I started with a fresh turkey. I called around hoping to find something harvested in the not-too-distant past from a local Hutterite colony. No such luck. Worried I was not going to be able to find a bird of a certain size I got the first one could find the weekend before Thanksgiving. I paid too much for the darn thing. Ok. I got it at Look's. Note for next year- buy a fresh turkey at Hy Vee and save at least $0.70 per pound. More remarkable than the buck-ninety-nine a pound price was the attempt by the sales clerk to convince me to buy a wet brine mix. This nearly resulted in a small argument.
More background. The plan was to brine this year. Specifically, the plan was to dry brine the bird. I've been reading about dry brining (salting, really). I've brined things like pork chops before with great success. I've wanted to brine a turkey for some time now, but have never wanted to mess around with finding a suitable container that will hold a turkey and a couple of gallons of brine solution. After a lot of reading (Bon Appetite, Gourmet, Food & Wine, blogs, etc.) I found the solution to the wet brining problem-- lose the solution. I wanted a fresh turkey because I didn't want a bird that had been injected with some percentage of "a solution." Basically, the "solution" is the frozen solid turkey industry's way of trying to help you along by essentially pre-brining the bird. A fresh bird isn't injected. Also, a fresh bird is not necessarily "unfrozen." I am not sure exactly what the USDA definition of fresh is, but it's something like the bird has never been stored below 20 degrees or zero. Basically, it means a fresh bird was never frozen to the point where it was suitable for turkey bowling. Don't kid yourself though, that bird has been frozen, to some degree, so you have to make sure it is thoroughly thawed.
So here I am at Look's confirming that my fresh turkey has not been injected with a solution and the guy asks me if I am going to brine and walks me over to see the display of wet brine mixes that are reportedly selling like hot cakes. I explain that no, I am going to dry-brine my bird by salting it and sealing it in a bag so the juices will draw out and then be reabsorbed into the meat. The guy thought I was nuts, questioned my research, and informed me that because salt draws out moisture I was pretty-much guaranteed to ruin that bird.
Well, that didn't happen. On Monday evening, the bird was salted, inside and out with about 1/3 cup kosher salt that was mixed with dried herbs and pepper. I sealed it up in a roasting bag and chucked it into the fridge. On Tuesday, I flipped it over to help/counteract the effects of gravity. On Wednesday, I rinsed all the salt off- there was not a great deal of liquid in the bag. I dried the bird and put it back in the fridge, uncovered, to let the skin get dry so it would get nice and crispy during roasting.
The bird was a manifest success. The meat was juicy and perfumed with the herbs. Awesome.
Also prepared ahead of time was about 2 quarts of turkey stock made from roasted turkey wings and some roasted vegetables. Making extra stock for gravy is the only way to go.
So today, the turkey carcass went in the stock pot with the last cup or so of the stock to make soup broth. Strain it really well to get the gristle, bones, and yucky bits out of it. Saute some carrots, celery, and onion, throw in some garlic and then put the broth back in the pot and simmer it for a while. Add about a half a bag of frozen egg noodles and when those are about half done, toss in some of the leftover turkey meat. Finish with a handful of frozen peas and check the seasoning. Good stuff.