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Thompson's Turkey


SethG
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So Thanksgiving's right around the corner, and ... well, okay, it isn't.

But the wife and I have decided to host our first Thanksgiving ever, and I'm planning to take responsibility for the turkey, and probably most everything else.

Since I've never roasted a turkey before, I figure why not make it as time-consuming and labor-intensive as possible, and make the fabled cult bird known as Thompson's Turkey. If you've never heard of this winged marvel, you need only know that it has two main features. First: the stuffing includes all manner of things, including water chestnuts and most if not all of the spices in your rack. Second: a mixture of other stuff is basted over the bird at fifteen-minute intervals throughout its cooking time, so that when the turkey emerges all of its juices are sealed beneath a black crust. This turkey is reputed to be worth the effort: the stuffing gives the bird an incredible flavor, and the juiciness of the bird is supposed to be remarkable. A good bit of skin may be lost, however, under the black stuff.

Here's a random link I found about the recipe. There's also a chapter about Thompson's Turkey in Jeffrey Steingarten's first book.

So I'm not going to just unleash this thing on my family without trying it out first; I thought that sometime in the next month or so I would do a trial run. And then I thought I could photograph the turkey along the way and provide all of eGullet with an insider's view of Thompson's Turkey.

But before I do it, I want your help. Please, anyone who's made this turkey, give me any advice you have. (I've seen the other turkey threads on eGullet, thanks. At least I think I have. And it's brining, brining, brining. Very little on Thompson's Turkey.)

And second, if anyone has good advice about getting a good turkey, either fresh or frozen, in NYC in the off-season, please let me know.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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  • 2 weeks later...

I made it years ago. Best advice, follow the directions prior to the recipe. Get two bowls, roll up your sleeves ... It's a lot of work but actually it's a good bird. Looks pretty amazing when you take that black bird out of the oven. I have the recipe on my hard drive if you need it.

terry

(new to eGullet)

Eating an artichoke is like getting to know someone really well.

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Funny that this should come up. I was just re-reading Steingarten's book the other night and I started playing with the idea of doing one. I would LOVE to hear of your adventure. And pictures, PLEASE!

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Ah.

You must must must use local(I imagine you wouldn't select not to), and roast long and low and follow with good, good folk, and fabulously simple, pensive red wine........You cannot be dissapointed...........

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You must must... follow with good, good folk, and fabulously simple, pensive red wine........You cannot be dissapointed...........

By "good folk" I presume you mean "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan?"

And is pensive the same as 'spensive?

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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I made this two years ago. I think it was worth the effort. The turkey itself was moist, the stuffing was very good, and the gravy you can make from this is excellent.

Should have seen the look on my mothers face when I brought it to the table...she thought I burnt the turkey ! I forgot to tell her it was a "Black Turkey".

Today is going to be one of those days.....

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I want to add, by the way, that I'm so relieved people are finally replying to this thread! The Special Occasions category doesn't get that many new topics, so this thread was just hanging there, HANGING THERE, right near the top, with a big zero next to it. Made me want to just erase it. Or move it to Adventures in Eating.

But I take it this thing is foolproof? Most of the replies are just saying go for it, it's great. No tips? No pitfalls?

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Hmm...Turkey is really just a big chicken, so we are trying to get the internal temperature to 65C/150F-70C/160F. Problem is to get the legs cooked and the skin brown and crisp without over-cooking the breast meat. Much easier if you seperate cooking and browning into two different steps. Cook first, then brown the skin.

For real crispness flash it (blow torch or 10 mins in a very hot oven) after cooking .

5 to 8 hours in a 90C/190F oven should cook it. Much lower than noramlly suggested, but hot enough to kill bugs. Low temperature cooking is much less time critical as well. Alternatively if your oven doesn't go low enough, and in the spirit of Thomson, make a huff paste (flour and water dough), and cover the turkey and pan with that. Put it in a slow oven, and when cooked discard the now dry crust. Use a themometer! If you monitor the internal temperature you can roast it much more accurately.

Don't forget it will go on cooking when you take it out of the oven, so take it out at about 60C/140F. Dryness is solely the result of overcooking.

For extra moistness roast breast-side down for most of the cooking. Turn it breast-side up to flash to browness, and for presentation.

You can stuff the body cavity, for example with the Thomson stuffing, but that takes a long time to conduct the heat and cook through. Much better to cook the stuffing outside, and add the extra flavour by putting a flavoured butter between the skin and the breast meat. For extra luxury add slices of truffle, as recommneded by Brillat- Savarin, known in classical cookery as "demi deuile"(half mourning).

Use a good turkey (free-range black or bronze). Poor turkey leads to poor results.

Food hygine suggest eating within two hours of cooking, and kept at 50C/130F or more. After that cool as rapidly as you can rapidly (put in the fridge, covered with tinfoil). You want to minimise the length of time at the temperatures bugs will grow rapidly (around 35C/90F).

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  • 1 month later...

Okay, looks like I'm making my Thompson's Turkey on Saturday, Oct. 4. I will post pictures.

Any last-minute tips?

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Also, I want to try out some Thanksgiving sides next week with the turkey.

I don't want to change the focus of this thread, but I wonder if anyone can post a few good links to lists of Thanksgiving side dish recipes.

Previous eGullet threads on this subject have included testimonials to members' own menus but precious few actual recipes.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Okay, looks like I'm making my Thompson's Turkey on Saturday, Oct. 4.  I will post pictures.

Any last-minute tips?

Get plenty of rest the night before, just shopping for the ingredients is exhausting. Two people doing the prep will make it go faster. I've done this turkey four times. Do not stuff the bird. Make the stuffing separately. Baste every 15 minutes. Doing a practice run(as you are) is an excellent idea.

This is the most labor intensive turkey and the best tasting turkey by far! :biggrin:

Kitchen Kutie

"I've had jutht about enough outta you!"--Daffy Duck

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"Up on Lexington, one-two-five. Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive."

--The Velvet Underground, "Waiting for the Man"

Okay, so it wasn't Lexington, but it was 125th Street. The 125th Street Fairway, that is. (Sorry, non-New Yorkers. If you care to know what the hell I'm talking about, Fairway is probably the best grocery store in town. And they have a parking lot.)

Thompson's Turkey countdown, t-minus two days.

I made a run to the Uptown store tonight (Thursday) to get all my provisions, and it took me a few hours in the store, but I found everything I needed. Once I actually focused on the recipe long enough to get the ingredients, I really started to wonder if this was a good idea. Crushed pineapple, preserved ginger, water chestnuts, veal and pork? This is all going into the stuffing, folks.

Now I just need to pick up my turkey, a fresh bird I ordered from Jubilee, a supermarket in downtown Manhattan. I still haven't figured out how I'm going to get home to Brooklyn tomorrow on the subway with both the turkey and my 20-month-old daughter.

We're having a bunch of people over for the big event on Saturday (although not nearly enough to eat an eighteen to twenty pound turkey), and I'm going to try out some sides and desserts as well. I'm going to make a marinated mushroom thing tomorrow night, and a simple Mark Bittman cranberry sauce. Then first thing Saturday morning I'll make classic pumpkin and pecan pies. And then the only things I'm planning to make while the turkey's cooking are creamed onions and a "drunken" green bean recipe that I'm afraid I'll regret trying out. I'm not planning to make any potato dishes, since I know on Thanksgiving my sister-in-law will be bringing a sweet potato dish. I think this will be enough food. Maybe I'll add some kind of salad, or rice dish.

We'll see how it goes. I will post pictures of the whole process. And the results, of course.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Also, I want to try out some Thanksgiving sides next week with the turkey.

I don't want to change the focus of this thread, but I wonder if anyone can post a few good links to lists of Thanksgiving side dish recipes.

Previous eGullet threads on this subject have included testimonials to members' own menus but precious few actual recipes.

Chestnuts, Onions and Prunes

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I don't care how you prtepare your turkey. If you don't find a local supplier that will kill, dress and chill your bird within 72 hours of cooking, you are seriously challenging yourself and missing out on a delight. In most of the large cities one can also find a poultry market where one can pick out his bird and have it prepared that day. To me that is the real secret of a great turkey and not how it is prepared. -Dick

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Thompson's Turkey, part one: The Adventure Begins

As I sit here now, enjoying a cold turkey sandwich, nibbling on leftover stuffing, trying to isolate the presence and determine the contribution of each of the stuffing's twenty-nine ingredients, my mind only occasionally wanders back to the struggle required to create this sandwich, this stuffing.

How our brains play tricks on us! What a biological miracle it is, that we cannot remember the particulars of pain without effort.

For there was pain. Oh yes. Lots of pain. Some of it was self-inflicted, and for this pain I blame no one but myself. But some was imposed on me by one Morton Thompson. And for this, well, who is to blame? After all, I can't say I wasn't warned. Shall I blame myself for this as well, or was there a higher power at work here? Could I have simply avoided the whole exercise, or was it destiny that led me to Thompson's Turkey?

Twenty-four hours ago, I stood in my kitchen, bleeding, struggling to chop left-handed, repeatedly glancing at the clock to see the minutes slipping away, and cursed Morton Thompson, Jeffrey Steingarten, and myself. But now, in retrospect, has anything changed? Was it all worth it?

Well, the turkey was pretty darn good.

Let me tell you how it went.

We had a bunch of people coming for dinner, but we weren't planning to eat until 8:30 p.m., or a little later, so I wasn't in that big a rush when the day started. I'd made a few sides the night before (marinated mushrooms, cranberry sauce, a back-up bread stuffing in case Thompson's sucked, and a maple squash puree), and I spent the morning making a pecan and a pumkin pie. I had plans to make a green bean dish, creamed onions, and a salad later, while the turkey was in the oven. Then I realized I didn't have any whipped cream or ice cream, so I ran out to the grocery store, and while I was there I suddenly feared I might not be making enough food for the eight adults who would be eating, so I decided to make some mac & cheese too. And once I got back, I put together a jar of preserved lemons (This had nothing to do with the night's meal, but I had a whole bunch of lemons I'd acquired cheap, and I didn't want them to go bad).

Around the time I began the preserved lemons (it was after 1:00 p.m.), my wife started glancing though Jeffrey Steingarten's chapter on Thompson's Turkey. "It says here it took him three hours to get the bird in the oven," she said. "Don't you think you ought to get started?"

I had forgotten he said that. I was planning on it taking me one hour to get the bird in the oven. "Don't worry," I lied, "I'm about to start. And we have plenty of time." I figured I'd be okay, since Steingarten probably took frequent breaks to drink Montrachet or sample caviar while he prepared his bird. But I was a little worried.

So I started, already feeling behind. And I took the bird out, as instructed, washed it, and oiled it as Steingarten suggests. Then I salted and peppered it. Then I put the little bit of fat I could pull off the bird into a sauce pan with some water to render it for the stuffing, and put the giblets and the neck with a few spices in another pot to simmer for the basting effort to come later. Then I started to prepare the first of three bowls for the stuffing.

In bowl #1, a deceptively easy-sounding bowl, I placed a cored, diced apple, a peeled, diced orange, a 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple, the grated rind of one half lemon, a drained, chopped eight-ounce can of water chestnuts, and three tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger.

Only problem was, I was already rushing. As I opened the can of pineapple, the lid cut a huge gash in the ring finger of my right hand. It hurt a lot. And it was bleeding pretty bad. So I ran to the bathroom and discovered we had no bandaids. All we had were these gauzy little pads, so I tried to slow the bleeding (stopping it was out of the question) and wrapped one of the pads around my finger, then tightly fastened it with scotch tape.

Then I ran back to the kitchen. And continued. (And I never got any blood in the food, don't worry.) Here's a photo of bowl # 1:

fae7cc35.jpg

Bowl #2 is much more involved than bowl #1, and my finger did not help matters. In this bowl I assembed Coleman's mustard, about eight different dried spices (see dave88's post above for the list), chopped fresh thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram, and savory, chopped parsley, four cloves of chopped garlic, six chopped stalks of celery, and four chopped large onions. I tried to chop slowly, but it was painful. I tried to chop with my left hand, but that was just idiotic. There was no way that was going to work. Ultimately, after I did the best job I could tearing apart the fresh spices and sort of chopping the garlic and the celery, I threw the onions in the food processor and I was done.

Here's a shot of bowl number two, which would have been manageable but still time-consuming if I hadn't cut myself:

fae7cc34.jpg

Bowl # 3 was comparatively easy. Bread crumbs (I made mine earlier in the day), 3/4 pound ground veal and 1/4 pound ground pork, the rendered fat and a stick of butter:

fae7cc33.jpg

Then I tried to mix each bowl as instructed, and after that combine them all. This was a major pain and took forever. My right hand was basically useless, and so was a spoon, I found. The only way to acceptably mix the stuff was with my fingers, but I had to do it with just my left hand. Plus, the bowls were too full to be easily mixed, and they were the biggest bowls I had. So I had to divide bowls into smaller units, thereby dirtying a bunch more bowls, mix them, mix them with each other in small amounts, and keep combining bowls until the mixture collapsed enough that I could consolidate it. Eventually, it got mixed enough that I could fit the whole mass in one of my largest bowls:

fae7cc31.jpg

So there I was. The stuffing was done. It was 3:30 p.m.; I'd been working for almost two hours and I still had to stuff and truss the turkey, and make Thompson's paste (involving more chopping) before I could get the thing in the oven.

I took a two-minute break to change my bandage and open a beer.

Part 2 to follow.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Thompson's Turkey Part two: a Whole Lotta Basting Going On

So I stood in my kitchen with the stuffing ready to go, and figured I was most of the way home. And I was, but there was still plenty to do.

I shoved as much of the stuffing as I could into the turkey's cavity and neck, and still had about half the stuffing left over. (And this was an 18-and-a-half pound bird!) Then Thompson says to skewer the bird and tie the strings. Steingarten says that sewing up the bird is better. I can't really imagine why there's a big difference, but I don't have a trussing needle. I have a bunch of small skewers (designed for chickens), so I trussed the bird by my own special technique, which I call the "el stupido" method. I stuck skewers in pretty much random spots, ran string between the skewers, and tied it all up as best I could.

The turkey was now ready to go in the oven. It was 4:00. The turkey was to brown on each side for fifteen minutes at my oven's highest setting, 550 degrees. After about ten minutes of this, my kitchen started to fill with smoke. After another five minutes, I had to turn the bird over, a challenge that I barely conquered. This is where you really need more than one person in the kitchen. They only reason I was able to turn the turkey was that it had only been in the oven 15 minutes; I could still touch parts of the turkey with my hands. And even with this advantage, I still bent and nearly snapped in half a huge stainless steel ladle I used as a crow bar.

And I had to get the paste done before the other side finished browning. This paste contains egg yolks, flour, salt, lemon juice, a little cayenne, and onion juice. I had no idea how to make onion juice, so I just ran another onion through my food processer until it was reduced to mush, and got out the most liquidy bits.

One the bird was browned, I turned the heat down to 325 degrees and applied the paste. The recipe requires that you brush the paste all over the turkey, then let the paste set for a few minutes in the oven, then take the bird out and paste it up again. Then repeat until you've used up the paste. I dutifully followed the directions, applying paste three or four times.

Here's a shot of the big bird right after it was done browning, as I applied the first coat of paste:

fae7cc30.jpg

And here's a shot of the turkey after the last coat of paste, maybe fifteen minutes later:

fae7cc2f.jpg

It looks like turkey "a la diable," but that ain't mustard, it's egg yolk!

And then the bird went back in the oven again, to be basted every fifteen minutes for the next four to five hours with the giblet broth I'd been simmering ever since the project started three hours before. And baste I did, like clockwork. As the bird cooked, the yellow paste started to brown, then turn a rich rust color, and finally, as promised, it turned almost completely black.

Here's a shot of the turkey taken somewhere in the middle of this process:

fae7cc2d.jpg

And here's how the turkey looked when I took it out of the oven for the final time, just after 9:00 p.m.:

fae7cc2a.jpg

The turkey looked good. It rested for twenty minutes, and then I pried off all the paste. This, I have to say, was a hassle. And although it worked pretty much as advertised, and I lost almost none of the skin, the skin that remained beneath the bird wasn't crackling or particularly great. This was the worst feature of Thompson's turkey, but it was no surprise. Steingarten complains about this as well.

I was more disappointed at the lack of pan drippings. I was planning to make gravy, even though Thompson's Turkey partisans say the delicious bird needs no gravy. But it was past 9:00 when we got the bird out of the oven, my motivation was flagging, and then when I looked in the pan, what I saw was very little liquid. And lots of lumps of blackened paste that had dripped off as I was painting the bird. When I saw that my gravy might taste more like plaster of Paris than turkey, I aborted it.

And as for the turkey itself, it was a mixed bag. The dark meat really delivered. It was intensely flavorful, incredibly moist, falling-apart tender. Flat out great. The white meat, on the other hand, was good, but could have used some gravy. Don't get me wrong, for white meat it was pretty moist, but it just did not have that something special you want when you've coated the meat in cement and basted it sixteen or more times.

The problem, I think, is that the white meat was overcooked. Thompson's original recipe asks you to start the turkey breast down, brown it, turn it breast up, brown it, then cook for 1 1/2 hours at 325 degrees, turn it breast down again, then turn the breast back up for the final fifteen minutes. Steingarten says that's too hard, and you can damage the bird turning it so much. So he advises browning the bird breast down, then turning it once, browning it breast up, and then just leaving it alone, breast up the whole rest of the way. Clearly Steingarten, like me, cooks alone. I couldn't have made all the turns called for by the original recipe. So I did it Steingarten's way. But when I did it that way, the white meat reached its desired temperature (170 degrees) a full hour before the stuffing and the dark meat reached theirs (160 and 180 degrees, respectively).

I have a few thoughts on how to fix this white meat problem:

(1) Get a helper and do it Thompson's way.

(2) Do it Steingarten's way, but take the bird out when the white meat is done and carve off the breasts. Then put the turkey back in the oven until the rest is done. This creates a problem in that the breast meat doesn't rest before it's carved, but that beats overcooking, I reckon.

And last, but not least, the stuffing. The stuffing was easily the best stuffing I've ever had. It was marvelous. Somehow everything melts together to form a unified whole. It was a big hit with our guests.

Oh, and somewhere in there I made the green beans, creamed onions, and mac & cheese. We dropped the salad at the last minute. We had plenty of food.

So would I do it again? I think the stuffing (which is what took the most time) was definitely worth it. I plan to use the Thompson stuffing for our Thanksgiving bird, whether or not we use the rest of the recipe. As for the pasting and basting, I'm less sure. I loved the dark meat, and maybe I would have loved the white too if it had been cooked the proper length of time. I have a feeling that when late November rolls around this year, I 'll be getting up early to make Thompson's stuffing, but I'll probably just stick the stuffing inside a bird I've brined and roast it more conventionally.

But after a while, I'll probably try a Thompson's Turkey again. Maybe in a year, when I've forgotten how much work is involved.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Fascinating!

How was the stuffing cooked outside the turkey?

One of the problems with cooking a big bird is the length of time the heat takes to penetrate that wodge of stuffing. I think left to myself I'd make and cook the stuffing seperately, and cook the main bird long and really low temperature (like 200F), having browned it first (breast up) in a hot oven, or flash it in a hot oven after

For flavour and moistness I'd cook it breast side down, and stuff between the skin and the breast with a truffle flavoured butter after Brillat Savarin.

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Seth, that is the best blow-by-blow description I've read about this recipe. Should be a big help to anyone considering using it. I know for sure now that I won't try it! :laugh:

One thing I don't "get" is: since the bird is encased in the coating, why must one baste? Seems counter-intuitive.

Also, glad that Jubilee came through. :biggrin: I was going to suggest that you put the bird in the stroller and carry the child, but I saw that part too late. :laugh:

Finally: hope your finger is healing nicely. :sad: A toddler in the house and no bandaids? :shock:

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Jackal10:

I only tasted the non-turkey stuffing as leftovers, but it was pretty hard to distinguish them from the leftover stuffing from inside the bird. It may be that the meat in the stuffing (which you'd never guess was in there) provides the same savory benefit that cooking inside the bird does.

All that said, I think I'd still stuff the bird next time. I know doing that presents cooking challenges, but even if it's just my imagination, I think of stuffing made inside the turkey as more moist and flavorful. The stuffing is also supposed to help flavor the bird, and maybe it did-- parts of the turkey seemed more, well, complex than others.

I think the most remarkable thing about the stuffing was that it tastes pretty normal. I had primed my guests to expect something strange, but this was totally unneccesary. It tasted like bread stuffing, but exceptionally good, moist, richly flavored stuffing.

Suzanne F:

Thanks for the tip re: Jubilee. I had a friend help me get everything home on Friday. And my daughter weighs more than the turkey anyhow, but I think your suggestion would have made for an interesting trip on the subway! We might have gotten some disapproving looks! :smile:

I think there's two purposes served by basting:

(1) I think if you don't baste, the paste may dry out too much and may crack, fall off, burn or something; and

(2) I think, given that you're supposed to baste with a giblet/cider broth, that it's supposed to seep through and flavor the bird. But I don't know if it really did that. This may be another area where Steingarten has it wrong. He suggests that the recipe gives you too little paste to cover the bird, and so he tells you to triple the recipe. I followed his advice, but later I had to wonder: did I put too much paste on? Does this much paste keep the basting liquid from seeping through and flavoring the bird? Is Steingarten's heavy brush responsible for the difficulty he has removing the paste and the less-than-optimal skin left behind?

Maybe next time I'll follow Thompson to the letter and ignore Steingarten, although his clarifications of many of the recipe's ambiguities are helpful.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Also, I want to add, I saw in a store today a pair of All Clad turkey turners for $30.

I don't think I would pay $30 for such equipment, when you could pay much less for something like this to do the same job!

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Seth,

I can't tell you how exciting I've found this thread. I read Steingarten's article on Thompson's Turkey last year and have planned to try it this year. Your posts have been even more informative than his article! And after I've done it, I'll have to say as you have, its not like I wasn't warned!

But as I'm on the quest for the best tasting turkey possible, this isn't deterring me.

Seth, do you think if you brined the turkey this would have enhanced the flavor? Helped the white meat be more flavorful? Brining seems to make so many different preparations better, why not here?

And why does a Thompson's turkey have to be so big? Someone once told me that smaller turkeys cook more evenly (makes sense) and taste better, couldn't you halve the recipe (less chopping, less effort turning the thing) and come out with possibly better results? I know, if you have huge parties at thanksgiving this poses a problem, but I've always made two turkeys instead of one gargantuan.

Do you have any idea what the deal is with the coating? Why would this help the turkey? Do you think it "seals" in the moisture and good tastes!?

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Thanks, Akiko, I'm glad to see some people are interested!

I'm sure brining helps any turkey, but I can't say how it might throw off Thompson's bird. I decided when I undertook to make the turkey that I'd stick to the recipe, and try variations later if I ever did it again. I can't imagine brining would hurt, though. It might make the bird cook faster, and could result in the turkey being done before the stuffing is hot enough, but that's the only negative I can think of.

Also, maybe brining would make the turkey so tender that after it's cooked by the Thompson method, it would fall apart completely!

I do think the coating made a difference. Even though the white meat was cooked too long, it was still very moist. I think without the coating it would have been dry.

About the size of the bird: I don't know why it has to be so big. Can anyone else enlighten us?

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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