Thanksgiving – Turkey Basics
Turkey day is fast approaching. Get ready for it by brushing up on the turkey-cooking basics.
Make sure you estimate a 1/2 kilogram of turkey per person. Go for slightly larger than you need if you’re hoping for lots of leftovers. Whether you buy a fresh or a frozen bird, remember to plan ahead. Butchers typically have a limited supply of fresh turkeys, so place your order early. Frozen birds require thawing time: at least one day in the fridge for every 2 kilograms of turkey.
Most complaints about turkey centre on the fact that the meat can be dry and bland. Try these tricks for a scrumptious and moist dinner.
Create a flavour base
The night before roasting the turkey, rub it with olive oil. Lay a generous amount of rosemary, parsley, sage and thyme, lemon slices and thick-cut pieces of carrot, celery, garlic and onion all over the top and inside the cavity. Leave those aromatics on the turkey as it roasts.
The most basic brine is made by dissolving 1 cup of kosher salt in 4 litres of water. More water will almost always have to be added to make sure that the turkey is completely submerged. Leave the bird in that basic brine, or customize it yourself. Add any or all of the following, or come up with your own additions.
• 1/2 cup of brown sugar
• 2 Tb black peppercorns
• 1 tsp allspice berries
• 1 cinnamon stick
• up to 4 litres broth (in addition to the 4 litres of water)
Brining works by tenderizing the meat and forcing the tissue to swell and absorb water and flavours. The two biggest issues that stump people when it comes to brining is first finding a container large enough to hold the submerged turkey, and second, finding a refrigerator large enough to hold the container. Use a stockpot, a food-grade bucket that you’ve scrubbed clean or a roasting pan. If the container isn’t large enough, you’ll need to flip the turkey over every few hours so that the whole bird comes into contact with the brine. Leave the turkey in the brine for about 12 hours, give or take. Remove the bird from the brine, rinse well and pat dry with paper towels. Tuck the wing tips behind the back and place the turkey breast-side up on a roasting rack or on cut vegetables. Cover with a whack of herbs, garlic and lemon slices, and you’re ready to roast.
One word of warning when brining: if you’re hoping to use the pan juices to make the gravy, taste first. The brine could make those juices (and ultimately your gravy) very salty.
Remove the giblets from the cavity and lay them in the roasting pan alongside the turkey. They will add extra flavour to the gravy. Rinse the turkey inside and out, then pat dry with paper towels. If you prefer to stuff the turkey, be careful not to overfill the cavity. If there isn’t enough room for the stuffing to naturally expand during the cooking time, it may not reach a safe temperature. Brush the entire bird with melted butter or oil. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips behind its back. The jury’s still out on whether the turkey should begin roasting at a high temperature (and the temperature reduced after 45 minutes or so) or at a low even temperature (say 325°F) for the entire recommended roasting time. It’s entirely your call. If the turkey is darkening too much, cover it loosely with foil.
Use the chart below to estimate cooking time. I repeat: these cooking times are guidelines. How long your turkey cooks will depend on your oven, the temperature of the turkey and how stuffed the cavity is.
Weight Roasting Time – Unstuffed Roasting Time – Stuffed
4.5 – 8 kgs 2 – 3.5 hours 3- 4.5 hours
6.5 – 9.5 kgs 3.5 – 4 hours 4.5 – 5 hours
9.5 – 10.5 kgs 4 – 4.5 hours 5 – 5.5 hours
10.5 – 13 kgs 4.5 – 5 hours 5.5- 6 hours
Testing for Doneness
The only reliable test for doneness is the temperature of the thigh meat, which should be 155°F. The stuffing, too, should be 155°F. When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven, tent it loosely with foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Although it might seem a daunting task, carving a turkey is very easy if you do it step-by-step. If you’ve allowed the turkey to rest for enough time, the juices won’t all seep out as you cut, and the meat slices will hold together.
1. Remove the wings. Bend the wing back until you can see the joint. Slice through the joint with a sharp knife.
2. Remove the legs. As with the wings, pull back the leg to expose the joint. Slice right through the joint.
3. Slice the breast meat. There are two ways to do this, which one you choose depends on your comfort level. I prefer to begin slicing on the lower part of the breast close to the wing joint and work my way along until no meat remains. Some people prefer to remove the entire breast from the turkey before cutting it into smaller slices. To do this, run your knife along the breastbone, then along the ribs until the breast comes free.
Other Cooking Methods
If you’re adventurous, you can try deep-frying or barbecuing a whole turkey. In either case, do not stuff the turkey.
You’ll have to purchase a specially made kit that includes a burner and a tall pot. Best done outdoors with a fire extinguisher within reach, pour enough oil into the pot until it reaches 2 inches above the turkey. Remove the turkey and heat the oil to 325°F. Place the turkey in the basket or hanger included in the kit, and carefully lower it into the pot. Estimate a cooking time of about 3 minutes per 1/2 kg, checking to see that the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 155°F. Carefully lift the turkey out of the oil, and let it rest.
Place a foil pie plate under one side of the grill to catch the drippings. Pre-heat the barbecue to 325°F. Place the bird directly on the grill and over the pie plate, breast side up. Turn off only the burners that lie directly underneath the turkey. This way, the turkey cooks with indirect heat. Close the lid. Check the bird’s internal temperature 3/4 through the cooking time.
Tomorrow: Thanksgiving recipes