The term "classic" is often associated to a minimally seasoned roast turkey. Many people have developed roast turkey recipes that involve cajun spices, honey glazing, lemon infusions, and other techniques that produces a turkey that sets them apart from the classic roast. Since this is our first Thanksgiving together, I thought I would start with the basics and reveal how I roast a turkey.
This recipe is for a 10 to 14 pound turkey. I will update for larger turkeys later. (I rushed this recipe out after roasting a turkey in the wee hours of the morning, so everyone could get a head start on planning for their turkey dinner. I'll correct any mistakes I may have made after the weekend.)
Before you even think about roasting the turkey, you'll need to budget enough time to thaw, brine, and dry the turkey. If you're purchasing a frozen turkey, allow at least 5 hours per pound of thawing time in the refrigerator. After the turkey has thawed, treat it as if it were fresh (for the purposes of this recipe). Remove the giblets and the neck (found inside the chest cavity). Prepare a brining solution of 1 cup table salt to 1 gallon water in a nonreactive container and soak the turkey in the solution in the refrigerator for four hours. (If your turkey has been infused with a solution, then reduce the salt content in your brine or soak it in a container filled with water.) Pour out the brining solution and rinse the turkey. One convenient way to do this is to position a rack in the sink and place the turkey on the rack to rinse. After the turkey has been rinsed, let it dry by placing it on a rack on a sheet pan in the refrigerator overnight (or for eight hours). Alternatively, use a blow drier on cool setting (no heat) to blow over the skin of the turkey until dry.
Now that the turkey is ready to go, preheat your oven to 400&176;F. Chop up two medium onions, five carrots, and two celery ribs. Also melt 3 tablespoons butter and set aside 2 tablespoons dried thyme (or two sprigs of fresh thyme). Quantity and even chopping is not that important for this recipe, so feel free to prepare these steps quickly to save time. [IMG]
From the chopped vegetables, take about half an onion, a carrot, and a half celery rib and combine them with about 1 tsp. thyme and a tablespoon of melted butter. Mix them until evenly distributed. [IMG]
Throw the prepared vegetables (from the previous step) inside the turkey. Now, tie up the turkey's wings and legs so they will cook evenly. Take a 5 foot (1.5 m) long piece of kitchen twine and tie the drumsticks together as shown. [IMG]
Loop the twine around the turkey and over the wings. [IMG]
At the head of the turkey, tie a knot over the flap of skin to hold everything in place. [IMG]
Place the rest of vegetables and thyme in a roasting pan. If you don't have a roasting pan, you can use a disposable aluminum foil roasting pan from the supermarket. Pour one cup water into the pan and place a V Rack into the pan. Brush breast side of the turkey with butter. Place the turkey on the V rack with the breast side facing down. Brush the back with butter. Place in a 400°F oven. [IMG]
We're roasting this turkey upside down (usually turkeys are roasted breast up) to cook the breasts at a slower rate. Starting breast side down, gives the legs a head start on cooking. This is desirable because drumsticks and thighs need to be cooked to a higher temperature (about 170°F) in order to remove any trace of pink flesh. The breasts would become very dry and unpalatable if cooked to temperatures as high as the legs.
After 45 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven and baste it with the juices from the roasting pan. I've tried to come up with an easy way to do this without a turkey baster, but I was unable to. Use a turkey baster to reach in between the rungs of the rack and suck up some juices and squirt it over the turkey. Then rotate the turkey onto its side (with a leg sticking up) and brush some more butter on. Return to oven for fifteen more minutes, then baste again and rotate onto other side. Roast for fifteen minutes. Roasting the turkey on its sides lets the sides brown (for better presentation). If you don't care about even browning, you can skip these two rotations and just prolong the breast down roasting by thirty minutes. (You may want to baste once after the 45 minute mark, though.) [IMG]
Now, rotate the turkey so it is breast side up. Baste again and brush on the remaining butter. Roast for thirty more minutes and then start to check the temperature every ten minutes. The turkey is done when an instant read thermometer thrust into the breast reads 165°F. [IMG]
The deepest part of the thigh should read between 170°F to 175°F. [IMG]
Remove the turkey and allow it to rest for twenty or thirty minutes. [IMG]
Carving (a quick synopsis)
Place the turkey breast side up on a carving board.
Cut the skin between the thigh and the body of the turkey. Cut in while using a fork to peel the leg away from the body. [IMG]
Cut through the joint to remove the thigh and drumstick. Place the leg flat on a cutting board. Separate the thigh from the drumstick by cutting through the joint. Cut the meat off the sides of the thigh bone. Cut the meat off the drumstick. Repeat for the other leg. [IMG]
Remove the wings by pulling them away from the body and thrusting a knife through the joint to sever. Once all the limbs have been removed, cut through the skin along the keel bone. [IMG]
Angle the blade out a little and cut down along the bone to remove the breast. Do the same to the other side. [IMG]
Cut the breast meat against the grain into thin slices. [IMG]
Arrange however you like and serve with those accompaniments that are traditional to your family.
Classic Roast Turkey (serves 14) Prepared Turkey
Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C)
12 lb. turkey, thawed or fresh
brush on both sides
place on V-rack in pan
roast until breast 165°F (74°C), thigh 170°F (77°C)
First, basting will just lengthen the cooking time and doesn't really do anything for moistness of the meat. Brining the turkey, like AB does, is a much better way of getting the bird nice and juicy. Also, I'd suggest covering the breast meat with aluminum foil to keep it from cooking too quickly and drying out. Finally, I'd suggest getting an unglazed quarry tile or three to put in the oven if you insist on basting it. They'll help keep it at temperature. Oh, and get a remote probe thermometer with an alarm, so you can check the temp without wasting thermal energy.
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1640 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Wed Oct 19, 2005 6:33 pm Post subject:
Yes, brining is a step that cannot be skipped. I noticed that in my rush on Friday, I did not include brining in the recipe summary. (Another reason to read the full article!)
I baste not for juiciness (that's guaranteed by the brining and rotations), but for flavor. Without basting, the skin and thin layer of surface meat is not flavorful enough for me. I found that not using the turkey drippings and just using butter creates too much butter flavor (although the skin becomes a wonderful color and and smells great). Using both butter and turkey drippings makes the outer layer of the turkey have excellent flavoring and color.
I should also emphasize that you should take the turkey out of the oven before basting it. No matter how fast you are at basting and rotating, it's much better to have the turkey out of the oven (and the oven door closed, of course) while doing this operation.
I notice you have a bread baking stone in the bottom of the oven, and this will go a long way to maintaining thermal energy - as was suggested above via the method of unglazed tiles.
The basting question os a tough one. I made three turkeys last year by the Alton Brown method and the meat was as good as I have ever tasted. I agree the skin (particularly the area under the foil breastplate) did leave a little to be desired. It never got to that "crackling good" stage. The breast plate method does save you from having to do turkey calisthenics (the flip-flop).
If you do not have a V rack you can use a tin foil rope - as outlined by AB.
I was told by a chef at a cooking school that "non-reactive" means glass. I imagine ceramic would also be non-reactive. Now, where to find a non-reactive container large enough to soak an 18 lb. turkey?
Stuffing the turkey before roasting it is bad because it makes it take longer to cook fully. If the body cavity is filled with stuffing you end up with either a fully-cooked turkey with an overcooked breast or you end up with the interior and stuffing undercooked and soaked with possibly undercooked turkey juices.
Cook the stuffing separately; if it needs to be in the turkey at the table then stuff it in while you're in the kitchen.
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1640 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Wed Oct 19, 2005 6:40 pm Post subject:
re: Nonreactive containers
I use stainless steel or plastic for brining turkeys. A large plastic tupperware bin placed in the refrigerator with brining solution for a couple hours before brining the turkey. Or, you can use a portable ice chest filled with brining solution and packets of frozen ice in bags if your containers don't fit in your fridge.
Glass is also nonreactive, but I don't know if anyone makes a glass container large enough for a decent sized turkey. It'll be really heavy too.