday, blissfully unaware that when dry brining for more than one day, YOU HAVE TO COVER THE TURKEY.
Life Lesson #1: Always read ALL of the instructions, even that last little one at the end.
When I got back on Sunday morning, my turkey looked like it belonged in a horror movie. Sure, the skin was crispy AF, but all of the moisture had been drawn out of the meat and then evaporated into thin air. I was devastated, sure that I had completely destroyed my (very expensive!) turkey, and would have to tell all my friends that I failed.
But after a bit of frantic Googling, I realized: all is not lost. Butter is a magical way to add back moisture to meat, and my original plan, of creating a pancetta-herb butter, would provide plenty of moisture and flavor to resuscitate the turkey. So, I tried.
Life Lesson #2: Butter fixes everything. (And don’t give up — things are more salvageable than you think!)
I don’t have a food processor, so I tried combining the ingredients for my pancetta-herb butter in the blender. It was ultimately successful but required a bit of olive oil and a TON of patience. It took a long time to get the butter to come together, and if you’ve got a sharp knife, I’d recommend just mincing everything together by hand.
Life Lesson #3a: Always be flexible in the kitchen (and beyond!) You can always hack something together. (Related: Life Lesson #3b: sometimes the simplest way is also the best way.)
Life Lesson #4: You don’t have to do things alone! Ask for help!
Thankfully, I had some help putting everything together. Debleena assembled the vegetable trivet in my roasting pan while I wrangled the pancetta-herb butter, so that when I was ready to slather that butter over my turkey, I already had a place to put it. She also helped with trussing the turkey and laughing at my discomfort in touching the turkey in all sorts of places. What are friends for?
Ultimately, we got the turkey in the oven and did our math totally wrong, so probably for the first time in history, the turkey was ready early. (I can’t make it anywhere on time, and yet somehow my turkey was done an hour early. How??) In any case, if this ever happens to you, remember: turkey stays warm for a loooooong time, so tent a large piece of foil over it and set it aside. Even if it sits for an hour or two, it will stay warm. You don’t need to reheat it. I promise. Plus, you can leisurely make your gravy, instead of sweating over the stove while a dozen people loudly clamor for dinner.
The turkey itself came out beautifully: bronzed skin that literally crackled as I cut into it, juicy white meat and rich dark meat. My fears that it would be too dry were unfounded (🙌 🙌 🙌), though I found the skin, with the dry brine and the pancetta, a touch salty. No one else in my crew did, so that might be a personal preference. And everyone loved it — seven people ended up demolishing most of a 12-pound turkey. Which bring me to the most important lesson I learned:
Life Lesson #5: When you’re cooking for friends and family, everything will be okay.
The turkey could be terrible, the mashed potatoes could be glue, the gravy could be lumpy and everyone will still love you and be excited to spend a few hours with you, so don’t stress! (And remember: Dominoes is always just a phone call away … )
- 1 10- to 12-pound turkey
- 1/4 cup kosher salt (optional)
- 4 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 4-5 sprigs rosemary, divided
- 12 leaves fresh sage, divided
- 2-3 sprigs thyme, divided
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 10 shallots, peeled and halved
- 3-4 large carrots, rinsed and trimmed
- 3-4 stalks celery, rinsed and trimmed
- To dry-brine your turkey: remove the turkey from its wrappings and set aside the neck, gizzard, liver, heart and any other organs. (Reserve these for gravy-making!) Use paper towels to pat the turkey dry. Rub the salt all over the turkey, both under (be careful not tear it) and over the skin, and in the cavity. (You may not need the full 1/4 cup.) Refrigerate, uncovered for up to 1 day, or loosely covered for up to 3 days.
- In a large blender or food processor, combine the butter, olive oil, shallot, the leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary, 5 leaves fresh sage and the leaves from 1 sprig of thyme. Pulse until the ingredients form a coarse paste. Stir in the pepper. (You can make this butter up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate if making ahead, and let it come to room temperature before using.)
- Remove the turkey from the fridge and let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature, to take a bit of the chill off. Preheat the oven to 325F.
- Spread the pancetta-herb butter all over the turkey, sliding your hand carefully under the skin to rub the butter directly on the breasts and thighs (this is all kinds of gross, but SO worth it). Place the remaining herb sprigs in the main cavity of the turkey, along with 4 shallot halves.
- Arrange the remaining shallots, carrots and celery sticks in the bottom of your roasting pan so that they form a vegetable trivet.
- Place the turkey upside down (breast-side down) in the roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour, then carefully flip the turkey. (I've found that sticking a wooden spoon in the main cavity and another wooden spoon in the neck cavity is the easiest way to go about this.)
- Turn the oven up to 400F. Roast for an additional 75-90 minutes.* Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness -- insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. It should read 165F. Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer to a carving board or serving platter. Loosely tent tin foil over it and let it rest for 30 minutes while you heat up sides and make the gravy.
- *You should account for 12-15 minutes per pound. My 12-pound turkey took 2.5 hours. You should only cook the turkey upside down for an hour -- any additional cooking time should come once the turkey has been flipped.