Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turkey Tutorial

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. At least it is this month. If I have to choose a favorite, which frankly, I am terrible about. I have a hard time choosing a favorite movie, book, food, holiday, or child. And why should I? But at the moment, I am all about Thanksgiving.

I thought I'd share some of the recipes that I love to usane for Thanksgiving. I love seeing what other families eat and if you are scrambling for a good recipe, look no further.

Today, I'm sharing my method and recipe for the turkey, and hopefully I'll follow through in the next few days with recipes for rolls, pies, and more. Sadly, even though I've roasted a turkey for most of the last five Thanksgivings, I can't find a single picture of the bird itself, so for now we'll have to be satisfied with this picture of my Thanksgiving plate in 2008! Next week I'll be sure to snap a photo of our guest of honor and add it here as a post edit.:)

Call me crazy, but I love to make the Thanksgiving turkey. The truth is that roasting a turkey is not difficult at all-- any one of you could do it and turn out a decent bird without much effort. But I am not one to be satisfied with "decent" if a little more thought, preparation, and effort will produce "exceptional". If you are going to spend the week in the kitchen preparing this feast, you might as well present a feast that elicits oohs, ahhs, and moans, right?

I am fortunate this year to have lots of family coming to town and everyone is bringing a couple of side dishes, so my jobs will be easy and fewer than in years past: a few pies, some gluten-free dinner rolls for my Henry, the turkey and gravy.

If you want a turkey that turns out succulent, delicious, and moist, look no further. I'll walk you through it. Several years ago I studied out an article by Alton Brown in Bon Appetit (Nov 2003) on turkey technique. I combined the technique learned there with a recipe from Bon Appetit (Nov 2005) for an apple cider glazed turkey that is heavenly. It may seem labor intensive because of the brine, but it really isn't-- you just have to plan ahead. And if you can't plan ahead for Thanksgiving dinner of all the meals in the year, then you might be better off letting someone else make the turkey:)

You'll start this dance with your turkey 2 days before the feast. You will need:

  • A brining bag (or two if you want to be very careful about leaks) that will accommodate your bird OR a stock pot big enough for your bird-- at least 20 quarts.
  • A turkey. That's obvious, I know. I prefer a fresh turkey but can't stand the prices for a free-range organic bird when I'm cooking for a crowd. I generally get mine at Costco or order one from the butcher at my local nicer grocery store for under $1 per pound. You could do this with a frozen bird, but beware that they are generally full of injected saline and other chemical treatments to keep them tasting like they haven't been frozen. If you use a frozen turkey, give yourself plenty of time to defrost. This brine recipe makes enough to cover up to a 24 pound turkey.
  • 4 quarts apple cider, plus 2 cups more on Thanksgiving Day.
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup WHOLE allspice (I get mine at Smart and Final for a good low price.)
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 4 quarts of cold water
  • A large cooler or space in your fridge for the brining bird
  • A big roasting pan (if you are using a foil disposable pan, plan to double them up and then put on a jelly roll pan for stability)
  • A probe thermometer that can stay in the oven
  • tin foil
  • butter
  • aromatics (I use an onion, apple, celery, and fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary)
For the brine, simmer 1 quart of apple cider, the salt, allspice, and bay leaves for 5 minutes, stirring often. If you are going to brine right in your stockpot, use that for this step. I prefer doubled up brining bags so that I can put it in a cooler in my garage. Add the remaining 3 quarts of cider and 4 quarts of water. Place turkey in the brine and cover it up. Keep it cool in your fridge or large cooler.

The next evening, drain the turkey and rinse it. Arrange on several layers of paper towels in your roasting pan. Refrigerate it overnight UNCOVERED.

Now it's the Big Day. Calculate 15 minutes per pound of turkey, plus 30 minutes once it comes out of the oven to rest before you slice it. I find that it's best when serving Thanksgiving dinner to have a target time to eat, but you really need to let the bird dictate the actual time you sit down. Since I like to eat around 3 or 3:30pm, and my oven tends to run a little bit hot, I'll plan to put my 24 lb turkey in by 9:30 am, anticipating that he will be done around 3 and ready to carve at 3:30. If it's done a little earlier (which has happened to me before), it won't be so early that we can't flex with it.

Heat your oven to 500 degrees. This is not a misprint! You will turn it down later, but this will crisp the skin and basically sear the bird. You need to use a v-rack in your roasting pan or make a fat snake out of tin foil and coil it like a loose cinnamon roll in the bottom of the pan. You don't want the turkey sitting in it's juices. Prepare a piece of tin foil that will cover the entire breast of the bird. Placing it shiny side up, mold it into a breastplate. Then take it off and spray the underside with cooking spray (I use olive oil spray).

This recipe does allow for stuffing the bird, whereas most brined birds are too salt to be stuffed. However, I prefer to bake my stuffing separately. I stuff my turkey with a quartered onion, an apple, a stalk of celery, and some fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme. These are not going to be eaten, but they help keep the turkey moist and flavorful.

Now rub butter all over the skin of the turkey like you are a masseuse. This is going to yield crisp, golden skin. Put the turkey in the oven (no foil yet), neck end first. Set the timer for 30 minutes. Remove the turkey when the timer goes off and turn down the oven to 350 degrees. Apply the breastplate to the turkey. If you want your glaze (recipe below) to have the most flavor impact, put it on before you put on the breastplate. My only warning is that sometimes it will produce a bird that looks burned (even though it isn't). This year I am going to wait and put the glaze on at the end. Insert your probe thermometer through the foil into the deepest part of the breast. Put your armored bird back in the oven and set your thermometer's alarm to go off at 161 degrees. Don't worry, Tom Turkey will coast to done once you have him out of the oven. We don't want overcooked white meat--is there anything harder to choke down than dry turkey? So now just leave the bird alone and the oven door closed until the alarm goes off.

At this point, I will add my glaze, wanting a beautiful and delicious bird. Then, cover the whole thing with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes. This is important! In the meantime, you can make the gravy, put finishing touches on the table, and mash the potatoes. If you only have one oven, this is the time you can put in the sweet potatoes, stuffing, rolls, etc. All the while, the turkey is working to retain its juices-- if you carve too early, they will just spill out all over the carving board and leave dry meat behind.

Now take a moment to show off your beautiful bird to your dinner guests. It's okay to feel proud of what you've done! Carve in the kitchen or at the table, whatever your family likes to do. Now sit down to a glorious feast! Don't forget to give thanks-- that's the point, after all!

The apple cider glaze is easy. Put the remaining 2 cups of cider in a saucepan and simmer until it has reduced to about 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and stir in a stick of butter, unsalted if you have it. It's ready!

For other recipes that I use at Thanksgiving, look at Johnson's cranberry relish and The Rolls. As for pies, this one never lets me down:Toasted Pecan Pie. This apple is an absolute must every year-- in fact, I make two. And I'm going to try out these from Better Homes and Gardens: Banana Butterscotch Cream, Dark Chocolate Pecan (instead of the other pecan this year), and Lemon Velvet Cream.

Which recipe is a must at your Thanksgiving table? And which do you want me to post as soon as possible?


Prudy said...

Oh Michal-the turkey sounds scrumptious! I love cider brined roast turkey. Weren't those B H and G pies amazing?

Morgan Moore said...

We brined a turkey last year (well my Mom did, I was in labor : ) It turned out delish! Happy Thanksgiving!!


Scrappy said...

Yummy! We will have to go without a turkey this year. My hubby has to work on Thanksgiving Day and I am not about to do a whole feast by myself.
Maybe I will try this for Christmas dinner instead. :)

Michal said...

So I tried the Lemon Velvet Pie from this month's BHG and a chocolate silk caramel pecan from the BHG website. I had a pie party last night for some church people that I owed big time:) Anyway, the chocolate silk was so good that it was gone before I could have a piece! Good thing I licked the beaters:) The lemon had a great flavor but I cooked it "until the center appears to be set" and I think it was 5 minutes too long. I'd make either again, but probably stick to my own crust instead of Alan's.

Kallie said...

Thank you for typing out these tips. I need some follow up - - -can you take a picture of the turkey with the breastplate on? Also, on the apple - do you place it in the cavity whole or do you quarter it like the onion?

You are the best! And I LOVE your rolls. I still make them every year for Christmas with your potato soup.

Michal said...


i can take a picture with the breastplate, but it won't help you this year. if you click on the link to alton brown's article, he has an illustration of the breastplate.

i quarter the apple for inside the bird:)

i miss you but i love thinking of you making my favorite recipes for the holidays. there's something so communal and connective about sharing recipes with people you love. am i strange?