Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Cook a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Until this year I’ve always been a ‘side-dish’ girl for Thanksgiving. Count me in for dessert and green bean casserole, but leave the turkey roasting to the professionals. Roasting a turkey seems like a daunting task; thawing the turkey, flavoring the turkey, basting the turkey, making sure the turkey is not raw, but not overcooked. But, if I’m truly going to become a self taught chef, I better learn how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. It can’t be that difficult, right?? A turkey is like a big chicken, and I bake chicken all the time.

I decided to consult my culinary books for proper guidance on tackling this project. On Cooking and another book, The New Professional Chef both had similar versions of ‘Turkey with Chestnut Dressing’ (I’ll share the amazing Chestnut Dressing Recipe tomorrow).

Seasoning and Trussing your Turkey

Both culinary books advised seasoning turkey with salt and pepper only. Why is this? Poultry that is roasted at high temperatures should never be seasoned with herbs on its surface because the high temperatures will burn the herbs (and burnt herbs taste nasty on turkey). If herbs are used, they should be stuffed inside the cavity. [1]

Step 1: Season your Turkey with Salt and Pepper, inside and out
Step 2: Truss your Turkey

What the heck is trussing?

Truss – To tie poultry with butcher’s twine into a compact shape for cooking [1]

I purchased the butchers twine from Whole Foods (they have it out for the Thanksgiving season). It’s important to use linen string because it doesn’t char like cotton or synthetic plastics. Trussing allows the bird to cook more evenly and helps the bird retain moisture and improve the appearance of the turkey. [1]

How to Truss a Turkey:

A) Cut off the first knuckle of the wing and tuck the wing behind the back.

B) Cut a piece of butchers twine approximately three times the length of the bird. With the breast and neck toward you, pass the string under the legs, and criss-cross above the legs, then again below the legs.


C) Pull the twine tightly across the leg and thigh joints and just above the wings.

D) Pull the string tight and tie it securely above the neck.


Cooking the Turkey

Place the trussed and seasoned turkey in a roasting pan, on top of a rack in the pan. I purchased a disposable roasting pan from the grocery store that had a ‘built-in’ rack with little divets in the pan for collecting juices.

Step 3:

Roast the Turkey at 400 degrees for 30 minutes to brown the skin.
Reduce the heat to 325 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time.

Cook Turkey 12-15 minutes per pound.

Optional: Add diced Mirepoix mixture to the bottom of the roasting pan for the last hour of cooking. (One white onion diced, 3 carrots diced, 2 celery sticks diced)

Step 4: Baste the Turkey every 15-20 minutes.

What the heck is basting?

Baste – To moisten foods during cooking with melted fat, pan drippings to prevent drying and add flavor [1]

With the exception of fatty birds such as ducks or geese, all poultry items should be basted while they roast in order to retain moisture. You can use a basting squeezer or spoon/ladel the juices over the turkey every 15-20 minutes. I found a lot of juices collected in the cavity, rather than initially drip into the pan. I basted with those cavity juices in addition to the pan juices.

Determining when your Turkey is Done

The most challenging aspect of turkey roasting was determining when the bird was done. I made the mistake of measuring the temperature of the chicken breast, instead of inserting the thermometer into the bird’s thigh, which is the last part to become fully cooked. I started jumping and cheering because my turkey finished cooking EARLY, according to my temperture reading of the turkey breast. My hungry husband was thrilled! Yippee, victory!

And back to reality: That never happens . . . no really, I’ve never heard of a turkey that finished cooking early. And when I started carving the turkey, bloody juices ran down my hand which was a tell-tale sign that my turkey was in fact NOT done. Back into the oven Mr. Turkey. *I hate it when that happens, but it was a good lesson on always taking the temperature in the inner thigh versus the breast.

Four methods for determining turkey doneness:

1. Temperature - Insert meat thermometer into the inner thigh (not breast), not touching bone. The thermometer should read 165-170 degrees
2. Color of the Juices – The color of the juices should be clear, not red, pink, bloody or cloudy. Most of my juices collected in the cavity, and my juices were distinctly not pink once my turkey finished cooking.
3. Looseness of Joints - The leg and thigh will move freely in its socket when the turkey is done
4. Amount of Cooking Time - Timing alone is less reliable because there are so many variables, different types of ovens, actual temperature variations, weather, and climate. But the general rule is: Cook Turkey 12-15 minutes per pound, at 325 degrees.[1]

Once Turkey has finished cooking, allow the bird to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

In conclusion,

Procedure for Roasting a Turkey

1) Season and Truss the Turkey
2) Place Turkey in roasting pan. Place on a rack, or buy a disposable pan with built-in rack. Place turkey on a bed of Mirepiox for the last hour to prevent scorching and to promote even cooking, add flavor/aroma.
3) Roast uncovered, baste every 15 minutes.
4) Allow the bird to rest before carving to evenly distribute the juices. Prepare gravy as the bird is resting. [1]

[1] On Cooking, A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals, Fourth Edition. By Sarah Labensky and Alan Hause, Steven Labensky and Pricilla Martel, Prentice Hall, 2007.

1 comment:

  1. This is very helpful! I'm not making the turkey this year, but when I do, I think I'll refer back to this post--thanks!

    ReplyDelete