Turkey and I have never been pals. For the sake of propriety and family tradition, we put our differences aside and endure each other for a few hours each year, as you would a creepy uncle or ex-con cousin. I put most of the blame for our failed relationship on my own stubborness—although years of pallid birds, sawdusty leftovers, an incident involving a flaming vat of oil and an equally volatile relationship with a high-maintenance poultry heiress shoulder the rest.
This year, turkey and I were forced to spend much more time together than usual. Four full-blown Thanksgiving dinners will do that to you. Call it love by proximity, but for the first time I can say “I like turkey.” What did it for me? First, I purchased good (natural, free-range) birds. I even drove to central Maryland to pick up two turkeys (one for me, one for my prescient coworker, Emily Kaiser) from this farm. Then I threw out most of the turkey-roasting lore I’ve collected over the years. I still brined my birds (it really makes a difference with un-processed turkey), but the fuss stopped there: I didn’t stuff, I didn’t inject, I didn’t truss or rub. And I opted for a quick, hot roast (about 2 hours at 425° for a 12-pound bird) over a long, slow bake. I also didn’t baste, rotate or flip my turkeys. And they all came out of the oven just as I wanted: juicy, crisp-skinned and tasting like turkey.
I’m not cooking turkey for another 361 days. But when we next see each other for our annual date, the smile on my face won’t be forced.