We're big fans of roasted turkey, and we've done a lot of experimenting and taken some chances to land on our final method. We hope you find this valuable in your next poultry roast!
Be Picky About Your Turkey
The most important thing is getting a quality turkey. If you have room in your budget, consider pre-ordering your turkey through a butcher or specialty retailers. Fresh (never-frozen) free-range turkey is fantastic! But we acknowledge it's an expensive option.
If you happen to be in Saskatoon, we recommend ordering through Pine View Farms. We got our Pine View Farms turkey through the Steep Hill Co-Op. One year we ended up with a 9.5 kg (21 lb) turkey; that's a lot of bird for just the two of us! But it didn't scare us one bit; we're masters of leftovers. But to be honest we wouldn't do it again. It was hard to get the dark meat cooked through without drying out the white meat, and it took a long time to roast (300F for more than 7 hours!). We have always preferred a 4.5 - 5.5 kg (10 - 12 lb) turkey and will stick to that rule in the future.
There it is - the "Beast"! This is the bird we're talking about throughout the post.
And now, our tried and true method:
Dry Brining With Baking Powder For Crispy Skin
• Why Baking Powder? Why Baking Powder? This is the secret to crispy skin on any poultry. It helps break down the proteins in the skin. It also creates tiny bubbles in the skin while it cooks, creating thin layers, and making sure it gets extra crispy.
You can dry brine for up to two days! But we generally do so for about 24 hours.
• Why Dry Brine?
Brining helps a turkey hold onto moisture. It helps break down the muscle a little bit, which reduces the ability of muscles to contract while cooking and prevents moisture from being squeezed out. We like dry brining because we've found that it results in richer tasting meat. (*in our experience wet brining the turkey absorbs water, which "thins out" the flavour.
Here's how dry brining works: "The salt draws the juices out of the turkey, then the salt dissolves into the turkey juices. Then, once the salt is dissolved, that meat-juice brine is reabsorbed into the turkey's meat, breaking down muscle proteins and giving way to the most tender, moist meat that's seasoned throughout." (Epicurious.com)
The mix we use:
6 tablespoons of kosher salt
2 baking powder
Keep in mind, that covered a HUGE turkey. We make sure to cover every inch of the bird, paying special care to coat the legs and wings.
Some good reads on the topic:
For its last 6 hours in the fridge uncover the turkey to air dry the skin. We tend to let most of our meats come close to room temperature before cooking, and that is true of our turkey as well. Let the turkey stand for an hour outside the fridge, so it warms up faster in the oven. This also helps further dry the skin before cooking.
Butter The Turkey
We love butter. We rub room temperature butter under the skin where we can (we're careful not to tear it), then all over the outside and inside the cavity too.
Stuff The Neck Cavity With An Apple
This little trick we got from Epicurious. We place half an apple in the neck cavity with the rounded side facing out. This is meant to protect the breast from heat and stop over-cooking. And it really works!
A lot of information out there suggests that the cavity of the turkey shouldn't be filled with stuffing because it increases cooking time. There are concerns about food safety and turkey moisture. We say pish!! We've never had an issue. This is a time honoured tradition that reminds us of the wonderful turkey dinners that our parents and grandparents prepared for us. There are some things we like doing the old-fashioned way.
Wait... if we're going to be honest... we do both. We stuff the cavity of the turkey, and then we bake some on the side. Because we're stuffing addicts.
Our Bread Mix: We always hit a local bakery and dry out own own bread for use in a stuffing. Try a mix of breads. • Our favourite: Baguette, White Country Bread, Whole Wheat Bread
We cut the baguette into crouton size pieces and let it dry out until it's quite hard (3-4 days). We buy the country bread and whole wheat bread two days before roasting our turkey and set them aside so they get a bit stale.
Preparing the stuffing: We use a mixture of sweet onion, lovage, celery, garlic, sage, thyme, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper and wine. Then we get it nice and hot in the pan.
Stuffing the Turkey: Always put hot stuffing inside the bird just before it goes in the oven. This prevents any bacteria from cultivating while the bird cooks. Don't over-stuff the cavity. A loosely packed stuffing works best; the bread will expand as the bird cooks.
Baked: If you choose to cook some stuffing outside the bird drizzle it with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of liquid. We always reserve some turkey broth and freeze it for our next roast. Mixing even parts turkey broth (or chicken broth if you don't have turkey broth on hand) and white wine into the baked stuffing is delicious!
Add shallots, sweet onion, carrots, celery, whole garlic cloves, peppercorns, and parsley stems to the bottom of the pan. Then add 250 ml (1 cup) of turkey broth and an equal amount of wine. The vegetables and herbs add a beautiful scent to the turkey and flavor the drippings. The liquids will keep things from burning and reduce, providing the base for fantastic gravy.
Don't throw the aromatics out after roasting! Why do we run counter to the common practise of tossing aside finished aromatics? Well, while on a trip to Italy we stayed with some very kitchen savvy Italian farmers on their olive grove, and one night they served a side dish of finely minced aromatics from the evening's roast. - so delicious! You can also blend these left-over aromatics into a purée (*just make sure to remove the parsley stems and the bay leaf) - sooo delicious with bread or on potatoes! Just top with some salt (if you brined your turkey give it a taste before adding salt) and pepper and serve warm.
Cover The Turkey
If like us you don't have a roasting pan large enough to cover such a huge bird be sure to cover the turkey in aluminum foil. Remove the foil halfway through so the skin gets nice and brown.
Baste The Turkey
Between brining and buttering the turkey, it doesn't need to be basted frequently. We generally baste once halfway through cooking - when we remove the foil.
Roasting Time and Internal Temperature
The Epicurious guide has always been good to us: If your turkey weighs around 7 kg (15 -16 lb) roast it at:
425°F for 3 to 3 1/4 hours 400°F for 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 hours 350°F for 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 hours 325°F for 3 3/4 to 4 hours
"To kill all bacteria, a turkey must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. According to the U.S.D.A., the bird must reach this temperature before you take it out of the oven. As it rests, the temperature will then continue to rise to around 180°F. For juicier meat, however, some people prefer to take the bird out at 150°F so the temperature will rise only to 165°F as it rests." (Epicurious)
For other turkey weights, visit the website:
Let The Turkey Rest
This lets the muscles in the turkey reabsorb some moisture. We let our turkey rest for 20 - 30 min depending on the size. We've run into mixed opinions about tenting it in aluminum while it rests. In the case of our monster bird we chose not to tent; due to the sheer mass of the beast plenty of heat was retained.
We use this time to finish off the gravy.
Other bits and bites:
If you're using a heritage turkey, give this link a read. Scroll down to the heading: Roasting a Heritage Turkey Requires a Different Process.
Also worth a read: Turkey Talk: Natural, Kosher, or Injected?
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