Monday, December 12, 2016

Roast Turkey

I've been hosting Thanksgiving for a few years now; basically, since I was a senior in college. And with these past few years of experience, I've come to learn a lot about roasting turkeys. Usually in the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving preparation, I haven't been the best at documenting the process, but this year, I made a bit of an effort so that I could share the fruits of my labor.

Because we think younger, smaller turkeys are more delicious (and more natural; no steroids or hormones, thank you) we like to limit the number of attendees to our dinner. It's v. exclusive. I suppose the techniques I'm sharing here will also work for a larger bird, but in all honesty, I doubt a 22 pound monster would taste as good as our normal-sized 12 pound bird. That being said, it wouldn't hurt. And maybe you're thinking, "Well, what do you do when too many people show up to your exclusive event?" If the guest list gets out of control, we usually make a second protein (like a beef tenderloin) and stick with a small turkey.
Ingredients:
10 to 15 lb. turkey
¼ cup butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 lemon, quartered
1 small onion, halved
1 bulb garlic
handful thyme sprigs
handful rosemary sprigs
cinnamon stick

brine (adapted from Alton Brown's recipe)
8 cups vegetable stock (two 32 oz. containers)
8 cups water (I just refill the stock containers twice)
½ cup rock salt
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon allspice berries
8 cups ice water

gravy
turkey giblets
turkey neck
4 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
+ any flavorings you like (garlic, mushrooms, herbs)
2 tablespoons flour
salt & pepper, to taste

tools
big plastic bag (brining bag or garbage bag)
large container (or cooler)
thick, strong rubberband
large pot
small pot
roasting pan with rack
aluminum foil
baster

I like to buy natural (hopefully humanely-raised) turkeys that have not been brined or seasoned by the producer in any way. I want to do all the brining and seasoning myself. I like to brine the turkey about 4 to 5 days in advance of the roasting. I used to brine for just 24 to 48 hours but a couple of years ago, I knew I wouldn't have a chance to do it in that timeframe so I did it a little bit earlier and ended up with the moistest, best bird so since that incident, I've been brining the bird for twice the usual in a less-salty brine and it's been amazing.
The brine is really easy to make. Basically, combine all of the ingredients, except for the 8 cups of cold water, in a large pot. Heat it up long enough to dissolve all of the salt and sugar and then remove from the heat. Let it cool for 30 minutes to an hour until it's just lukewarm. Add in the cold water to cool it down further. That's the brine; done.
When it comes to brining, I like to put the turkey in a (clean) garbage bag or brining bag (though, I find that brining bags are unnecessarily expensive and you just throw them out after one use anyway so I don't use them unless I can find them on sale) and then put that bag inside of a plastic container. That way, if the bag rips, there's something to catch the spill. The container I use is a cooler, which is rather convenient. If it's chilly enough outside (40F or below), I leave my turkey in the garage. Usually it's partially frozen anyway so it stays cool enough for the few days before it's cooked. But if the weather is unreliable or unseasonably warm, it goes right into the fridge.

Before you start, you need to do some prep. Before you start handling the turkey, get your vessel ready. Line your large container with the garbage bag and set it next to the sink. And get the trash close to the sink too.

Next, grab the turkey in its brining bag and place it in the sink. Then, gently remove it from its packaging (I usually just trim the top of the plastic and peel it off the bird) and throw the packaging away immediately in the trash can you've conveniently placed beside you. Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey; usually, the giblets are tucked in the top inside of a little paper package and the neck is in the cavity. Set these goodies aside for making the gravy. There is zero need to rinse the turkey or any poultry for that matter. Rinsing accomplishes nothing; actually that's not true. You will accomplish the amazing feat of contaminating your entire kitchen with germs but the turkey itself won't get any cleaner. The water hitting the turkey will likely cause lovely salmonella germs to be sprayed around your sink and then you'll touch the edge of your sink and then touch something else and then touch something else and eventually cross-contaminate your entire kitchen and house.
Place the naked turkey inside of the bag-lined container. Then, gently pour the brine into the container. Use a ladle at first to make sure that the bag doesn't do that thing where it starts off hooked over the edges of the container but all of a sudden dislodges and then brine goes everywhere. Once you're confident that the bag is stable, as is the bird, pick up the whole pot and pour all of the brine over the turkey. Gather up the top of the plastic bag, push out the air, twist the top, and then tie it off with the rubber band. And then, put the whole thing in the fridge (or in your chilly garage, if applicable).
When you're ready to roast, you'll want to prep your work station again. Get your roasting pan ready next to the sink (like the pan with foil or an oven bag if you care about easy clean up), grab your garbage bin again and place it somewhere convenient, and grab a few paper towels. Place the entire brining bag with the turkey into the sink. If you can gently remove the rubberband, remove it. If not, snip a little hole in the bag to drain the brine. Remove the turkey from the bag and rinse off the excess brine very carefully. The cross-contamination spiel I gave above still applies here, except there is a point to rinsing here (to get rid of the excess saltiness from the brine) so I just turn the faucet on to a gentle flow and I give the turkey a little bath.
Place the rinsed turkey into the roasting pan and then pat it down with the paper towels. Leave the turkey in the roasting pan to dry a bit more for ten minutes. While you're waiting for the turkey to dry, preheat the oven to 350F and then prepare the cavity aromatics. I like to add lemon, onion, a whole garlic bulb, and herbs. This year, I added thyme, rosemary, and a cinnamon stick. Basically, you just want to add delicious, beautiful smelling items to make the turkey taste and smell better. The aromatics help get rid of that gamey taste and smell that turkey has.
Place the aromatics into the cavity of the bird and then give the turkey a nice butter massage.
Once the turkey is thoroughly massaged with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover the turkey with foil and then put in the oven to roast. The rule of thumb is to cook the turkey 13 minutes per pound.
Calculate the appropriate cooking time for the turkey and then subtract an hour. At that time, remove the foil and then finish roasting for the extra hour to brown the skin.
Roast the turkey until the thermometer reads somewhere between 155F and 160F (because of carryover cooking time). Remove the turkey from the oven, cover in foil, and let the turkey rest for 30 minutes. During this time, the turkey will finish cooking and the juices in the bird will be redistributed.
The gravy can be made while the turkey is roasting. Make a broth from the turkey giblets and neck; add water, giblets, and neck to a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and then let the broth simmer away for an hour. Remove the giblets and neck and then strain the broth to get rid of any icky floaties. I don't like to add the giblets to the gravy (because I give them to my dog), I just like to add shredded neck meat, but you can do as you please.
To make the actual gravy, start with a roux. Add butter to a saucepan over medium-low heat. At this point, you can also add some flavorings, like garlic or mushrooms or any herbs you like and cook for a minute or two until the butter absorbs the flavor of the ingredients. When the butter is melted, whisk in some flour and cook for two minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Then, slowly whisk in the giblet broth. Bring the gravy to a rolling boil and cook for three minutes to make sure it's fully thickened. Stir in giblet and neck meat, if desired. And that's it; the gravy is done.
When it comes time to serve, I like to put the whole turkey on the buffet for everyone to admire and once everyone has finished ooh-ing and ahh-ing and snapping the turkey with their smart phones, that's when I start carving.
That's my turkey roasting method. Good luck with yours! Here are the recipe pages:

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