Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Turkey, In A Pickle

Let's talk, Turkey.

Turkey is indigenous to the Americas. In fact, Ben Franklin, an all-time glutton (the dude ate a lot of things, but probably not too much turkey) wanted to name the wild turkey as the national bird instead of the bald eagle. Turkeys, you see, are wiley creatures. They're hard to hunt and are as fast as arrows. If you're even lucky enough to see one in the wild, you probably won't catch it. (Turkeys can hear a human sneeze up to a mile away.)

But they taste like... well, not shit, but not good.

When turkey is cooked to the USDA recommended temperature of 165°F it is dry. So dry that to eat is without gravy is a completely unpleasant experience. (Hence the invention of gravy.) It begs the question: Why do we still eat it?

I suppose the reason we still eat turkey on Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas is because it's a tradition and it looks great on the platter. Remember that classic Norman Rockwell painting from 1943 with Grandma presenting a perfect bird to the perfect family? I wish my life were like that painting, complete with a great-tasting turkey.

But my (and I'm guessing your) not-so-perfect life is not like that painting, and my not-so-perfect bird - it doesn't taste good.

This fact has been written about at extent on almost every medium. And so far, I guess this story is not news.

But that's about to change. Because this space is not for whining about why turkey isn't good. This space is about finding a solution.

I got an idea the last time I was hanging out in a really hip neighborhood with some writer friends. After drinks we wandered to a local pub-ish restaurant in Brooklyn called Prime Meats. There's been a lot of hype about this place. People like it. So, naturally, I was skeptical. But as it turns out, they know what they're doing.

One of their specialties is chicken. Chicken, also... not always great. But they make sure it will be great by brining it IN PICKLE JUICE!

Brining foul is common. In fact, the best turkeys you can buy (kosher turkeys) have been brined. Brine adds flavor to the meat, via salt and sugar, and it also makes the meat moister by a process called osmosis that allows the meat cells to hold onto water while it's cooked. So inherently, brined birds will taste better. Pickles are also brined. The vinegar solution they age in contains salt, sugar, vinegar, water, and spices.

Wait. Those are the same ingredients in turkey brine. Oh. Well, that makes sense.

Plus, pickle juice has the added flavor of pickles, which, of course, also taste great. But here's the thing - you'll need at least 3 quarts of pickle juice to brine a turkey, and, that can mean lots of pickle eating. Too much, actually.

Instead, I went to a place that sells pickles and asked them for about a gallon of pickle juice. There are a lot of places like this in New York City, but over Thanksgiving, I was in Pennsylvania. The farmers' market in Allentown has a pickle shop, where, they charged me a buck a cup for the juice. They don't get a lot of requests for pickle juice, so instead of the gallon I asked for, they could only give me 3 quarts. It ended up being enough.

If you decide to give this wonderful idea (and I really mean that - the turkey was awesome) a whirl, then you should call your pickle person ahead and request the juice.

Here's the other thing; I cut the bird in pieces. Turkey breasts and legs cook at different rates, so to make sure each piece has the right amount of time in the oven or on the grill, they should be separated. Just do it. You'll be happy.

After the bird was cut up, I soaked it, overnight, in the pickle juice, heh, flipping the bird occasionally. Then, I grilled it until both the legs and the breasts were 145°F. (They slowly rose in temperature to 165°F as they rested.) (The legs were done before the breasts.)

It was BY FAR the best turkey I've ever had; moist, juicy, flavorful, and a little pickle-y. You ask me? I'd say we make the pickle the national bird.

(Gosh. They make a T-shirt for every occasion, these days...)


  1. About those wild turkeys. They get used to humans pretty fast.
    In the 70's some not to bright person got the idea we should re-introduce wild turkeys. Now in my residental area they parade up and down the streets, sometimes 15 at a time, make a mess of sidewalks, pick at the landscaping, rip up the flowers and vegetables. I could sneeze, shout and dance and they would just ignore me.

  2. Ha! Well, get a hunting license and dance them to death!

  3. cool my friend Emma is in LOVE with pickles of all kind cool pics i used your pic of the pickle to learn how to draw one on Emma's birthday card. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. AWESOME!! I'm gonna try it!!