You? Roast a Turkey?

20 Sep

A full roast turkey dinner is not a meal one would immediately assume would be a Savvy Single Supper. I admit that. But a whole roasted turkey is a culinary gift that just keeps on giving — an impressive entertaining menu (first time out you could handle the big bird while your friends each bring a side dish), a repeat meal for later in the week, turkey sandwiches or salads for your lunches, home-made turkey soup and plus packets of cooked poultry stowed in your freezer for future meals. And, it turns out, an economical way to feed a crowd. Try roasting your first big bird on a day off, so you have time to follow the steps without feeling anxious or hungry!

In this post, I will cover only the roasting of the turkey. In the next, I will cover the work plan and side dishes.

I was a little leery about the edibility of this particular bird. The 5kg/11 lb baby had been languishing in my freezer for almost two years. I bought it after Thanksgiving when the store was clearing them out at .99¢/lb. The fresh bird was vacuum-sealed in a thick opaque plastic package that included roasting instructions. I hoped the package would have helped prevent freezer burn.

I had rather short notice for this dinner  — finding my two young adult male guests available on the same evening two days hence. Concern number one was getting the bird thawed in time to cook it. I decided I needed to use the ‘thaw-bird-in-a-cold-water-bath-in-the-sink’ method. The only space I had in my fridge that would hold the turkey was on the bottom shelf which is notoriously slow — in my house at least — for defrosting purposes.

I kept the thick plastic ‘jacket’ on the bird to help retain moisture in the bird and to reduce cross-contamination from the poultry to the sink, to my hands and then to the fridge. Setting the bird on the bottom of the sink, I filled it with cold water, attempting to cover the entire turkey. If your bird is taller than your sink, remember to turn it frequently to allow all sides the chance to thaw. If it is bigger than your sink, use your roasting pan for the water thawing process.

Occasionally, refill the sink with cold water. Take this opportunity to examine the package recommendations for oven temperature, roasting times (different for stuffed and unstuffed turkey) and internal temperatures indicating a cooked bird. Write this information down on paper so you don’t have to go rummaging through your garbage later!

Raw turkey with largest cavity facing forward. Photo credit:123online photos.

When the bird feels soft when poked (beyond the surface) or squeezed, drain the water and wipe the plastic dry. I placed the turkey into a clean kitchen garbage bag before placing it in the refrigerator until I was ready to cook it. This was done to protect the fridge shelf from any leakage that might come from the thawed turkey.

On the day you cook your turkey, unwrap it and remove the neck or any giblet packages that have been stored in the bird’s cavities. Set aside if you wish to roast these pieces or use the giblets for your gravy. Thoroughly rinse the bird with cold running water, including the cavity between the legs and the smaller one where the neck was removed. Allow the bird to drain slightly and then pat dry (cavities included) with paper towels.

At this point, preheat your oven to 325°F. Set a rack at the centre or bottom third of the oven. I had to remove one of my two racks to allow enough height for the turkey in the roasting pan. I use a medium-sized blue enamel roasting pan (the speckled, classic sort). I set a simple round rack into the bottom of the roasting pan but if you have a turkey rack/lifter use that — it’s much easier to remove the cooked bird. The  interior of the roaster and the rack get a thorough coating with spray cooking oil which makes clean-up much easier.

Now you are ready to season your turkey. Sprinkle the cavities with pepper, a bit of sea salt and one or more of the dried herbs sage, savoury and thyme, I just used sage this time around. I was stuffing this turkey, so I spooned in as much dressing as I could. Don’t pack the dressing in, as you might do for a cup of brown sugar. The stuffing needs room to expand and absorb the moisture from the poultry as it cooks.    At the neck cavity, I used a long poultry skewer to ‘sew’ the two sides of the skin together to close the opening.

Equipment at the ready: oven mitts, poultry skewers, meat thermometer, turkey baster, roast pan, racck, carving board

For the larger cavity, you can use the ‘pope’s nose’ and the loose skin along the breast to stitch your stuffing in with one or two more poultry skewers. My turkey came equipped with a great new (plastic) gadget that ‘handcuffs’ the legs together and anchors them to the inside of the cavity. It still allows for easy stuffing of the cavity, but eliminates the need to use kitchen twine to tie the legs together.

Take the turkey’s wings and bend them under the bird until its elbows are sticking up but its tips are hidden under the spine. This may require some wrestling/bone-cracking, so don’t fret. Settle the turkey, breast-side up, onto the rack in your roasting pan. Centre it in the pan, trying to avoid having the turkey touch the sides of the pan.

The next step is to use something to lubricate the skin. Lots of people use butter for this purpose. I never have. I take a bottle of canola oil, pour some into the palm of my hand and rub it all over the skin of the bird, down between the wings and the legs until it is shiny. Like you would apply sunscreen lotion. This would be one of the many times you wash your hands while handling raw poultry. Do it before you begin seasoning the turkey. Shake some ground black paper and dried sage/savoury/thyme (again I just used sage this time) to taste over the oiled skin. Using my fingers, I take a pinch or two of sea salt to distribute lightly over the turkey. Oiling the skin gives the seasonings something to adhere to.

Cover the roast pan with its lid or tightly with tin foil (which is what I had to do) and place in the oven. At 325°F, my 5 kg/11+ lb turkey should be cooked in 3.5 hours. The first 2.5 hours of this time the turkey is kept covered. If your work plan is well organized, you could take off for a walk or a bike ride at this point or indulge in a cocktail and a great book.

At the 2.5 hour mark, uncover the bird. If there are any juices in the bottom of the pan use a turkey baster to give the skin a little shower. I had some dressing left-over that didn’t fit into the bird’s cavity, so I popped it in the oven in a covered casserole dish at this point to heat through.

Now you need to check every 15 minutes or so as the skin of the turkey browns and crisps up. Baste the entire surface of the turkey. Watch for burning of the wing elbows or drum sticks and, if this happens, cover them with some tin foil for protection.

At the 3.5 hour mark, remove the roasting pan from the oven and check for the internal temperature of the poultry and the stuffing. Here is when my instant read thermometer earns its drawer space. Insert the thermometer into the thickest past of the turkey thigh, avoiding any bone. You want to achieve an internal temperature of 165°F in the poultry and the stuffing. If the bird needs more cooking, check it every 10 -15 minutes or so. Over-cooking creates a dry meat, particularly the white meat. Conversely, you could remove the turkey at 150°F, cover with foil and let it rest until the temperature climbs to 165F.

When cooked, remove the pan from the oven, place the bird on a carving board and tent with foil (if you completely cover the bird, it will steam which is not the effect we are aiming for). Let it rest for 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices within the turkey to redistribute throughout the bird, improving flavour and moistness in all the meat.

After resting, remove skewers, bindings and scoop out stuffing

Using a pot holder or kitchen towel, carefully remove the poultry skewer and the leg bindings. You can scoop out the stuffing now, combining it with the extra in the casserole dish. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

If your potatoes, other vegetables or the gravy are not yet ready to dress and serve, the turkey will keep warm, covered, for about 40 minutes. Carve just before ready to lay out the meal.

As it turned out, my big bird was delicious and other than a small hole in the skin on the breast, it didn’t seem to have suffered from its two years in my freezer. No sign of freezer burn or dried out meat. Everyone had two helpings and leftovers for later. I put about half of it in the freezer for future uses. We were all so hungry, that we neglected to get a picture of the pristine, deep golden, crispy-skinned turkey when it came out of the oven.

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2 Responses to “You? Roast a Turkey?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Planning Day — 31 October 2012 « Savvy Single Suppers - October 2, 2012

    […] friends and neighbours for a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, I commend you to my earlier post on preparing a roast turkey with the trimmings. You CAN do it and you will be the star of the weekend. Best part, you will have left-overs the […]

  2. Savvy Singles Like it Slow — Fruit-Braised Turkey Legs | Savvy Single Suppers - April 10, 2013

    […] a singleton, you CAN cook and enjoy a whole turkey, but sometimes you just don’t have the guests, the freezer space or left-over magic […]

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