With Thanksgiving just around the corner, you may well be overwhelmed by so many tips on roasting a turkey. To brine or not to brine? To use an oven roasting bag or just a roasting pan? To stuff or not to stuff? If you have in mind an old-fashioned turkey that is succulent and bronzed, let me add my two cents and suggest a few tips that have worked well for me over the years.
1. As to what size turkey to buy, figure that a 15 pound turkey feeds 10 people with leftovers for those great sandwiches later on. Go from there.
2. If you’ve selected a frozen turkey, thaw it properly in the refrigerator. It will take three days for a 20 pound turkey to thaw. Rinse the turkey with cold water inside and out and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Defrosted turkeys take a little longer to cook than fresh turkeys. Figure 20 minutes per pound for a defrosted turkey and 10 to 15 minutes per pound for a fresh turkey in a 350 degree oven.
4. We all know that stuffing from inside the bird tastes best, but you might consider cooking it in a casserole dish to avoid overcooking the turkey. The stuffing is fully cooked at 165 degrees at which point the white meat may become dry. What I do is infuse the dressing with a few tablespoons of the cooked turkey juices to give it a roast turkey flavor. Fill the cavity loosely with aromatic vegetables such as celery, carrots, onion, garlic as well as fresh greens like parsley, thyme and tarragon.
5. Tie the legs together with the tail and fold the wing tips under for more even cooking.
6. Before roasting, use your fingers to loosen the breast skin carefully without tearing it. Rub softened butter under the skin and coat the outside of the bird as well. Salt and pepper the bird. The turkey should be placed on a rack in a roasting pan. You can tent the breast with a piece of aluminum foil to make sure it doesn’t brown before the bird is done. Remove it about 45 minutes before the bird is done.
7. You may be tempted to baste the bird, but every time you open the oven door, you lose heat and risk a dry bird.
8. If your bird has a pop-up thermometer, don’t trust it. Use a meat thermometer or instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey. Test the temperature in more than one place including the thickest part of the thigh. When the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, take the turkey out. Tent loosely with foil for at least 15 minutes before carving.
9. Present your glorious bronzed bird to your guests’ oohs and aahs and then whisk it back to the kitchen to carve. This way you can carve it on a proper cutting board and sneak a piece of crispy skin. Carve your turkey with a very sharp knife.
10. I like Sara Moulton’s carving advice. She suggests pulling the leg back until the joint “pops”. Then cut at the joint to remove the legs and separate them between the drumsticks and thighs. Similarly, the wings can be pulled back and cut at the joint. The wishbone should be removed with a small sharp knife, thus allowing the breast halves to be easily removed and neatly sliced. An attractive arrangement can then be place on the serving platter. Bon Appétit!
Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm