HOWARD HANNA |The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange
By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA
The Kansas City Star
If you’re having a big crowd over, why not roast a big bird? “By selecting a relatively small bird, you can ensure that the thicker thigh meat will cook more quickly so that the leaner, thinner breast meat doesn’t overcook. Even if you are cooking for a huge group, I would recommend buying two or three small birds instead of one giant one.”
Why did you decide to brine and bard the bird? “Many of us grew up loving Thanksgiving dinner for its wonderful sides, gravy and desserts, but never really fell for the main event. I know I was always thankful for lots of good gravy to cover up invariably dry turkey! This recipe tries to fix that in several ways. Brining the turkey seasons and flavors it, but also adds a fair amount of moisture to it, which helps a lot in keeping the meat tender and juicy. Barding the bird with bacon adds a nice layer of protection to the breast meat so that it starts cooking a little slower than the leg and thigh.”
Roast Turkey With Bacon
Makes 12 servings
2 gallons water
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 heads of garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 cups kosher salt
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
12 pounds fresh turkey, neck and giblets reserved for gravy
1 pound sliced bacon
4 large yellow onions, peeled and chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
5 sprigs fresh sage
3 sprigs fresh thyme
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Salt and pepper
1 cup water
For the brine: The day before Thanksgiving, place all of the ingredients for the brine into a stockpot large enough to hold a turkey without much room to spare. Bring to a simmer, stir well to dissolve the salt and sugar, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Slowly plunge turkey into brine and refrigerate overnight. (If you don’t own a stockpot large enough to hold the turkey, prepare brine and pour into a food-safe container large enough to hold the turkey.)
For the bird: The next day, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Remove the turkey from the brine and dry thoroughly inside and out with paper towels. Season the turkey with salt and pepper all over, including inside the cavity. Place turkey breast side up on a rack in large roasting pan. Bard the turkey by laying the bacon strips across the turkey breast, overlapping very slightly and covering the whole breast. Tuck the wings under and tie the legs back with twine, if desired, although I don’t truss. Trussing can slow down cooking.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and mix by hand. Scatter about three-fourths of the vegetables around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the remainder inside the cavity. Pour the cup of water into the bottom of the pan, then place pan inside the oven.
Roast turkey until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees, about three hours, basting every half-hour. After an hour and a half, remove the bacon from the top of the bird and put it in the bottom of the pan. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and put back in the oven. As the turkey cooks, watch the vegetables in the pan. They will roast and soften and begin to brown, which will add wonderful flavor to the gravy. But be careful that the vegetables and the brown bits in the bottom of the pan don’t burn. If they are getting too dark, add a half cup of water as needed to stop them from burning. As the turkey approaches 165, gauge the crispiness and color of the skin. Basting more frequently will help the skin brown better. Feel free to turn the oven up to 375 degrees for the last 20 minutes or so if you like a darker skin.
When the turkey is done, remove from the pan and allow it to rest, covered loosely with foil, for 20 minutes before carving. Reserve all of the fat and pan drippings for gravy, if desired.
Per serving, light and dark meat, with skin: 631 calories (58 percent from fat), 40 grams total fat (18 grams saturated), 205 milligrams cholesterol, 8 grams carbohydrates, 57 grams protein, 1,051 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.