Monday, November 13, 2006

Talking Turkey

Okay, so it's coming. One of the biggest eating holidays of the year. And the centerpiece is usually turkey. Turkey can be a tricky thing. It seems like you could cook birds of the same size for the same time and one will be dry, and the other raw. It can be tasty, but sometimes can be flavorless (a particular complaint of dry turkey). It seems confusing, no? Well, never fear, because here is a complete, easily adaptable, countless variations turkey recipe guaranteed to come out right every time. Unless your oven breaks, then I can't help you.

You will need:
A good quality roasting pan. I own this one , but any good heavy one will do.
A meat thermometer with an alert. There are lots of good ones out there.

A turkey of a size appropriate to your gathering, fresh and not frozen please!! My family gathering of 7 will happily cook a 20lb turkey, because sandwiches on Thanksgiving night is more required than tradition. All that lazing around makes you want leftovers!

Carrots, onions, and celery, 2 of each is good

chicken broth (or turkey broth, or veggie--whatever you like), 2 32oz. boxes or so.

Butter. Yes, it has to be butter. Trust me. I would recommend using a whole stick, because if you don't use the leftovers for gravy, it will taste amazing on bread.

Herbs of your choice, fresh or dried is not terribly important. These will be mixed with the butter.

About an hour before you cook, take the turkey out of the fridge. Wash it inside and out, pat it dry inside and out, and salt and pepper it. Place it on the roasting rack in the pan, and let it sit at RT for an hour. Use this hour to preheat the oven to 450. About 30' beforehand, soften some butter, and mix into the butter whatever herbs you'd like to flavor your bird with. I like using fresh thyme, or a mix of rosemary, thyme and garlic. If you are using fresh and NOT stuffing the turkey, place some sprigs of herb in the cavity. Carefully (VERY carefully) slide your hands in between the skin and breast of the bird, and loosen the skin. Generously rub the herb butter over the breast meat. Leaving pieces is OK, just don't shove chunks in and leave it. You want to get all the meat. This will take 4-6T of butter total, depending on bird size. Put a little butter on the skin of the bird if you like crispy skin; if not, leave it. Cut up your veggies, and scatter them in the roasting pan. Add enough broth just to cover the veggies; I would use about a box and a half of broth for my roasting pan, but once again, this is dependent on size.
Now, insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, but DON'T TOUCH THE BONE (that is so important--ask me how I know). Try going parallel to the bone. Guidlelines say that the bird is DONE when the leg reaches 185 degrees, so you want to set your thermometer to go off when the meat reaches 175 degrees. Yes, you heard correctly. We'll get to this.

By now your oven should be fully preheated. Open it, and slide the bird in. Make sure (before you do the sliding) that your only rack in there is in the bottom 1/3 of the oven. Cook at 450 for 30'. After 30', turn the oven down to 350, and cook until the temperature alarm goes off. As a time estimate, an unstuffed bird takes about 12-15' per pound, and a stuffed one takes 18-22' a pound. This is also dependent on your oven--my mom's pretty shiny new oven cooked the turkey an hour faster than predicted. So time is an estimate only! Do not open the oven to baste the bird--this only lets heat out and makes the skin soggy. Only open the oven for two reasons: 1) the pan is getting dry and you need to add more broth, or 2) the turkey is browning faster than you like, so you need to tent it with tinfoil. NO BASTING!!
Once you take the bird out, pick up the rack and move it to a plate. Turn the alarm feature off of the temperature probe, and cover the turkey with foil. The temp should continue to rise for the next 30' or so, thus ensuring the cook point of 185 degrees, but not making dry turkey!

Okay, you are now ignoring the turkey. Take the roasting pan, and pour the liquid inside into a measuring cup, or (even better) a fat separator. Let it sit for 5'. Melt some butter into a large saucepan (leftover herb butter, anyone?) and throw in some fat from the liquid in the measuring cup. Add enough flour to make a paste, and stir for 1' over medium heat. When it's thick enough, add the pan liquid (and extra chicken broth if needed/desired) into the pan. Stir or whisk for 1'. Bring to a boil, and boil until the gravy coats a spoon (meaning, it gets thick). If it's thicker than you like, just whisk in a little more broth.

When the gravy is how you want it, take it off the heat. Carve your bird as desired, and serve with the hot gravy. Oh so very good!!

Gravy variation which sound weird but is so very good:
Instead of making the butter/fat/flour roux, put some gingersnap cookie dough into the pan. Add a little broth and fat, and whisk till it's smooth. Add broth as desired. This works well with turkey seasoned with thyme and/or garlic.

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