A Southern Thanksgiving Celebration…Part III…The Turkey

The star of the show…TURKEY!  I have successfully roasted Thanksgiving turkeys for more than 15 years…they have always been tender & moist regardless of brand or fresh vs. frozen.  As I mentioned before, I use my ‘Turkey Bible’ as a guide, but most turkeys you purchase come with roasting instructions.  Saying that I have successfully roasted does not imply that I haven’t made mistakes here & there (like the year I forgot to take out the bag of gizzards…oops!…it still tasted great, though).  If you want tons of information about the do’s & don’ts of turkeys, try the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline website or give them a jingle at 800.535.4555…they are the publishers of my ‘Turkey Bible’.  I am going to give a quick overview of the basics to having a beautifully golden, tender & juicy turkey.

First things first…what size to buy.  You can purchase turkeys for as few as 6 or as many as 30!  You want to plan on approximately 1 pound per person.  I have roasted both frozen and fresh, without overwhelming preferences for either…I go with price.  My mom usually orders an organic free-range turkey, but you can buy whatever you want.  If you buy frozen, remember that the SAFEST way to thaw is in the fridge…plan on a day for every 5 pounds…don’t forget to put the bird in a pan to catch any liquids from thawing (you don’t want that all over your fridge…ICK!). 

Now that the star is ready, time for ‘make-up’ & ‘wardrobe’.  You will need to wash your bird and pat him dry (I prefer to use paper towels).  I also like to give mine a nice massage with butter (you can use vegetable or olive oil…I like butter), then a generous sprinkling of Kosher salt.  Now, if you want to get all fancy-dancy, Martha-style, you could gently lift the skin away from the breast and tuck in fresh herbs (sage, parsley…tarragon, rosemary…whatever you like) arranged in a pretty fashion…this gives a kind of  ‘stained glass’ look to the beautifully browned, translucent skin.  You will need a roasting pan large enough to accommodate the size bird you are planning for…preferably with a rack.  If you don’t have a special pan with a rack, you can use a disposable one and make a ‘rack’ with an ‘S’ of foil (make it thick enough to stand up to your bird’s weight). 

I’m not a fan of stuffing the bird…never done it, never plan on trying it…so if you want to try it you’ll have to seek advice elsewhere (Martha or FoodNetwork are good places).  I do, however, season the interior of my turkey.  I rub it down with salt & pepper, and place aromatics in the cavity…I have used a variety, celery, onion, head of garlic cut in half, carrots, citrus and fresh herbs.  This is not necessary, but sure tastes yummy!  I also truss mine…tying the wings and legs tight to the bird…makes it prettier on the platter.  Without trussing, the legs & wings will relax during roasting…not as pretty.  I use kitchen twine, wrapped around the legs, criss-crossed then tight to the wings and around the body…it is simple, as long as it is tight it should work.  Now you are ready for the finishing touch to the roasting ‘wardrobe’!  A loose tent of heavy-duty tin foil 10ish inches longer than your bird will do.  You will want to crimp it to 2 sides of your pan to keep it in place.  This tent will prevent over-browning, maximize heat circulation and decrease the mess of oven splatter (bonus!).  If you want to use a meat thermometer, insert it through the tin foil (so you can see it :) ) into the thickest part of the thigh without touching bone…your goal is 185°.  I’m seriously considering trying my new fancy-schmancy oven’s roasting feature…but I will need to study on that a bit.

Now for the actual ROASTING!  You should preheat your oven to 325°.  This is the roasting guide I use:

  • 8-12 pounds…………3-4 hours
  • 12-16 pounds……….3½-4½ hours
  • 16-20 pounds………4-5 hours
  • 20-24 pounds………4½-5½ hours
  • 24-28 pounds………5-6½ hours

You will want to remove the foil tent for the last 20ish minutes to get that perfectly browned skin.  All juices should run CLEAR…no pink!  Don’t forget to let the roasted bird stand & rest for 20 minutes prior to carving (this is a job the ladies in my family leave to the men…it is our tradition…& it makes them feel like the helped a little).  While my bird rests, I place it on a pretty platter and ‘decorate’…you know I like my food pretty!  You can use bunches of herbs, apples, oranges, lemons…whatever you think coordinates with the rest of your table/buffet.

Don’t forget the GRAVY!  I mean, we Southerners simply can’t function without gravy…but this is special.  You will use the rich drippings found at the bottom of your roasting pan…if you have a gas cook top, you can even prepare your gravy right in the same pan!  You will need equal parts of butter & flour (somewhere between 2 & 8 tablespoons depending on the size crowd).  Melt the butter over medium-ish heat, sprinkle in the flour & stir with a fork or whisk…gotta cook the ‘raw flour taste’ out…a few minutes will do, watch for it to become a golden color.  Then slowly pour in those delish drippings, stirring constantly.  You may need some chicken (or turkey 😉 ) stock to reach your desired consistency.  Salt & pepper to taste.

My Momma makes giblet gravy…boiling the neck & gizzards while the bird roasts…adds cornstarch to thicken…seasoned with salt & pepper…finished with sliced up hard-boiled egg.  Also delicious…you will find both types on my table!

Today’s secret revealed…remember to add a few pounds to your turkey…a meal this fabulous deserves a few encore presentations!  You know the meal is great when you plan in advanced for the left-overs!

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