Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey 101

Good turkey takes time. One of the keys to good turkey is the brine. You want to start soaking the turkey in brine on Tuesday evening. For the brine, I mix together kosher salt (about 1 or 2 cups), brown sugar (about 1/2 cup), several springs of rosemary and thyme, a head of garlic, an onion, an orange, and a handful of black peppercorns.
Put everything in a big pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil so all the sugars dissolve and let the mixture boil away for a while so the flavors meld. After simmering for a half hour or so, fill the rest of the pot with cold water and ice cubes. Dump this mixture into a container large enough to contain the turkey. Add enough cold water so the turkey is completely covered. You want to make sure the brine has cooled down before adding the turkey.

If the temperature outside is between 35 and 45F, you can just set the brine, covered, outside, and save fridge space for other stuff. Let the turkey sit in the brine all day, removing on Wednesday evening. Pat the turkey dry and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. This step lets the turkey dry out and makes it easier to get really crispy skin.

On Thursday morning, put together an herb butter for the turkey.
I combine a stick of butter with several cloves of roasted garlic with rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Whipped together, it looks like this.
Before buttering up the turkey, its a good idea to tear off a piece of foil and form it to cover the breast of the turkey. You'll add this midway through the cooking process, and it will help the breast cook more slowly.
Using your hands, separate the skin of the breast from the meat of the turkey. Put a spoonful of the herb butter underneath each breast and spread it around. Cut slits in the drum stick and thigh, and do the same thing. Spread the remaining herb butter around the outside of the turkey.

Place the neck, gizzards, and wing tips in the bottom of the roasting pan with a couple carrots, an onion, celery, a few cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of thyme and chicken or turkey stock. This will form the base of the gravy. Start cooking the turkey in an oven that has been preheated to 450F. After 20 to 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 325F and put the foil shield on the breast. Cook until the breast meet reaches a temperature of 158F. Remove the turkey and tent it in foil. The temperature should go up another 10 degrees. Let the turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving. While the turkey is resting, mix the pan drippings with a roux to make the gravy.

NOTE: The last time I made this recipe, I used a free range turkey, and it was a bit dryer than my usual turkeys. If you use a free range bird, you might try cooking until 155F instead. Also, if you are making turkey for a bunch of people, I highly recommend making the extra investment in an electronic temperature probe with an alarm that tells you when you get to the desired temperature. It is very easy to overcook turkey, so you need to be able to monitor your temperature precisely.

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