Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let's Talk Turkey!

Turkey Facts
At one time, both the turkey and the bald eagle were national symbols of America.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one-sixth of the 300 million turkeys sold each year are sold for Thanksgiving.
A turkey under 16 weeks old is called a fryer ; a roaster is usually five to seven months old.
Turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears.
Age is the most important factor in the taste of a turkey. Old males are preferable to young ones. The opposite is true for female birds.
Turkeys are the only breed of poultry native to the western hemisphere.

In our home, nothing says Thanksgiving more than a good old bird! It simply would not be the holiday without it. Over the years I have tried many versions of cooking this monster fowl, some with great success, some dismal failures at best. We won't even discuss the time(s) the creature came alive and found its way to the floor...hmm...

My sure fire methods for a juicy, brown, succulent bird are rather simple. First, without a doubt brining the bird makes for a downright tender, juicy, succulent bird. Even the left over meat retains the moist flavor. I have also tried many ways to do this. I'll spare you the wrong ways. Use your trusty ice chest. Scrub that baby clean inside and out. Add in your brine ingredients, the bird, some ice, and shut the lid. Every few hours, open it up, flip the bird over until you are ready to cook. I also learned the hard way, keep the cooler in the garage or on the porch. Trust me, you don't want the brine all over your floor, TRUST ME! I use the following recipe from Alton Brown on the Food Network as a starting place. The first year I followed it, and from then on I just tweak it a bit to suit our tastes. Seriously good eats!

The second required equipment is the Reynolds Oven Bags-Turkey Size. Rinse your bird, shove him in the bag, stuff him with some aromatic veggies or fruit, sprinkle the skin with salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic powder. Then seal it up, put it in the oven per the bag directions and you get a juicy bird, NO BASTING! I'm all for easy of prep here folks. When he is done, slit the bag, cover with foil to rest and then carve away.

Good Eats Roast Turkey
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey
For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water
For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil
Click here to see how it's done.
2 to 3 days before roasting:
Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.
Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:
Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.
Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

A couple other tips for you.

1. Make sure the bird you select will actually fit in the pan, which will both then fit into your oven. Nothing more frustrating than discovering this tidbit as you are hefting the bird into your too small oven.

2. If you use a bag, make sure you save room for the expansion as it does raise up a few inches above the bird.

3. Those disposable tin pans are great for easy clean up. Not so great for securely moving the bird. If you go this way, buy two pans for some added stability to the bottom. Don't say I didn't warn you on this one!

4. If you loosen the skin on the bird all over, then add some compound butter between the meat and the skin it will give a great flavor boost as well. I make the compound butter in several forms. To several sticks of softened butter add lemon peel, crushed garlic, sage, thyme, poultry seasoning, ginger, orange peel, whatever strikes your fancy. One caution, if you brine the bird, hold off on adding any salt here as the bird will already have sufficient salt from the brine.

5. Check both the body and neck cavity areas for the "extra" parts prior to cooking. You just may want to take them out or you get a surprise while carving those little paper packets holding the "parts". No, I didn't ,but my good old sister did this one. I throw the parts in some water with herbs and simmer them for my gravy. Yes, we eat those morsels, and fight over the heart. Too much information? Sorry....

So, what turkey tips do you have to share? Do you have turkey for Thanksgiving? Too much work? Come on, share your secrets too!