Giving Your Guest The Bird

On November 26th giving someone the bird is not only acceptable but down right tasty especially if the bird in question is a turkey.

This week, many American families will gather around the lunch or (and?) dinner table, feasting on a Thanksgiving meal centered on turkey. It’s a celebration of many things, but historically, stems back to 1621, when European settlers (“Pilgrims,” as any American elementary school children will surely tell you) marked the harvest by having a similar meal.

TURKEY2imagesTurkeys are indigenous to the United States and Mexico; in fact, Europeans only first came into contact with turkeys roughly 500 years ago, upon discovery of the New World. So how did turkeys (the bird) end up being named so similarly to Turkey (the country)? Let’s follow that bird’s history from the New World to the Old.

As far as we can tell, the first European explorers to discover (and eat) turkey were those in Hernan Cortez’s expedition in Mexico in 1519. This new delicacy was brought back to Europe by Spanish Conquistadors and by 1524, had reached England. The bird was domesticated in England within a decade, and by the turn of the century, it’s name — “turkey” — had entered the English language. Case in point: William Shakespeare used the term in Twelfth Night, believed to be written in 1601 or 1602. The lack of context around his usage suggests that the term had widespread reach.

But the birds did not come directly from the New World to England; rather, they came via merchant ships from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Those merchants were called “Turkey merchant” as much the area was part of the Turkish Empire at the time. Purchasers of the birds back home in England thought the fowl came from the area, hence the name “Turkey birds” or, soon thereafter, “turkeys.”

Not all languages follow this misconception. Others, such as Hebrew get the origin just as wrong, but in the other direction. The Hebrew term for turkey, transliterated as tarnagol hodu, literally translates to “chicken of India,” furthering the Elizabethan-era myth that New World explorers had found a route to the Orient. This nomenclature for the bird is so wide-spread that it self-defeats the historical basis for the term “turkey” in English, as the Turkish word for turkey is “hindi.”

This fail-proof roasting method produces the tastiest, juiciest Thanksgiving turkey.

As the so-called kitchen professional in my family, I used to be expected to come up with newfangled takes on the Thanksgiving turkey each year. I’ve brined it, smoked it, fried it, dry-rubbed it; but eventually I (and everyone else around the table) tired of elaborate seasonings and complicated preparations.

What we really craved was just a fantastic roast turkey—and this recipe produces exactly that. Follow these steps and you’ll have tender legs, juicy white meat, burnished skin, and lots of gravy. In fact, it’s the single best technique for roasting a bird that I know and the only one I use anymore when it comes to this special meal.

To start, I shop for a fresh, humanely raised bird, ideally not more than 15 pounds; the gargantuan, industrially raised fowl sold by the truckload around the holidays are bland (at best) and, because they’re so big, impossible to cook evenly.

One 13- to 14-pound fresh turkey will generously feed 10 to 12 people (for more guests, buy a second turkey). Bring your bird home at least two days before Thanksgiving so you have ample time to presalt, a simple step that keeps the turkey juicy and intensifies its natural flavors.

  1. Begin with the gravy: You’ll want plenty of it, so I recommend buying and roasting turkey parts, which will be used to make the gravy’s deeply flavorful broth. You’ll need five to six pounds of turkey parts —ideally a mix of necks, wings, and legs — to make enough gravy for 10 to 12 people. Ask your butcher to chop the parts into four-inch pieces; smaller pieces are best because the skin and collagen release more easily from the bones, adding flavor and body to the broth. Pat the parts dry with paper towels, arrange them in a single layer in a large flameproof roasting pan (I use the same one I use for the turkey), and roast them in a 450-degree oven, flipping them with tongs after 30 minutes, for an hour total, until nicely browned.
  1. Transfer the roasted parts to a four- or five-quart saucepan. Don’t worry if bits stick; you’ll capture them when you deglaze the pan. Place the roasting pan over your largest burner (you can use two burners if that’s a better fit), turn the heat to high, and add two cups of water. Bring to a boil, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to dissolve any cooked-on drippings, and then pour the liquid into the saucepan. Add enough additional water to the saucepan to just cover the turkey pieces; any more can result in a diluted broth. Depending on the shape and size of your pot and turkey parts, you’ll probably need about seven to eight cups of water total. Bring to just below a boil over medium high heat, and immediately lower the heat to a very gentle simmer. Skim any foam or scum that rises to the top, and add one large coarsely chopped carrot; one large coarsely chopped yellow onion; one coarsely chopped rib of celery; one-half teaspoon of kosher salt; one-half teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, and one bay leaf.

    It’s awkward to skim once you’ve added the vegetables and seasonings — since they tend to float to the surface — so I don’t bother. As long as you don’t let the broth boil aggressively, it will be clear. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until it has a sweet, rich turkey flavor, two and a half to three hours. When the broth is done, set a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl. (If you don’t have a fine-mesh strainer, line a colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth.) Strain the broth, pushing gently on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can but not so hard as to mash the vegetables—this will cloud the stock and give it a murky flavor. Let the broth sit on the counter until it cools to room temperature, and then cover and refrigerate for up to four days. Once the broth has completely chilled, remove the layer of surface fat. You can freeze this broth for up to six weeks. In fact, if I’m traveling by car for the holiday, I’ll freeze the broth in plastic tubs and use them as ice packs in my cooler.

  2. Presalting is the key to a juicy bird. Remove the giblets from the turkey, and refrigerate them for later use (except the liver, which you can discard or save for another use).

    Then pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Sprinkle two tablespoons of kosher salt and one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper liberally all over the turkey, spreading a little in the cavity and being sure to season the back, the breasts, and the meaty thighs. If you’ve never pre-salted before, this may look like too much salt, but it’s not. As the turkey sits in the refrigerator, the salt will gently permeate the meat, improving the water holding ability of the muscle cells so that, when cooked, the meat stays juicy yet does not become overly salty. In fact, when you pull the turkey from the fridge after its salt treatment, the skin will be taut and dry with no trace of salt. Arrange the turkey on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate uncovered (this dries the skin, which helps it turn crisp during roasting) for one to two days.

  3. I am a firm believer in not stuffing the turkey: It roasts more quickly and evenly when its cavity isn’t filled. I’ve probably tested every single roasting method out there, from roasting at very high heat to flipping the bird to distribute its juices; none of them surpasses this one, which requires placing the turkey in a very hot oven, then roasting it at a moderate temperature the whole way through. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about two hours before roasting to take the chill off; this also helps it cook more evenly. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Tuck the wings behind the neck, and tie the tips of the drumsticks together with kitchen string. Arrange the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a sturdy roasting pan. Pour one and a half cups of your homemade turkey broth into the pan, and slide the turkey into the oven, immediately lowering the heat to 350 degrees. Then let it do its thing, rotating the pan after about one and a quarter hours, for two and a half to three hours total. Meanwhile, combine the remaining turkey broth with the giblets in a two-quart saucepan over medium heat. Simmer gently, partially covered, until the giblets are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the giblets (saving them to add to the gravy later, if you like), and keep the broth warm.

  1. For the prettiest, most evenly bronzed bird, baste by spooning pan drippings over the breast every 45 minutes. If you notice the breast or drumsticks getting too dark, cover them loosely with foil during the last 30 to 45 minutes of roasting. Alternatively, if the legs aren’t browning —which can happen if the sides of your pan are too high — you may want to flip the turkey so it roasts breast-side down for about 35 minutes and then finish it breast-side up.
  2. The first hint that the turkey is ready will be the tantalizing aroma that fills the kitchen; you can count on its cooking for about 13 minutes per pound.

To be sure, pierce the meaty part of a thigh with a sharp knife, and check that the juices run mostly clear with only a trace of pink—don’t wait for them to become completely clear, a sign that the turkey is overdone. To doublecheck, insert an instant-read thermome ter into the thigh, careful not to hit bone; it should read 170 degrees.

  1. When the turkey is done, grab both sides of the roasting rack with oven mitts to lift and tilt the turkey, and let the juices pour from the cavity into the pan. Set the turkey aside, tenting it very loosely with foil, to rest for at least 30 minutes while you tend to making the gravy.

(This resting period allows the proteins to cool and firm up, so the turkey better retains its juices when carved.) Pour all the liquid from the roasting pan into a heatproof bowl or 1-quart glass measuring cup, and set it aside. Set the roasting pan over two burners at medium-high heat, and add three-quarters of a cup of dry white wine or dry vermouth and two tablespoons of brandy. Bring to a boil, scraping with a wooden spoon to dissolve any flavorful cooked-on bits, and return the reserved liquid to the roasting pan. Boil, stirring often, until the liquid is reduced by nearly half, about eight minutes. Turn off the heat, and set aside.

  1. Once the liquid from the roasting pan has settled, spoon off and transfer the surface fat to a medium saucepan, measuring as you go, to make a roux for your gravy.

You’ll need about four tablespoons of fat, but every turkey is different, so if you’re short add enough butter to make up the difference. Heat the fat over medium-low heat, and whisk in one-third cup of flour until smooth. Cook for about four minutes, until the roux has a light amber color, and then gradually whisk in the reserved pan drippings. Bring to a simmer, and slowly whisk in four cups of warm turkey broth. Let the gravy simmer and thicken, whisking occasionally, for about 15 minutes (or more for thicker gravy). Add more broth if needed to get the consistency you like. For a hearty giblet gravy, finely chop the neck meat along with the gizzard (after removing the gristle) and the heart, and stir this meat into the finished gravy. Season the gravy with salt and pepper to taste, and keep it warm as you carve the turkey. By now, your kitchen will likely be crowded with guests hoping to steal a taste of the big bird. Call everyone to the table, say your thanks, and enjoy your perfect roast.

TURKEYimages

Fresh or Frozen Whole Turkeys

Roasting a whole turkey is easier than you think. Just follow these simple instructions for a fresh or thawed turkey:

  • Preheat oven to 325° F. Drain juices and pat dry with clean paper towels.
  • Place turkey breast side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep.
  • Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. (Tucking the wings will help stabilize the turkey in the pan and when carving) Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance.
  • Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh without touching the bone. When the thigh is up to temperature, and if the turkey is stuffed, move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing.
  • Place your turkey in the oven.
  • When the turkey is about ⅔ done, loosely cover breast and top of drumsticks with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.
  • Your turkey is done when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 180° F in thigh and 165° F in breast or stuffing.
  • Lift turkey onto platter, and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.
Cooking in a Regular Oven (325°F)
Weight Cook Time(Unstuffed) Cook Time(Stuffed)
4½-7 lbs. 2-2½ hrs. 2¼-2¾ hrs.
7-9 lbs. 2½-3 hrs. 2¾-4½ hrs.
9-18 lbs. 3-3½ hrs. 3¾-4½ hrs.
18-22 lbs. 3½-4 hrs. 4½-5 hrs.
22-24 lbs. 4-4½ hrs. 5-5½ hrs.
24-30 lbs. 4½-5 hrs. 5½-6¼ hrs.

 

 

 

 

Cooking in a Convection Oven (325°F)

 

Frozen Stuffed Whole Turkeys

Frozen stuffed turkeys go from freezer to oven without thawing. Just follow these simple instructions for a perfectly roasted turkey:

  • Preheat oven to 325° F. Hold under running water and remove giblets, neck, and gravy packets.
  • Place turkey on flat rack in a shallow roasting pan, 2 to 2½ inches deep.
  • Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance.
  • Cover neck and exposed stuffing with foil to prevent over-browning. Place turkey in pre-heated oven.
  • When turkey is about ¾ done, loosely cover breast and top of drumsticks with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.
  • After about 3 hours, insert an oven-safe thermometer deep into the thigh without touching the bone.
  • Begin checking the turkey for doneness about 30 minutes before the recommended cook time.
  • Your turkey is done when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 180° F in thigh and 165° F in breast or stuffing.
  • Lift turkey onto platter and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Cooking in a Convection Oven (325°F)

 

Fully Cooked Whole Turkeys

Fully cooked turkeys are an easy way to get a great tasting turkey on the table in less time. Follow these special directions for a delicious meal:

  • Preheat oven to 325° F. Remove wrapper. Do not stuff.
  • Place thawed turkey, breast side up, on flat rack in shallow roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep.
  • Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance.
  • Insert oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the thigh without touching the bone.
  • Place turkey in pre-heated oven and heat until hot (140° F).

 

 

 

For Smoked Turkey

  • Cover pan completely with foil for the entire cooking time.

For Baked Turkey

  • Cover breast loosely with foil after 1 to 1¼ hours to prevent over-browning and drying.
  • Begin checking the turkey for doneness about 30 minutes before the recommended cook time.
  • Your turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches 140° F in thigh.
  • Carve and serve immediately.

Whole Turkey Breasts

Turkey breasts cook up tender and delicious, and are easy to roast when you follow these instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 325° F.
  • Remove whole breast from bag. Drain juices and pat dry with clean paper towels.
  • Place breast, skin side up, on a flat roasting rack in a 2-inch deep roasting pan. Do not add water to pan.
  • Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance.
  • Roast uncovered according to Cooking Schedule or until meat thermometer in thickest part of breast reaches 170° F. If breast is stuffed, center of stuffing should be 165° F.
  • Roasting time will vary if turkey is covered or placed in an oven-cooking bag.
  • Before you remove the stuffing and carve, let your turkey breast stand for 15 minutes to allow the juices to set.

You can roast a frozen turkey breast too. Just follow these steps:

  • Roast skin side down, uncovered, on a flat rack in a 2-inch deep open roasting pan at 325° F for the first hour.
  • Remove from oven and carefully remove gravy packet and refrigerate packet for future use.
  • Turn breast skin side up, and brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance. Return to oven.
  • Roast uncovered according to Cooking Schedule or until meat thermometer in thickest part of breast reaches 170° F. If breast is stuffed, center of stuffing should be 165° F.
  • Let breast stand for 10 minutes before carving.

 

Boneless Roasts

For smaller groups that love that roasted turkey taste, try a boneless roast. It’s easier than ever with these directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325° F.
  • Remove outer plastic netting and packaging. Leave inner string netting on the roast.
  • Drain juices and pat dry with clean paper towels. Refrigerate gravy packet.
  • For easier net removal before serving, lift string netting and shift position on roast.
  • Place roast, skin side up, on a flat roasting rack in 2-inch deep roasting pan. Do not add water to pan.
  • Roast uncovered according to Cooking Schedule or until meat thermometer in center of breast roast reaches 170° F and in center of turkey roast reaches 175° F.
  • Roasting time will vary if turkey is covered or placed in an oven-cooking bag.
  • For easier net removal after roasting, wrap roast in foil and let stand 10 minutes. Remove netting and slice roast.

To cook roast from frozen, try this method:

  • Preheat oven to 325° F.
  • Remove gravy packet with spatula and refrigerate.
  • Place roast, skin side up, on a flat roasting rack in a 2-inch deep roasting pan. Do not add water to pan.
  • Roast uncovered according to Cooking Schedule or until meat thermometer in center of breast roast reaches 170° F and in center of turkey roast reaches 175° F.
  • For easier net removal after roasting, wrap roast in foil and let stand 10 minutes. Remove netting and slice roast.

 

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