Published November 1, 2009.
We read up on American cookery to rescue a rare bird from the brink of extinction—namely, the holiday turkey that has it all.
Perfecting one aspect of a roast turkey usually comes at the cost of another. Crisp skin means dry white meat. Brining adds moisture, but can turn the skin soggy. Salting solves the crisping woes, but the drippings get too seasoned to make a proper gravy. And stuffing the cavity compounds the headache, slowing the roasting time and upping the chance for uneven cooking.
We wanted a turkey with everything in one package—juicy meat, crisply burnished skin, rich-flavored stuffing that cooked inside the bird, and drippings suitable for gravy.
Unwilling to sacrifice crisp skin, we opted for salting over brining. Salting initially draws moisture out of the meat, but after a long rest in the refrigerator, all the moisture gets slowly drawn back in, seasoning the meat and helping it retain moisture.
Salting was a good start, but the meat was not quite as juicy and tender as we wanted. We decided to try a roasting method that the test kitchen had developed for meats like pork chops and roast beef, but never tried with a whole turkey. We started the bird in a relatively low oven, then cranked the temperature to give it a final blast of skin-crisping heat and to bring the center up to temperature. It worked beautifully, yielding breast meat that was moist and tender. For even crisper skin, we massaged it with a baking powder and salt rub. The baking powder dehydrates the skin and raises its pH, making it more conducive to browning. We also poked holes in the skin to help rendering fat escape.
Next we had to figure out a way to coordinate the cooking times of the stuffing and the breast meat. In most recipes, the breast meat is a bone-dry 180 degrees by the time the stuffing reaches a safe 165 degrees. We got around this by splitting the stuffing in half. We put half in the turkey and took it out when the bird was up to temperature. We moistened it with broth and combined it with the uncooked batch and cooked it all while the turkey was taking its post-oven rest.
Turkeys are known to be bland. To make sure ours wasn’t, we draped the bird with meaty salt pork, which we removed and drained before cranking up the heat so the bird didn’t taste too smoky.list of recipes