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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey - Cooking


Thursday morning rolls around. The bird must get cooked before the horde of hungry guests arrive. I'm going to assume you followed my advice and allowed ample time for thawing if your turkey is frozen. Please check your bird the night before, not just before it has to go in the oven (been there, done that). Do not panic if it is still slightly frozen. You can put it in the sink with ice water. Replace the water every hour. It will thaw surprisingly fast. Don't leave it in the sink overnight, even in cold water. It will not stay cold enough.


Since I have two birds every year, one bird goes in the oven and the other goes on the rotisserie on the grill. The rotisserie turkey is always the most beautiful. The skin is crispier and it is an incredible mahogany brown. I throw cuttings from my grapevine onto the grill to add a little sweet smoke.


But, I'm getting ahead of myself. We need to season the birds first. When it's time to roast the turkey, pull it out of the brine and dry it off. My oven-roasted turkey gets the same treatment every year, which is the way my grandmother made it. I rub it with butter or vegetable oil. I sprinkle it inside and out with paprika (helps the color), garlic powder, salt (go light for a brined turkey), and black pepper. Cut a lemon in half and stuff the halves in the cavity. Do the same with a peeled onion. Take some sprigs of herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) and stuff those in the cavity too. Oh yeah, I don't stuff my birds. Since stuffing has to get to 165 degrees F, it makes it more difficult to cook the turkey properly. In order to get the stuffing hot enough, you need to overcook the bird. Stuffing tastes just fine cooked outside the bird and I don't like my turkey overcooked.


The second turkey gets a southwestern twist. Instead of paprika, I use ground ancho chiles - pure ancho not chile powder. It's a lot like paprika but it has more oomph. Then garlic powder, a little salt, and black pepper. You can use any dry rub you have as long as it is not heavy on the salt. Like the oven turkey, I stuff a halved lemon and onion in there. Sometimes, I put in a halved orange too, if I have one. For herbs, I use thyme only.


I need to truss the turkey for the rotisserie but I don't truss the oven-roasted bird. Take the last wing joints and bend them under the body. Or cut them off and use them for stock.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place your turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan. Put the turkey in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Baste and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Add more water if it has all cooked away. Baste every 30 minutes and check the water. For a 10-12 lb bird, total roasting time is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. I start checking its internal temperature at 2 hours because I have a convection oven and my turkey is about 10 lbs. The temperature taken in the thickest part of the thigh must reach 170 degrees F. USDA, Butterball and many other sites says 180 degrees but if you cook it that long, you get cotton, not turkey. 170 degrees F is sufficient to kill nasty bugs like salmonella provided you haven't stuffed your bird. Remember to wash your thermometer before sticking it in the turkey again.


Some recipes, like Cooks Illustrated, call for starting the bird on its breast and then flipping it over. I don't bother. It's a real pain in the arse to flip it and I don't know that it makes a big difference, especially in a brined bird. I roast it breast side up the whole time. I usually cover the breast with foil about half way through cooking to keep it from over-browning.


When the bird has reached 170 degrees F, remove it from the oven and cover it with foil. You should wait at least 10 minutes before craving and we often wait longer. Make sure to put your turkey on a heated platter so it doesn't cool off before you have a chance to serve it. Heat your dinner plates too.


I hope your bird is delicious and you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

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