Monday, November 19, 2007

My Favorite Way to Roast a Turkey

Everyone seems to have their favorite way to roast a turkey. I think this is an improvement from what has been the traditional way in my family. My source for this recipe is Leanne Ely of I’ve adapted it a bit over the past few years, but it has always produced a juicy, flavorful turkey, including the breast meat. I had never eaten turkey breast this moist until I tried this method of handling the bird.

You must start with a turkey that is completely thawed. That may seem obvious. But I, too, have been guilty of not planning enough ahead to thaw meat completely and safely. The safest way to thaw raw meat is in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of weight. I’m going to be doing a 22-pound bird this year at our house. So we bought it last Thursday and will be allowing a full week in the refrigerator to thaw since I’ll be roasting it on Wednesday of this week…I like to do the bird the day before the big meal so that the fuss and mess are done before my guests arrive, and I also find that it helps to have my oven available for other dishes on Thanksgiving Day.

On the day you plan to roast the bird, take it out of the refrigerator and put it into your sink. Remove the outer wrapping and take out anything that’s been packed inside the two cavities. Often, you’ll find a package of giblets and a neck, and you might even find a package of gravy. Remove these items and wash the gravy packet well so that you can put it back into your refrigerator until you need it.

Open the package of giblets into a saucepan and fill it half full of water. You’re going to be setting it on the stove to simmer for a few hours to cook the giblets and the neck and make a broth that you can use for the stuffing. (After it has simmered for a few hours, set it aside to cool a bit. Remove the giblets and the neck, chop the meat, discard the bones, and chill the meat and the broth in the refrigerator for later use.)

Now wash the turkey well with fresh. Pat it dry with paper towels and then transfer it into your waiting roasting pan…You might want to have someone to help you at this point since you’ll be working with the raw turkey for a bit now and yet it will be helpful to have someone nearby with clean hands to handle the melted butter and other seasonings that you will use.

Melt 1/4 cup butter to rub between the breast and the skin (you can generally separate the breast from its skin in parts so that you can access more of the flesh), and then run the remaining melted butter all over the rest of the butter, again concentrating on the breast part.

Sprinkle the turkey inside and out with ample amounts of dried sage, thyme, garlic salt, and ground black pepper. I usually ask my husband to season the two cavities first, and then I have him do the back of the bird and finally the breast last, since you’ll be roasting the bird breast-side up in your oven. Oh, and I also ask him to preheat the oven for me as well. You’ll want to set the temperature to 500 degrees.

I never bake stuffing in the turkey anymore, for a variety of reasons. It lengthens the roasting time required, risking that your white meat will dry out before your thigh meat is completely done. There’s a risk that your stuffing might not be fully cooked, even if the bird is done and, if that happens, you will need additional time to bake the stuffing in the oven to ensure that it’s hot all the way through and safe to eat. And it’s really not necessary to stuff the bird. I have a great recipe that I will also share, which works well in a slow cooker, for stuffing. If I don’t tell people that the stuffing was made in the slow cooker (and not in the bird), no one ever knows.

Instead of stuffing in the turkey, I use fresh vegetables to loosely fill the cavities, including a carrot, a stalk of celery, and an onion or two. I’m not sure why this is helpful, but it does work, and then I usually use the roasted vegetables (along with additional vegetables) in a turkey soup that I make the day after Thanksgiving.

Next, place your meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh muscle, but not touching the bone, positioning it so you can read it through the oven door. You’re not going to open the door much at all with this method of roasting, because every time you open the door, your oven can lose 25 degrees of heat and then require another half hour of roasting time…which, in turn, dries out your white meat.

Pour a half cup of water into the bottom of your roasting pan, and place it into your preheated oven for 30 minutes…Don’t worry about ruining your turkey at this point. This amount of time is safe, and it will actually form a beautiful deep golden crust all over your bird, which will keep the juices inside, where you want them to be.

After that half hour, open the oven door quickly and remove the turkey to tent it loosely with aluminum foil. This is the only time you should open the oven door again until your turkey is done. Be sure to position the thermometer so that you can read it through the door by simply turning on your oven light. Turn down the oven temperature to 325 degrees and roast it for the remainder of the recommended time for your turkey’s size. For my 22-pound turkey, I’ll need 4-1/2 to 5 hours of total roasting time (including my half hour at 500 degrees). About a half hour before that time is up, I’ll be checking my thermometer through the oven window to make sure that it reaches 165 degrees. Then, I’ll know that it’s done.

is a good website with up-to-date food safety information on roasting turkey.

Another way you can tell that the turkey is completely roasted is that you will see that the juice is no longer pink when you cut into the center of the thigh, and the drumstick moves easily in the socket when lifted or twisted…Still, it’s best to let the turkey sit on the counter with the aluminum foil tent over it for another half hour before carving. And that’s it. If you follow these instructions, you should have a tender, moist, flavorful turkey for your meal.

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