I don’t know about you, but I always get nervous about roasting the Thanksgiving turkey. It’s such a big responsibility. If your casserole doesn’t turn out exactly right, so what? There are about 100 more casseroles on the table. But if the turkey is bad? That’s a Big Deal.
So every year I get out the cookbooks again because I can never remember exactly what I did before. I’ve achieved fairly good results over the years by submerging the turkey completely in liquid (whatever I have on hand–tons of cans of chicken broth, orange juice, beer, and whatever else it takes to get the thing covered) in the roasting pan. But it’s so heavy it takes two of us to lift it and it makes the refrigerator shelf sag! This method helps to keep the turkey moist, and then I solve the dry breast meat problem by soaking cheesecloth in butter and covering the breast with that, and then basting right over it. This is a combination of a recipe from Gourmet Magazine and the old Joy of Cooking (mine burned in the fire and I have the new one now, which I DESPISE.).
I don’t get excited about cooking turkey not only because it’s stressful but also because it’s kind of boring! The only adventure is whether it’s going to be done on time and how moist it will be. There’s not a lot of scope for the imagination–at least not until this year! Because a couple of weeks ago a Facebook friend posted a picture of a turkey WRAPPED IN BACON. Yes, you read that right. I knew immediately that I wanted to try this. Her picture did not link up to a recipe but when I said I wanted to try it she Googled one for me. (Thanks, Michelle!) Of course I had to add my own twists to it. Here’s my recipe.
Bacon Wrapped Turkey
1 turkey, 20 lbs. (I used the cheapest frozen one I could find, and you would never have been able to tell!)
3 12-oz. boxes of bacon (also the cheapest kind I could find)
1 stick butter, softened by leaving it at room temperature
5 stalks of celery
1 can of chicken broth
other liquid for soaking (whatever you want. I used chicken broth, salted water, and beer.)
If you are using a frozen turkey, you are supposed to thaw it in the refrigerator, allowing one day per five pounds. But guess what: that’s an inexact science at best. You might want to check sooner than I did–which was the night before I was supposed to cook the thing, and it was frozen as hard as a brick. Should that happen to you, soak it in cool water in the sink, changing the water frequently.
The night before you are going to cook the turkey, wash it and pat it dry, inside and out. Put it upright in a stockpot and put in as much liquid as you can. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to prepare it.
Put your celery sticks in the bottom of your roasting pan (You won’t need these if you have a really good roasting pan with a rack; I needed them because I was using the cheapie foil kind from the supermarket and I wanted to sit my turkey up a bit.) Pour in your can of broth. Drain your turkey, dry it off, and put it in the pan. Loosen its skin as much as you can and rub it with softened butter inside the cavities and over and under the skin. Season with sage, garlic, salt , and pepper (or whatever else you like!) under and over the skin and in the cavities. Put the onion inside the turkey and tie up the legs (I cross the “ankles” and tie them together with string wound around like a figure eight.).
Now take your bacon and drape it all over your turkey, making sure it is completely covered. The bacon will stick because of the butter.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh near the body, but don’t let it hit bone. Tent foil over the turkey. Put it in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 325. The purpose of the initial high heat is to seal in the juices.
A 20-lb. turkey is supposed to take 4 hours to cook. For the purposes of this recipe we will pretend that real life and real turkeys always follow the rules, but you need to be prepared to adjust. I put my turkey in the oven at 9 and took it out after 2.
You can ignore the turkey for the first 3 hours. After that take off the foil and let it cook for 30 minutes with its bacon wrap still in place. Then you are going to have to take it out of the oven to do the next part. Be very very careful because there will probably be a lot of drippings in your pan. If you are going to make gravy this will be a good time to get out some drippings so you can have a head start.
(Please just ignore how dirty my stovetop is, okay?)
Take off the bacon. Use a fork–it’s hot! You can chop it up for use in another recipe, or put it away for later, or feed it to your dog. Baste the turkey and put it back in the oven. At this point you will want to baste it every 30 minutes or so until it is done. When is it done? When the thermometer reads 170. I actually took it out when it wasn’t quite there because it will continue to cook for a bit after you remove it from the oven.
Let the turkey “rest” for 15 minutes or so before carving. Here’s where I got a bit of a scare–the outer layer of flesh is going to be pink. Your turkey IS NOT RAW. It is slightly smoked from the bacon.
Everyone RAVED over this turkey. One and all said it was the best one I ever cooked. The breast meat wasn’t just “not dry”–it was downright juicy and flavorful. This is how I will be cooking my turkey every year from now on.