Hooray for following through on something! Welcome to part 2 of I-don’t-know-how-many series on Thanksgiving preparation. If you’re keeping score at home, you know that part 1 was all about brining your bird. And I’m done with the caveats now. I’m just gonna assume that you’re making a turkey. I realize it’s stereotypical and very much a cliché, but stereotypes are based on reality anyway.
Moving on. Now that your bird is perfectly brined, it’s ready to cook, right? Only kinda. Here’s what you wanna do. First, take the bird out of the brine and give it a quick rinse. Side note here, you’ll want to disinfect your sink when you’re done with this step since bacteria can and will grow in your sink from the raw turkey. Back on point. Towel off your bird with some paper towels and let’s think about more flavor. Of course, you’ve done yourself a great service by brining in a flavorful liquid, but why not add even MORE flavor? The name of the game here is similarity and familiarity. Here’s what you do…
Since we brined with certain herbs and spices, we’re gonna drive those flavors home. Now is not the time to experiment on the latest spice rub you bought from the guy on the corner. Grab 2 sticks of butter (1/2 pound) from the fridge, place them in a bowl and let that sit on the counter for about an hour or so to soften up real nice. In the mean time, get everything else ready. Grab some more thyme branches, say… 3 of them. Mince those up real nice and fine, and do the same to 4 cloves of garlic. You know what? You could easily go really crazy here depending on your bird size. If you have a Godzilla-bird, feel free to up the butter and herbage. Now, once your butter is softened, add in the thyme, garlic, some fresh ground black pepper, you could add in a little bit of sugar here, but I would be very cautious in doing so. If you wanted to, you could cook up a few slices of a nice bacon, crumble them up and toss them in the butter as well. Now, go to town mixing these things together. The butter should be soft enough to make this very easy, and maybe even enjoyable. If you wanted, you could add the juice of half a lemon to add a nice touch. Once everything’s all together, you could either roll it into a log, or leave it in the bowl for the next step.
Ok, you now are in possession of an herb butter. I would say make more than you think you’ll need because it’s better to have too much since you can use it again later. Now, what you’re going to do is gently lift as much of the skin off of the bird. You are not removing the skin! Merely loosening it so you can get up under there. Once everything is good and loose, start stuffing it with the butter you made. Again, this should be very easy since the butter is super soft. Doing this under the skin will essentially fry the skin, getting it nice and crisp, as well as putting a layer of direct-contact flavor on the flesh. Once you have a nice layer of the butter under the skin, feel free to rub some on top, too. Don’t be too worried about it, though. Most of it will cook off of the bird, sort of like a rotisserie.
You could make this butter ahead of time, too. In fact, I recommend that. Make it 2 days ahead of time, and keep it in the fridge. Just be sure to let it sit out at least an hour on the counter before using it. Also: since we’re talking about seasoning… Notice I did not add any salt to the butter, nor did I tell you to salt the bird. Remember that brine? That turkey is plenty salty right now, but it won’t taste salty, I promise. If you absolutely feel the need to add more salt, so for it.. But only do a little bit of Kosher salt, and only add it to the outside of the skin. It could help draw out moisture and crisp up the skin a little.
One last thing on the topic of seasoning. While it is not okay to actually stuff your bird, you should think about stuffing that cavity with some flavorful ingredients. I would say roughly chop a red onion, maybe a stalk or two of celery, a carrot or two, and the two halves of the lemon (one of which you used in the butter… there’s still a lot of flavor in the peel of that lemon!)…and if you have any thyme left, that would be a good place for it too. Shove it all in there right before roasting and throw them out when the bird’s done. Not only will that all add a lot of flavor, you’ll also get some moisture (flavorful moisture, at that) from all of those veggies.
That sums it up for this time. Stay tuned! More Thanksgiving tips coming soon!