Rethinking Thanksgiving, an American holiday connected to some of our most serious and beloved food traditions, requires careful consideration. Time and space (in the kitchen, oven and refrigerator) limitations, guests' expectations and each generation's attachment to tradition: these are among the factors that contribute to the success of the meal.
One year, my mother-in-law, Molly, wanted two turkeys. I knew there wasn't space in the oven to roast both in a reasonable amount of time with good results. Experience and basic kitchen logic told me to devote the standard, longer cooking time for one bird, and to somehow shorten the time it would take to cook the second bird. That could be done, I realized, by boning the turkey and tying up the leg and breast. A two day process, brining is optional, but when I tested this recipe, I found that brining was the best way to ensure that the bird cooked and browned evenly, since it takes just one hour in the oven.
Other benefits of this technique include fresh turkey bones leftover for stock-making (great for gravy and enough for soup too), and a bird that can be cooked over low heat on a gas grill for a slightly smoky flavor. A twelve-pound turkey, boned and tied, will be ready in one hour when cooked on a gas grill set at medium low. Set the turkey parts above the grill, on an upper rack, turning them once during the cooking time. Allow the cooked bird and parts to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before slicing.
4 cups water
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup salt
1 bunch fresh sage
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Put the ingredients in a pot that's large enough to hold the turkey parts AND fit into your refrigerator. Bring the contents to a boil and allow the brine to cool completely before adding the turkey parts. This will probably take several hours. Brine the turkey parts overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day, remove the turkey parts from the brine, pat them dry and place them on a rack to dry in the refrigerator, several hours or overnight.