By Dana Zia
“The Turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal a true original Native of North America.”
Let’s talk turkey. Admit it, this time of year our minds just turn towards that turkey dinner promised on our horizon. I’ve probably been thinking about it for 2 weeks already and I’m not alone. There will be over 200 million turkeys being roasted for Thanksgiving this year.
Even though most people will be roasting a turkey it is actually the most intimidating part of preparing Thanksgiving dinner for most cooks. Partly because we do not roast turkeys often during the year and partly due to those perfectly cooked bronzed birds we see on the covers of foodie magazines. I mean, how many of us have food stylists at home to paint and blow torch the turkey to that perfect color? Even though our home cooked turkeys will not look like that, (nor do most of us serve it whole on the table) you can still cook up a succulent bird that is awe inspiring.
There are a few wonderful tips to roasting up a fantastic turkey:
Choose your turkey wisely; Conventional turkeys called “double breasted whites” are the variety that 99% of our turkeys are. They are generally raised in confined environments on factory farms and fed antibiotics and inferior food. Since they are raised in such poor conditions they tend to be tasteless and dry. Consequently they are injected with saline solution and vegetable oils in an attempt to help improve the taste and texture of the meat. Yum.
If you choose to buy a supermarket turkey, make sure and choose one that is antibiotic free and free range. Ya know, a happy turkey. Fortunately in our small community, we actually have choices of a few farmers who grow happy turkeys.
Now heritage breeds are the older turkey breeds that almost disappeared when the commercial double breasted turkeys were introduced. (By the way, the double breasted whites are such a freak of nature that they cannot reproduce naturally; they have to be artificially inseminated.) The heritage turkeys are the beautiful birds that are used on all the Thanksgiving turkey ads. Like homegrown tomatoes, their flavor is superior and the meat is tender and delicious. Once you have eaten a heritage breed turkey, you’ll never go back. Heritage turkeys are more expensive but that is because they take almost twice as long to raise to harvest size as the commercial birds.
Brine and season your turkey 12- 24 hours before you roast it. If you haven’t brined a turkey before, you are in for a treat! (If you have a conventional bird that was injected with salt solution, do not brine it, just season it with poultry spices gently rubbed under the skin 12-24 hours before you bake it.)
To brine a 12-14 pound turkey:
Dissolve 1 cup of kosher salt in 2 quarts of apple cider in a HUGE pot over the stove at medium heat. Add ½ cup of maple syrup, a few sprigs of rosemary and sage, 1 onion quartered and 1 lemon squeezed into it. (Toss in the whole lemon after you squeeze it) Then add one gallon of cold water and stir till blended. Remove the giblets and submerge your turkey in the brine and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, take the turkey out of the brine and pat dry with paper towels. (Discard the brine) Stuff the cavity with rosemary and a quartered onion and bake as usual. If you have a huge turkey, double the recipe and brine in a cooler with ice to keep the bird cool.
Bring your turkey up to room temperature before you roast it. (About one hour) That way it will cook more evenly from skin to bone. Do not stuff it just tuck an onion quartered and some rosemary sprigs in the cavity. Make your stuffing in the crock pot. (Recipe is on my blog with a full recipe for the cider brined turkey at http://danazia.wordpress.com/ )
Start your turkey out in a hot oven, 425 degrees for 20 minutes, to get a crisp on. Then cover the bird with foil and roast the remaining time at 350. Don’t over baste the turkey because opening and closing the door will affect the heat of the oven and dry out your bird. (A heritage turkey cooks faster than a regular turkey so beware and don’t overcook it; start checking the heritage turkey’s temperature, 90 minutes to 1 hour before you think it should be done.)
I also recommend that you take the turkey out when the thermometer reads about 160 degrees, opposed to 165 degrees. Let it set for a ½ hour to finish cooking without drying it out. Letting it sit will also allow the juices to return to the meat before you carve it. You might have to stand guard over it but it will be worth the vigilance!
Buy a good thermometer. I have been using the same ancient thermometer that I think my mom gave me when I left home till last year. When I bought a digital instant read thermometer I was blown away at how much easier it was to take my turkey’s temperature! Do yourself a favor a buy one for around 12 bucks. Well worth the investment and you might find yourself actually using it!
I do love this holiday and the real reason for it, gratitude for all we have. I feel so lucky to have you dear readers to write for. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful turkey day with a perfectly roasted turkey!
Cider Brined Turkey with spices
If you have a big turkey, double the brine and use a cooler to brine it in. Keep blocks of ice in the brine to keep the turkey cold. You will need a turkey roasting pan with a rack for this recipe. Adapted from Bon Appetit.
1 12-14 pound turkey
2 quarts plus one cup of apple cider
1 1/2 gallons of water
1 cup of kosher salt
1/2 cup of maple syrup, (optional)
16 whole black peppercorns
10-12 whole star anise pods
6-10 garlic cloves smashed
2 onions, quartered
6 thick slices of unpeeled ginger
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2 apples, cut into sixths
2 onions, quartered
2 tablespoons of butter, coconut oil or olive oil (for basting)
The night before, get out a VERY large pot, like 16 quarts size, and bring the 2 quarts of cider and salt up to a boil over medium high heat. Add the all the rest of the ingredients except for the apple to the brine then let it cool to room temp. Submerge the turkey in there and put in the fridge overnight. (Skip this step if you have an injected turkey.)
The next morning, remove the turkey from the brine and dump the brine down the sink. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Season the turkey lightly with salt and pepper, stuff the cavity with a quartered onion and some apple slices. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine then let the bird stand at room temp for one hour in your turkey roasting pan.
Heat up your oven to 425 degrees. Pour 1 cup of apple cider and 3 cups of water in the roasting pan and scatter the rest of the apples and onion around the pan. Brush the turkey with butter and tuck in that nice warm oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat on the oven to 350, baste the turkey one more time with butter, then cover with foil and continue roasting till done. About 2-3 more hours till your thermometer reads 160 degrees in the deepest part of the breast.
Pull the turkey out and let it rest about a half hour while you make a reduction sauce for the turkey from the pan juices, by gently simmering the juices for 5 minute or more till the sauce thickens. (Strain out the apples) Season with salt and pepper to taste. Carve the turkey and enjoy a bountiful thanksgiving!