A bourbon brine seduces the Man this Thanksgiving
With the yearly feast around the corner, I feel I should make a confession: I hate turkey. Actually, that’s not totally accurate. The truth is I loathe turkey. Turkey breast, turkey sandwiches, turkey burgers, turkey meat loaf, I despise them all. And that’s not even mentioning the possible human rights violation known as turkey tetrazzini. In my opinion, as far as flavor is concerned, turkey falls somewhere between styrofoam and bark.
As a kid, Thanksgiving was my least favorite holiday. Other holidays were fun. Christmas had presents, Fourth of July had fireworks, Memorial Day and Labor Day were all about cookouts, and Halloween was a sugar-fueled, costumed Euphoria. But every Thanksgiving was exactly the same, me at a cramped table stuck between arguing uncles and cheek-pinching aunts, staring blankly at a dry bird stuffed with wet bread. My only condolence was knowing they would all be asleep in an hour. Thank you, L-Tryptophan.
Some may scoff at my disdain for this traditional feast but I feel I’m not alone. In fact, I believe there are legions of secret turkey haters out there who suffer through this dry, tasteless bird only because it is a vehicle for much better fare. Let’s face it, the real stars of Thanksgiving are the fixings—butternut squash, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes crusted with brown sugar. The turkey is the stage, but the fixings are the show.
Even some chef friends of mine have admitted that turkey is on the bottom of their protein list. “I never cook it,” one local chef recently told me. “It’s just dry and tasteless, why bother?” Another said he cooks turkey on Thanksgiving only so he can have a couple of days of turkey sandwiches afterwards. Others said it was all in the preparation and that I should try smoking the turkey to impart more flavor. Some even recommended deep-frying it, which to me seemed liked a bad idea even before I watched a YouTube video titled “Turkey Frying Disaster Compilation.”
But Chef Jason Scholz of Stella’s Southern Bistro in Simpsonville wouldn’t give up on me. He admits turkey is often “dry and flavorless” and probably the reason gravy was invented. But Scholz has a flavoring secret and it involves the only turkey I usually have in my house, the kind that’s wild and 100-proof. Upon the mention of bourbon, Scholz had my attention. The trick, he claims, is to create a brine of bourbon, brown sugar, and spices and allow the bird to soak up these flavors for about 30 hours prior to putting it in the oven. I’m going to try Scholz’s recipe this year as a last-ditch effort to stick with tradition. But I still wish the Pilgrims and Wampanoag had just roasted a pig.