Editor’s note: This year, our Thanksgiving meal is a virtual potluck. Writers and editors signed up to provide one of 11 dishes, then tested recipes and brought contenders to a final taste-off for a vote. Here’s the winning turkey.
I went back to the bag this year — you know, the one that makes the righteous Food Police comment till the cows come home. The turkey oven bag.
When you’re all in for Thanksgiving, a big bird is the holiday table’s chief ongoing concern. You make room for it in cold storage, you weigh the merits of a brine, you schedule around its cooking, you tinker with how it’s seasoned, you hope the white meat stays juicy, you try not to shred it as you carve and you wonder whether there will be leftovers.
The turkey recipe that Wagshal’s butcher Pam Ginsberg shared with Post readers in 2016 was about the easiest one I’ve ever roasted, with little prep and no brine. Could I improve on it? I wanted to brine and fuss a little but keep the oven time about the same. For a 14-pounder, that translated to about 2½ hours. So I bought a package and followed the directions: Dust the inside of the bag with flour. Cut slits in the top. Make sure to tuck it inside the pan.
The Reynolds brand bags I used are made of heat-resistant nylon, which is the same material used in the cooking utensils found in so many home kitchens. Food-grade safe, non-leaching. The company has sold the product steadily since its introduction in 1976, and there has been an uptick in sales the past two years. My mother would load up a smaller-size one with a chuck roast, carrots, onions and Lipton soup mix when I was growing up, for Sunday dinners. The bags were designed to keep big cuts of meat moist in the oven; that the bags eased cleanup was a bonus, says Reynolds Consumer Products test kitchen manager Charry Brown.
Tales of exploding bags persist, she says, and such scary things did happen initially, before the test kitchen discovered the flour-and-top-slits approach.
Bottom line: If you’re looking to cook the turkey faster and keep its meat moist throughout, the bag’s for you. If you want to skip scrubbing the roasting pan, the bag’s for you. If you want the turkey’s skin to be evenly browned and crisped, it might not be for you. If you want to crank up the heat to 400-plus degrees or use a countertop roaster oven, the bag’s definitely not for you.
Brown has learned ways of compensating for some bag issues. You can slather the turkey with oil or butter before it goes in to help with browning; I use the latter. For even browning, you’ll have better luck with a modest-size bird than a large one, she says; I found that rotating the pan a few times from front to back during cooking also helped. Reynolds does not recommend splitting open the bag for the last bit of roasting to crisp the skin, because the nylon will slump over the sides of the hot metal pan, a no-no.
My “fuss” amounts to peeling enough garlic cloves — about 50 — to put inside the cavity of the turkey so they become almost tender and absorb some meat juices. A quick turn in the food processor with a touch of maple syrup and a pinch of salt yields a mellow garlic cream that’s good with just about everything on the Thanksgiving table, except for dessert.
The garlic that roasts inside this brined turkey creates a mellow, flavorful addition to the Thanksgiving plate.
We tested this with and without an oven roasting bag; the turkey had moist meat and crisped skin either way, but the bagged version cooked faster, was easier to clean up and softened the garlic more thoroughly. So we recommend using the oven roasting bag, per its package directions. We also recommend removing the wishbone before you roast the turkey; it makes for easier carving.
You’ll need an instant-read thermometer for monitoring the turkey and a nylon oven roasting bag large enough to accommodate a 14-pound bird. The manufacturer of the bag we bought does not recommend placing a roasting rack inside the bag, which is the technique we used; it didn’t cause problems for us, but if you want to make sure the bag doesn’t tear, seat the turkey on a bed of vegetables in the bag rather than in a rack.
POTLUCK TIP: To avoid spills, pour the pan drippings into a lidded container. Transport the turkey on the roasting rack, in a roasting pan, tented with aluminum foil. There is no need to reheat the turkey. (In fact, it might overcook the bird.) Reheat the turkey drippings on the stove for gravy or stuffing. Bring a carving board, carving tools and a serving platter.
MAKE AHEAD: The turkey needs to be refrigerated in its brine for 8 to 12 hours.
From deputy Food editor Bonnie S. Benwick; the brine recipe is based on one from White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford.
For the brine
4 cups water
1 bunch thyme
2 heads garlic, each cut in half horizontally
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 cup kosher salt
2 cups dark brown sugar
8 cups ice
For the turkey and garlic cream
One 14-pound turkey, giblets and neck removed
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature; may substitute Amish smoked butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Peeled cloves from 4 heads garlic
Flour, for dusting
For the brine: Combine the water, thyme, garlic, peppercorns, salt and brown sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and brown sugar have dissolved. Let cool until barely warm, then transfer to the receptacle you will use for brining the bird. Add the ice, then the turkey, breast side down. Cover or seal tightly, making sure the bird is submerged, and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
Discard the brine, pat the turkey dry with paper towels and place it (breast side up) on a V-rack seated in a roasting pan to air-dry while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
To remove the wishbone, pull up the neck skin and use your fingers to locate the Y-shaped bone. Use a thin, sharp knife to make cuts along the curve of the bones on the inside and outside. Loosen the wishbone and pull it out.
Slather the bird inside and out with the butter, then season liberally with the pepper. Place the garlic cloves in the turkey cavity.
Dust the inside of the oven roasting bag with flour, then carefully place the turkey, on its rack, inside the bag, inside the roasting pan. Cut several slits in the top of the bag, and tuck in the bag all around in the pan. Roast for about 21/2 hours or until the internal temperature of the breast meat is 165 degrees and the temperature of the dark meat taken away from the bone registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Discard the bag and reserve the pan drippings (for gravy or stuffing). Let the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving; meanwhile, transfer the softened garlic cloves to a food processor. Add a drizzle of maple syrup (to taste) and season lightly with pepper, then puree until smooth. Serve warm.
Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.
Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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