Long before that funny thing happened to Columbus on his way to India and long before that motley crew of malcontents gathered around the Plymouth rock, the turkey was held in high esteem among Native Americans. In addition to appreciating his tasty presence, his intelligence and wile, we respected him for saving fire.
Long, long ago a great storm came and wind blew and rain poured for many days. The campfires were drowned out all across the land. It was the beginning of Winter and our people were cold.
We called on our friends for help to find any fire remaining. The birds held a council and offered their help. The eagles and the ospreys circled high with sharp eyes intent. The kites and hawks spread out across the land and gave shrill cries and hovered in likely places.
One by one they returned - without success. And the earth grew colder and the sky became darker. And the people were afraid.
Then a small brown sparrow found one faint, small coal flickering dimly in a half burned stump. The people rushed to find fuel to keep the coal from dying. But all the wood was wet.
Then the turkey stepped forward and began to fan the coal with his wing. The coal glowed and grew larger and larger. Finally it burst into flame. All the feathers were singed from the turkeys head and red blisters raised up. Because he saved fire for the world, his descendants have borne red blisters instead of feathers on their heads in memory of his deed. To honour his bravery and service, we use a turkey wing to fan the camp fire.
This delightful legend adds even more flavour to a spectacular taste of smoked turkey.
Smoked turkey can be dressed up or down. It forms the centre of an all time great sandwich and is the beginning of many delicious variations. Unfortunately, like most things, a good smoked turkey is hard to find. If you don't have a talented, generous friend, you just about have to do it yourself.
Turkey smoking is not for the inpatient. It provides the perfect prophylactic to unwanted invitations, "I'd like to, but I'm smoking turkeys." And it would go well with a re-reading of "War and Peace."
HOW TO SMOKE A TURKEY RIGHT
Get a right turkey. I prefer fresh. Not "sort of" or "semi" but real fresh. If you use frozen, follow carefully the producers instructions for thawing. And not a large one. 5-6kg big enough. The heavyweights of 10kg create too many problems. It is safe to assume that all poultry has some little salmonella bacteria lurking about. Poultry, properly prepared and cooked, is safer than a baby's teething ring. But, large birds and low temperatures create opportunities whose knock you do not wish to hear.
Prepare the grill for smoking Turkey - temperature 80-90C for prolonged periods; sweet smoke of fruitwoods (apple, pear) white oak, hickory; hardwood charcoal.
Trim excess fat and skin flaps and wash thoroughly under running water. Place directly on the grill. No salt; no seasonings.
Close down the grill. Adjust your air flow to maintain about 180C. Go taste your favourite beverage. Check back in about an hour to assure that you adjustments were what you thought they were. Adjust if required. Then find something to do for the next 15-18 hours.
How often you need to check the grill depends upon how long your grill will maintain the proper temperature range without your attention. How long you carry on, depends on how long it takes the centre of the thickest part of the bird to reach 78C.
The bird should have the same colour if he had spent the summer on the beach. The meat should have a pink ring of smoke penetration. When sliced, juices should run clear. The meat should be moist and tender.
You may remove it at once to cool or reduce the temperature and lay on a fresh coating of new smoke. Allow the bird to cool before slicing in your usual professional manner. Try not to eat it all before everybody gets a taste.
SIMPLE SAVORY ROAST TURKEY
One medium size turkey - 5-6kg, preferably fresh. If frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Remove miscellany from cavity and wash thoroughly. Close the neck opening with the flap, and stuff the cavity with:
|175g||of chopped onions|
|175g||of chopped celery with leaves|
|1||Tablespoon||of rubbed sage|
|350g||of chopped apples|
Stop the opening with a hard French roll or any other suitable, edible.
Fire up the grill for 165C for about 3 1/2 hours. Use white oak and apple wood for flavouring. But lightly. A small amount of smoke, over a 4 hour period, totals up to a heap.
Put the bird on the grill, breast up, and button down the lid. Go catch a cricket match. No need to even peek until the first half is over. Just make certain that the temperature is steady. Exhaust from the stack should not be less than 155C.
If you are watching the Australians bat, the bird will almost be finished when they are all out. If you are watching England bat, you will have time to watch the slow motion replay as well.
After the total time on the grill is about 3 hours, insert the thermometer in the thigh without touching bone, and take a reading. If the temperature is not at least 66C, crank up the heat a bit.
When the temperature reaches 78C, remove the turkey and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes before carving. Be careful, when moving the bird, not to lose the stuffing. It is hot.
Demonstrate your carving prowess and serve a little of the stuffing on the side. Provide fresh ground black pepper and salt.
TURKEY TIME AGAIN
It's getting close to turkey day again. How strange we are to ignore a tasty, economical source of protein eleven months out of the year. Unlike chicken, which we consume year round, we reserve turkey for that period between Christmas and the New Year. Surely our tradition drives the turkey producers up the wall.
Besides tradition, turkeys present a few differences from chicken that make some people hesitate. Their large size puts off some people. Even if they have a large oven and time, not many enjoy turkey seven days in a row.
Then there are those who have a terminal case of over cook when it comes to turkeys. They consistently turn out turkey breast as dry as a dust devil's breath. To head off such disasters, they use elaborate schemes involving aluminium foil, roasting bags and even boiling.
Here is another place where a good grill and a little organised laziness comes to the rescue. These days it is relatively easy to buy smaller turkeys or even turkey breasts or thighs, year round.
Therefore there is no need to cook so much that you get sick of it before it is gone. Surprise yourself several times a year with a tasty turkey dish. The cooking part is easier than taking a nap.
Select a turkey that fits your needs - fresh, if available. I find the cheaper brands as good as the premium. If it is frozen, carefully follow the directions for thawing. Trim excess fat and skin and pat dry.
Fire up the grill for roasting - about 350 degrees. Build a good, large bed of coals and reduce the heat by closing down the air supply. Collect a small amount - 3-4 pounds of green fruit wood, white oak and hickory.
Sprinkle the turkey inside and out with a mixture of:
|1||teaspoon||of Garlic powder|
|1||teaspoon||of Onion powder|
|1||teaspoon||of Celery seed, ground|
|1||Tablespoon||of Fresh ground black pepper|
Place turkey on the grill, opposite the coals, breast up. Close the grill and go away for about an hour.
Check the temperature of the exhaust, look over the coals and put on a few chips. If you must use chips soak in water for at least thirty minutes.
Maintain the temperature between 150 – 180C with a gentle smoke floating from the exhaust. Tidy up, close the grill and go rest from your labours.
Check back in about an hour time and insert your handy thermometer in the centre of the thickest part of the bird. When it reads 78C, time is up. It is done. Remove and let it sit for about 20 minutes before carving.
It should be as juicy as the latest gossip and tender as a baby's sigh.
I am including this 1989 column, as embarrassing as it is to me, as a warning for all the wannabe turkey smokers.