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Thanksgiving Survival Guide

A Kafka-esque Bird

November 18, 1998|ANDY BRODER

Cookbook author Barbara Kafka's method for roasting turkey is considered radical by some and gospel by others. She preaches fire and brimstone. Specifically, she turns her oven into an inferno, cooking her bird for a short time at 500 degrees. Ovens in professional kitchens are typically set at 500, she reasons, and chefs turn out pretty good food.

We tested the hot, hot, hot roasting method and found that a couple of modifications of her recipe were necessary; once those were made, we had a very nice, moist turkey that cooked in less than an hour.

The first set of changes had to do with the size of our oven. Kafka's must be a monster. She says to put the bird into the oven legs first. Our wall-mounted ovens are not deep enough to do this. She also says to put the rack on the second level from the bottom. When we did this, the top of the turkey was so close to the top of the oven that the skin burned.

So we improvised.

First, we tried making our perennial "Ultimate Turkey" recipe--which calls for putting a layer of stuffing between the skin and the breast--but baking it at 500 degrees. The meat stayed moist, but the stuffing turned into a rock-hard mass, resembling a football shoulder pad. Good meat, but really bad appearance and inedible stuffing.

Next we tried putting an herb butter under the skin, and a pound of sliced bacon over the top. The bacon burned and stuck to the skin. The turkey tasted great, but with the tattered skin it looked a little scruffy. With the temperature this high, we discovered that nothing should go under the skin--you need the skin intact to protect the meat. Still, we liked the smoky flavor from the bacon.

Finally we came up with the perfect combination of our own flavor ideas and the Kafka method. Here it is:

* Use a shallow roasting pan, about 2 inches deep. Ours is 6 inches deep, so we used the top of the roaster, and it worked fine. To cook at 500 degrees, be sure the bird is thoroughly thawed and at room temperature before putting it into the oven. Also, wash the turkey inside and out, and dry the skin with a clean towel.

* Cut off the last joint of the wing or it will burn.

* Fill the cavity of the turkey with herbs such as rosemary, sage, garlic, thyme and chives.

* Cover the top of the turkey with bacon, layering the strips over the breast and legs. Cover the tips of the drumsticks with aluminum foil.

* Roast at 500 degrees on the bottom rack of the oven.

* Remove the bacon from the top of the turkey after 25 minutes and put the bacon into the drippings and the cavity.

* At this time, generously baste the turkey with melted butter. Put the turkey back in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 in the thickest part of the thigh. Be sure the thermometer is not touching bone when you take the temperature. Our turkey weighed about 12 pounds and took 50 minutes total. A larger bird will take longer, but we do not recommend this recipe for a turkey larger than 15 pounds.

* Let the turkey stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before carving.

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