The best way to roast a turkey? Let the debate begin
Your dad does the best grilled turkey. Only way to do it, you swear. Wait, what about granny’s cornbread-stuffed bird, roasted bronze and filling the entire house with a delicious perfume?
Let’s be honest: There are, perhaps, more “best” or “perfect” turkey prep methods on this planet than there are turkeys at any one time: Smoked. Deep-fried. Braised. Butterflied. Poached, sous-vide style, in a vacuum-sealed bag.
And, of course, the classic roasted.
Yet even that preparation is open to interpretation. And arguments. To stuff or not to stuff. To baste or not. Though the big bird has long dominated Thanksgiving tables, cooks everywhere are still searching for the perfect method.
Here’s our argument: They all work. So pick the one you like and ignore Uncle Fred.
We can help. Whether you’ve never roasted a turkey, or are looking to change the way you roast it, we’ve got five popular methods along with a few things you need to know to master each. Just thaw the bird (in the refrigerator, with a pan underneath), roast to 165 degrees internal temperature then let it rest about 30 minutes to distribute its juices.
Maybe you’ll quiet the turkey debate and go back to arguing the merits of fresh vs. canned cranberry relish.
Under the skin
Tucking stuffing under the skin helps keep the meat moist and adds flavor. (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)
Now, please could you pass the gravy.
Simple, no-fuss approach. This recipe is from Ruth Reichl’s new “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life” (Random House, $35).
High-heat turkey: Heat your extremely clean oven to 450 degrees. Rinse and dry a 16-pound turkey and bring it to room temperature. Put it on a rack in a roasting pan, add a cup of water, put it in the oven, and forget about it for an hour. Rotate the pan, make sure there’s still about a cup of water in the bottom (if not, add more), and cook for another hour and a quarter to an hour and a half, until a thermometer in the thigh registers 170 degrees. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the turkey to rest for half an hour before carving. That’s all there is to it. Really.
Key: Oven must be perfectly clean; old drippings and spatters can produce lots of smoke. Use turkey as close to 16 pounds as possible. Be sure it is completely thawed.
The stuffing helps crisp the skin because the pork-based stuffing bathes it in fat during roasting. (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)
Getting under the skin
Butter, herbs or even stuffing, is tucked under the skin. This method puts moisture plus flavor on the breast meat which can become dry during roasting. Also helps with crisping skin.
Starting at the neck opening, slide your hand under the breast skin. Gently separate skin from the meat, reaching all across both halves. Stuff with softened butter to which you’ve added chopped fresh herbs, minced garlic, spices, etc. Or tuck in some of your favorite stuffing; one with a fatty meat to moisten the bird is best. Want a recipe? We like one from British chef and TV cooking show star Jamie Oliver (see below).
Key: Work carefully to loosen the skin to avoid poking holes in it. Distribute mixture as evenly as possible.
Makes for a juicy, flavorful bird. And you can choose a brine (salt-water mixture) with flavors you like.
Be sure time is on your side. Skip the store-bought brines: You have everything in your kitchen to make your own. Figure 1/4 cup salt for every quart of water, then add a liberal amount of seasonings. We like this bourbon brine from Tribune Newspapers columnist JeanMarie Brownson: In a large food-safe plastic bucket or container, dissolve 1 cup dark brown sugar and 1/2 cup coarse salt in 2 cups very hot water. Stir in 2 cups cold water, 1/2 cup bourbon and 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes. Put the turkey in the brine. Add enough cool water to completely immerse the turkey. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Key: Bird must be completely thawed before brining begins. Always soak bird in brine in the refrigerator; some recipes brine overnight, others suggest 12 hours. Discard brining liquid. Pat bird very dry before roasting. Brining will increase saltiness of pan juices.
Don’t stuff it
The bird will roast faster, saving you 30-45 minutes roasting time. And you need not worry about food safety issues that may arise with temperature variations between the stuffing and bird.
Fill the cavity with herbs (sage, thyme, parsley) plus wedges of onions, oranges and apples. Place bird on a rack in a roasting pan and roast at 325 degrees, 15 minutes per pound.
Regularly basting a bird with butter or pan juices is time consuming and annoying and lowers the oven temperature every time you open that door.
You can still get bronzed skin by liberally applying fat (often butter) to breast and legs before roasting. We like this trick: Soak a double layer of cheesecloth (large enough to cover breast and legs) in melted butter then drape it over bird for first hour of roasting before removing to finish roasting. Make sure bird sits low enough in oven so cloth does not touch oven’s top coil.
Key: Browning too fast? Cover with foil to continue roasting to the required temperature.
Roast turkey with herby pork and apricot stuffing
Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 3 hours and 40 minutes plus cooling and resting time
Makes: 8 servings
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s “Cook With Jamie.”
1 sprig fresh sage, leaves picked
6 strips pancetta or thinly sliced bacon
1 bulb garlic, broken into cloves
4 medium red onions, peeled
2 ribs celery, trimmed, chopped
1 big handful breadcrumbs
1 handful dried apricots
10 ounces ground pork
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1 large egg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 small sprigs fresh rosemary, plus a few extra
12-pound turkey, at room temperature
2 carrots, peeled
1 large orange
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 Heat the oven to maximum. Heat a saucepan until medium hot and add a splash of olive oil, sage leaves and the pancetta or bacon. Peel and chop 2 garlic cloves and 1 onion. Add garlic, celery and onion to saucepan and fry everything gently until soft and golden brown. Take the pan off the heat, add the breadcrumbs and, while the mix is cooling down, chop the apricots roughly and stir them in. When the stuffing has cooled down, add the pork, lemon zest, nutmeg, egg and lots of salt and pepper, and mix everything together well.
2 Chop remaining onions in half and slice carrots thickly. Give turkey a good wipe, inside and out, with paper towels, and place it on a board, with the neck end toward you. Find the edge of the skin that’s covering the turkey’s breasts and gently peel it back. Work your fingers and then your hand under the skin, freeing it from the meat. If you’re careful you should be able to pull all the skin away from the meat, keeping it attached at the sides. Go slowly and try not to make any holes. Lift the loose skin at the neck end and spoon the stuffing between the skin and the breast, tucking the flap of skin underneath to stop anything leaking out. Pop the orange in the microwave for 30 seconds to warm it up and stuff it into the cavity. Weigh the stuffed turkey and calculate the cooking time (about 15 minutes per 1 pound).
4 Place the bird on a large roasting pan, rub it all over with olive oil and season well. Surround with the chopped carrots, onions and remaining garlic, cover with tinfoil and place in the oven. Turn the heat down right away to 350 degrees, and roast until the juices run clear from the thigh if you pierce it with a knife or a skewer. Remove the tinfoil for the last 45 minutes to brown the bird.
5 Carefully transfer the bird to a cutting board and loosely cover with foil; allow to rest, at least 1 hour. When the resting time’s nearly up, skim the surface fat from the roasting pan and add the flour and stock. Place the tray on the stovetop and bring to a boil on a high heat. When the gravy starts to thicken, strain it into a bowl. Carve your turkey, serve with the gravy and dig in!
Source: Judy Hevrdejs; Chicago Tribune, November 25th 2015