Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thanksgiving Turkey: The Express Version

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and some of you may have committed to hosting a Thanksgiving dinner without ever having cooked a turkey before. Or perhaps you are going to your relatives' for Thanksgiving and you are slightly sad, since it means that you will not have the leftovers in your refrigerator to make delicious post-Thanksgiving sandwiches (because let's face it, the post-Thanksgiving sandwich is much better than the main event). This is an easy, "express" version of a roasted Thanksgiving turkey that you can totally handle in one afternoon. It's a good "practice turkey" so you can learn the properties of roasting a bird like this and obtaining crispy skin without going through all the hassle of brining and extended prep that all the experts and Williams-Sonoma make you think is necessary.

Disclaimer: This is not a one hour meal. And I won't even promise you that you can do very many other things while it cooks. But you can watch some Bravo TV after it gets in the oven, because if you miss five minutes of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, you will still understand what's going on (hint: they're all mad at each other and screaming "DONT POINT AT ME").

Total Prep Time: 70 minutes

Total Cook Time: for a 10 pound bird, approximately 2.5 hours, but follow the instructions on the packaging and constantly use your meat thermometer

What you will need:

10 lb fresh turkey (fresh is very important. Fresh is VERY IMPORTANT. Never use frozen).
1 stick of butter (or margarine, if you're going the kosher route)
1 leek
Rosemary, Sage, Thyme (really whatever fresh herbs you have in your house will work)
Sea salt and black pepper
A bulb baster
A roasting pan with a rack inserted--very important and key for crispy skin
Kitchen twine if your fresh turkey doesn't already come with it's legs tucked

If you are going to make gravy and you want to do it the fast and lazy way, you will also need:

Williams Sonoma Gravy Base. It is the best, easiest gravy in the world. No messing around with flour and roux and whatnot. 
Apple cider vinegar
dried italian seasoning
Giblets and neck from fresh turkey

Okay, first thing's first is prepping your fresh turkey. You will take it out of the plastic, and then you must remove the giblets and neck. Typically, the neck is in the big main cavity, and the giblets are wrapped in paper and tucked under the fold of skin in the front of the bird. put these items in a medium sized saucepan, fill with enough water to cover them, and add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some italian seasonings, then set on a low-medium heat to simmer. It should simmer for as long as it takes the turkey to roast--just stir every now and then, and if the water starts to get too low, add some more.

Rinse the bird with cold water and drain. Pat it dry with paper towels, and then put it on the roasting rack to come closer to room temperature for about 45-60 minutes. You can cover it lightly with a papertowel or a clean dishcloth.

While the bird is coming to room temperature, put a stick of butter in a bowl to soften. Take your leeks, and make sure you wash them well as there is a lot of dirt and grit that gets down in the leeks. Then chop up the white part of your leeks into small pieces.

Chop up some of the other herbs you happen to have laying around. There are really no exact measurements, just a small handful of each.

Mash all of the herbs and leeks together in the softened butter so you have an herb butter spread.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

When the turkey is up to room temperature or slightly below, salt and pepper it on all sides, in between the wings and the body, and down into the cavity and the neck (underneath the skin flap). Then, take the the herb butter and with your hands, give the turkey a nice massage. Start by lifting the skin and separating it from the breast and in the neck cavity, and rub some butter in there between the skin and the flesh. Then, give it an all over massage and leave some lumps on top and in the wing and thigh area.

As you see above, I always start cooking my turkey with the breast side down, and I blast it at 400 for about 30-40 minutes (when it's this small--it'll get more time if it's a bigger bird). Why? The thighs are always the last thing to cook, and if you're not careful, the skin on the breast will burn and the breast meat will dry out. This prevents all of that from happening. 

After about 35 minutes, the bottom started to crisp up a little bit, and the thighs were cooking nicely. Flip the bird with turkey lifters if you happen to have them; otherwise, I used two serving forks and did an "over and up" type of flip. Whatever you do, don't drop it on the floor.

See? The other side is not browned yet, but we know it's starting to cook.

Reduce the heat in the oven to 325, and pop it back in. You should be timing about 12 minutes per pound (we got a jump start on the cooking process with the 400 degrees). My general rule is that I set the timer for every 20 minutes, because that's how frequently I baste. I really believe that frequent basting is the key to success with turkey. When you baste, you can lift the turkey up and tilt it a little bit, so that the juices run out of the cavity into the pan. 

After an hour, I check the temperature in the thickest parts to make sure we're on the right track, and that also helps me gauge how much longer the turkey actually will need to cook.

So the key to making sure that your turkey does not dry out is obviously, not overcooking it. I know that we are all paranoid about undercooked poultry because really, who wants salmonella, but overcooking turkey is an awful thing to do. That's why you have to take it's temperature frequently, especially when you're getting close to 165. 165 is the ideal temperature for the thickest part of the meat. You don't want to go too many degrees over that because it will continue to cook when you bring it out of the oven.

Mmmmm, doesn't it look good? Leave it in the roasting rack and LIGHTLY tent with tin foil. Make sure there is plenty of room for some of the steam to escape because the delightfully crackly, crispy skin you have achieved will wilt and turn rubbery and flabby if you steam it. Let it sit there for about 15-20 minutes while you make the gravy.

In order to make your gravy, remove the giblets and neck from the heat and drain. Chop the giblets into small pieces, and then pull the meat off of the neck. Discard the neck bone. Make the gravy according to the directions on the jar of Williams Sonoma gravy prep (it basically involves pouring the gravy base and equal parts milk into a saucepan and whisking on medium heat). Dump the giblets and meat into the gravy to make it tasty. For extra taste and to achieve a better consistency, go scoop out some of the drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan (I honestly just use the bulb baster and run it across the kitchen like a madwoman) and mix into the gravy. 

After all that is done, your turkey will have sufficiently rested, so carve and enjoy!!! Don't ask me how to carve, by the way....I do it lord of the flies style after about three slices.

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