A Time for Turkey
Yes, it’s almost that time of year again, Thanksgiving or as we fondly call it, Turkey Day! As we all know, the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving day meal but also the most frustrating and back breaking task to accomplish. Fear not dear readers, I have a few tips to help take some of the stress away and making your turkey one of the most flavorful and relaxing dishes this year.
The first thing you will want to do is make sure you have gotten the proper size turkey for the number of guests you expect. Plan on 1.5lbs turkey for each guest. For example, a 23 lb turkey will feed about 15 people.
Next you will need to decide whether you will be buying a fresh or frozen turkey. While there are many factors to consider when making this decision but in my opinion this really comes down to time. If you buy a frozen turkey, you will need to give it time to thaw in the fridge. A 20 lb bird will need at least 3 days to thaw; I’d give it four. Now, there are ways to speed up this thawing but I would only recommend doing so only if there was no other option. Whatever method you use to thaw your bird, do so without removing the packaging.
A fresh turkey should only be brought a few days before you plan to cook it. Naturally, a fresh turkey will cost more than a frozen turkey. Some people will swear by fresh turkeys and will not use anything different. I can not comment on the flavor of a fresh turkey as I have only cooked frozen ones. I think if you put the proper work into preparing the turkey it will turn out amazing no matter whether it was frozen or fresh.
So it’s the night before Thanksgiving and your turkey is thawed, but now what? Now you have the arduous task of deciding how you want to fix this bird. Options abound: traditional oven roast, outside grill, rotisserie, deep fryer. All of these options have their advantages and limitations. For instance, one year I tried to put the family turkey on the rotisserie of my grill. Of course, I ignored the warning not to put meats larger than 9” across on the rotisserie. I found myself fighting dying flames and other issues. I ended up having to transfer the turkey to a roasting pan to finish roasting on the grill. Rotisseries are nice because the rotation makes basting the meat unnecessary. If you go this route, read up and know what your rotisserie can handle effectively.
Since most people will be sticking with the oven, let us focus there. Before we continue, one more thing to make this a whole lot easier. A lot of places will tell you to roast a turkey at 350 F for 15-20 minutes per pound. While this is great for determining when to start cooking, it doesn’t help you not to overcook the turkey. We’ve all had that dry turkey. Heck, I’ve made that dry turkey. First, go buy a digital meat thermometer similar to this one. It does not have to be top of the line; your only goal is to be able to stick it in the meat while it cooks in the oven and have an alarm go off at the temperature you set.
The second step is to put the turkey in a brine at least overnight. You will need a 5 gallon bucket or cooler large enough to hold your turkey. A brine is simply a salt water solution but any liquid can be used as the base. Brines work by osmosis bringing seasonings and added moisture into the brined meat. I will often use a milk-based brine for fried chicken.
4 cups water (or liquid combination of your choice)
1/4 cup kosher or sea salt
1 T freshly ground black pepper
Going beyond the basic, you can be as creative as you like. Chopped garlic makes it’s way in to the majority of my brines; 2-4 cloves is a good starting amount. Other favorites are whole peppercorn varieties and dried oregano and basil. Apple juice or cider would be a great starting point for a brine for turkey.
Check out this Brined Herb-Crusted Turkey with Apple Cider Gravy recipe from Foodnetwork.com that I am itching to try. I know for myself that I would do 1 gallon water and 1 gallon apple cider. If you plan on brining for 2-3 days as she recommends, you will need to buy your turkey that much more in advance.
Insert that meat thermometer into the breast and set it to 160 F. When you remove the turkey from the oven, cover it with foil and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes. This will all the juices to redistribute through out the meat. All that’s left to do is carve the bird and serve it up for your guests. If you have an electric knife, use it! Enjoy!
Silver Dining has been a home chef since the first time his mom asked him to start dinner before she got home. He believes cooking should be fun and draws immense pleasure in seeing the satisfied faces of his guests. Find more inspiration on his personal blog “Chef Tell’s Kitchen.”Stay up to date on Richmond brews and more beer news on his Richmond Beermeister Blog.
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