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Roast Turkey 
 

 

A Thanksgiving, Passover, Chanukah, Easter
or Christmas Favorite  that can be prepared
for a Sunday Dinner Anytime

Brine that Bird!

The best way to get flavorful poultry, regardless of how it is prepared, is to start with a brine. Brining adds moisture and flavor to poultry and helps to keep it from drying out. A turkey can be a serious investment in time so you want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you're entertaining. Whether you grill, smoke, fry, or roast your turkey, you should use a brined bird.

What Size of Turkey will I need to buy? Plan for about 3/4 pound for every adult person and 1/2 pound for children 12 and under but not including babies. 

Supplies: To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook. You will need at least 10 to 12 hours (plan on 1 hour per pound of turkey), a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it. You'll also need salt, water, sugar, seasonings, and enough room to refrigerate it. A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket would make excellent containers.

Whatever container you choose the turkey needs to have enough room to be turned so it should be big. Both Reynolds (Oven Roasting Bag for Turkeys) and Ziploc (XL Storage Bag) make very large food safe sealable bags that are great for brining.

Turkey: Now let's get to the turkey. The turkey should be cleaned out, completely thawed, and should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty. A fresh turkey works best, but a completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well.

Brine Ingredients: To make the brine, mix 1 cup of table salt in 1 gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon of water but thats the ratio to aim for. One way of telling if you have enough salt in your brine is that a raw egg will float in it. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved before adding the seasonings you like, making sure not to add anything that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne, savory with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown sugar. Whatever your tastes are, you can find a large number of brine recipes on the internet.

Sweetening the Brine: Sugar is optional to any brine, but works to counteract the flavor of the salt. While you may choose a brine without sugar, I do recommend that you add sugar (any kind of "sweet" will do) to maintain the flavor of the turkey. Add up to 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brine. Like the salt you need to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.

Set-up: Place the turkey in a container and pour in enough brine to completely cover the turkey with an inch or two to spare. You do not want any part of the turkey above the surface of the brine. Now you put the whole thing in the refrigerator. Making enough room in the fridge is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey. Brining too long is much worse than not brining enough so watch the time. If you live in a cool climate, it is ok to sit the turkey in your brining bucket (plastic is good as long as it is spotlessly clean) outdoors or in a cool garage.

Keep it Cool!: Don't have room in the refrigerator? Try a cooler. A cooler big enough to hold your turkey makes a good container for your turkey and brine. The cooler will help keep it cool and allow you to brine your turkey without taking up precious refrigerator space. If the weather is cool, but not freezing you can put the whole thing outside until you need the turkey. If the weather is warm fill a half gallon milk carton with water and freeze it. Place this in the cooler with the turkey and brine and it will hold down the temperature during the brining process.

Rinsing: When you are ready to start cooking your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it off thoroughly in the sink with cold water until all traces of salt are off the surface inside and out. Safely discard the brine and cook your turkey as normal. You will notice the second you start to carve your turkey that the brining has helped it retain moisture. The first bite will sell you on brining turkeys forever, and after you've tried this you will want to brine all your poultry.

Cooking Times

MINIMUM COOKING TIMES FOR TURKEYS
Oven at 325F or 160C
 
Pounds Kilograms Hours of Cooking
6 - 8 Lbs 2.5 - 3.5 Kg 2 - 2 hrs
8 - 10 Lbs 3.5 - 4 Kg 2 - 3 hrs
10 - 12 Lbs 4.5 - 5.5 Kg 3 3 hrs
12 - 16 Lbs 5.5 - 7.5 Kg 3 - 3 hrs
16 - 22 Lbs 7.5 - 10 Kg 3 - 4 hrs
* The very best way to ensure proper cooking is to use a meat thermometer

Roast Turkey with Country Ham Stuffing and Giblet Gravy

For the Stuffing
3 cups 1/2-inch cubes of day-old homemade-type white bread
3 cups 1/2-inch cubes of day-old whole-wheat bread
3/4 pound boneless cooked or uncooked Smithfield or other country ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped
4 ribs of celery, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves or 2 1/2 teaspoons crumbled dried
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled

The Turkey
2- to 14-pound turkey, the neck and giblets (excluding the liver) reserved for making turkey giblet stock
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups water
1 cup turkey giblet stock or chicken broth
For the gravy
1 cup dry white wine
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups turkey giblet stock, including the reserved cooked neck and giblets

Don't forget to take out the giblets that are in a litle pouch
inside of the bird before you cook it
!


fresh sage leaves for garnish

Make the Stuffing:
In a shallow baking pan arrange the bread cubes in one layer, bake them in a preheated 325F. oven, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden, and transfer them to a large bowl. In a large skillet saut the ham in the butter over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it is deep red and the edges are crisp, and transfer it with a slotted spoon to the bowl. To the fat remaining in the skillet add the onions, the celery, the sage, and the thyme, cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, until the onions are softened, and transfer it to a bowl. Toss the stuffing well, season it with salt and pepper and let it cool completely. The stuffing may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. (To prevent bacterial growth do not stuff the turkey cavities in advance.)

Rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and season it inside and out with salt and pepper. Pack the neck cavity loosely with some of the stuffing, fold the neck skin under the body, and fasten it with a skewer. Pack the body cavity loosely with some of the remaining stuffing and truss the turkey. Transfer the remaining stuffing to a buttered 2-quart baking dish and reserve it, covered and chilled.

Spread the turkey with 1/2 stick of the butter and roast it on a rack in a roasting pan in a preheated 425F. oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F., baste the turkey with the pan juices, and drape it with a piece of cheesecloth, soaked in the remaining 1 stick butter, melted and cooled. Add the water to the pan and roast the turkey, basting it every 20 minutes, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours more, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the fleshy part of a thigh registers 180F. and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a skewer. During the last 1 1/2 hours of roasting, drizzle the reserved stuffing with the stock, bake it, covered, in the 325F. oven for 1 hour, and bake it, uncovered, for 1/2 hour more. Discard the cheesecloth and string from the turkey, transfer the turkey to a heated platter, reserving the juices in the roasting pan, and keep it warm, covered loosely with foil.

Make the Gravy:
Skim all of the fat from the roasting pan juices, reserving 1/3 cup of the fat, add the wine to the pan, and deglaze the pan over moderately high heat, scraping up brown bits. Boil the mixture until it is reduced by half. In a saucepan combine the reserved fat and the flour and cook the roux over moderately low heat, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add the stock and the wine mixture in a stream, whisking, and simmer the gravy, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the reserved cooked giblets and neck meat, chopped, and salt and pepper to taste, simmer the gravy for 2 minutes, and transfer it to a heated sauceboat.

Garnish the turkey with the sage leaves and serve it with the gravy and the stuffing.

Gourmet - November 1991

Cooking a Frozen Turkey
Yikes! You forgot to thaw the turkey and it is countdown time to the big dinner. Can you cook a frozen turkey? The answer is yes and safely so .... BUT it will take longer and plan for 25 minutes for every pound of turkey to be cooked.

The following is a procedure for cooking a 12-to-13-lb. frozen turkey.

Method

Start 5 to 5 1/2 hours before you want to serve the cooked turkey. Set the oven temperature at 325F. It is much better that the turkey be done 30 minutes before mealtime than to rush and serve an undercooked turkey. Remove the wrapping from the turkey and put the turkey on a rack on a pan that has been covered with foil to make cleaning easy (Fig. 1). You can also cook the turkey in a covered roasting pan if you have one.

Put the turkey in the oven. Do not worry about the bag with the heart, liver, etc. in the neck cavity or the neck in the center of the turkey. They can be removed during cooking, after the turkey thaws. There will be Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter jejuni on the turkey. However, because it is frozen, there is no drip, and transfer to hands or counter is not a significant risk.

Cooking the turkey on a shallow pan on a rack assures even cooking. Cooking in a pan with sides shields the bottom of the turkey from heat, and the cooking on the bottom will be non-uniform.

In the first 2 to 2 1/2 hours, the legs and thighs get up to approximately 100F. The breast, about 1 inch into the flesh, is still at the soft ice point, about 25F. At this point, begin to monitor breast temperature with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer as it thaws. You may also use a dial roast thermometer. Insert it into the breast, because it is the slowest cooking part.

After about 3 1/2 hours, the legs and thighs will be around 150 to 160F, and the breast, about 40 to 50F. The bag of heart, liver, etc. and the neck can be removed at this time, to be made into stock, if desired.

At 4 1/2 to 5 hours, the turkey is nicely cooked. Check the temperature. The leg and thigh should be tender and at a temperature of 175 to 185F, while the breast will be moist at a temperature of 160 to 170F. The pop-up timer (if there is one) should have popped. Cooking turkeys to these temperatures is adequate to assure the reduction of Salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni to a safe level.

This is an excellent way to cook turkey. Actually, cooking a turkey from the frozen state has benefits over cooking a thawed turkey. Cooking can be done in a roasting pan, but it is unnecessary. If one thaws a turkey in a home refrigerator, there is a significant risk of raw juice with pathogens at high levels getting on refrigerator surfaces, other foods in the refrigerator, countertops, and sink, thus creating a hazard and a need for extensive cleaning and sanitizing.

The second benefit is that, because the breast has greater mass, it takes longer to thaw. Therefore, the thigh and leg are well cooked and tender, while the breast is not overcooked and dried out. The breast will cook to a juicy 160-to-165F endpoint without difficulty.

Summary

Cooking turkey from the frozen state produces an excellent, juicy, tender, and safe product. There is no need to remember to thaw the turkey four days ahead of time, and cooking a frozen turkey minimizes risk of pathogen cross-contamination from juices from the raw bird.

To assure a quality and safe turkey, monitor the final temperature with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, and always wash your hands before touching and handling the cooked turkey.

If you want to do something special - try cooking a Turducken

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