September 26, 2012

The Great (or Not-so-great) Turkey Disaster

I remember the first turkey I ever roasted. No, that wasn’t the disaster that the title of this piece refers to. That turkey, though a tidge dry, came out remarkably well for a “first,” though I got off to a shaky start with it.

I was 19, living on my own, and seeing a guy with whom I spent weekends. His ideas about cooking (such as using lard for shortening) were vastly different from the culinary habits with which I had been raised, and as I was just learning to cook (mostly by the seat-of-my-pants method, though with many phoned “Help!” questions to my mom), my cooking became an amalgam of my mother’s ways, my boyfriend’s ways, and my own brave experiments.

Thanksgiving arrived, and I volunteered to cook a turkey. Boyfriend was skeptical. “Have you ever cooked a turkey before?”

“No, but how difficult can it be?”

Boyfriend remained skeptical, but I insisted I was sure I could master a turkey, and with great reservations he acceded to my cooking our holiday dinner.

The hardest part turned out to be lifting the @#$## bird in and out of the oven. As Boyfriend was removing it for me (I’d given up and called for backup), he remarked that it looked done (this was before those pop-up timers… which I don’t trust anyhow… and I had used the old-fashioned tests for doneness… as I still do) and that it looked tasty. “After all,” he said, “it’s not that different from roasting a chicken. I shouldn’t have mistrusted you. How many chickens have you roasted?”

“None,” I gulped. “I’ve never roasted any kind of bird.”

I think they call it baptism by fire.

But it came out fine. A wee bit dry but really cooked just long enough and plenty tasty. So you can see that that wasn’t the turkey disaster. The turkey disaster was a flood. A flood? you may be wondering. How does roasting a turkey produce a flood? It’s easy.

Of late I have taken to brining my turkeys before I roast them. Really makes a difference in the moistness. But lifting a turkey is as much of a problem for me now as it was when I was 19 — if anything more, because I buy much bigger turkeys now, jonesing for the leftovers, with all the great things there are to do with them. And when you brine a turkey, the bag with the heavy bird and all that saltwater in it is just about IMPOSSIBLE for me to heft. So once again I called for backup.

These days, I live with a man named Grant, the chief beneficiary of my culinary adventures (and he’s got the stomach to prove it — though I won’t take the total blame for his big belly; all those candy bars and containers of tapioca he buys have something to do with it, too). Grant came in to lift the brining bag into the fridge for me. We were both unaware that the bag was leaking. My first clue came when I walked back into the kitchen some time later and found a “swimming pool” in front of the fridge. I opened the fridge door and water flooded out. “HELP!” I called. “Your assistance is URGENTLY needed in the kitchen.”

I mixed up a fresh batch of brine, and we rebagged the turkey in it, sealed the new bag, and Grant got it back into the fridge. Then the seal broke. If we thought we had had a flood to mop up before (yes, Grant helped with the mop-up — he’s a keeper for sure!), it was nothing compared to the Noah’s deluge that engulfed us now. Grant got drenched as the water sluiced out of the fridge, and the inside of the fridge as well as the floor were swamped. Since the water had been in contact with raw turkey, all the veggies and other uncovered foods that got wet had to be thrown out in an abundance of caution.

That was three months ago. I generally make a turkey every couple of months at least, but I haven’t essayed to cook a turkey since.

~ ~ ~

Author of over 50 published books, including The Cook-Ahead Cookbook (Bristol/Nitty-Gritty) and many books on other subjects, Cynthia MacGregor is a full-time freelance writer/editor. She is available to write, edit, ghostwrite, and do public speaking. Her website is, and her email is [email protected]. She lives near West Palm Beach.

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