Ten years ago, I shared a Thanksgiving turkey recipe with City Weekly readers—and from all reports, it was a great success. Every Thanksgiving since, I’ve gotten numerous requests for the recipe. So, here is an “encore presentation.” It’ll be available in the CityWeekly.net archives for Thanksgivings to come.
Nothing can spoil Thanksgiving dinner faster than killing off a few of your guests with an undercooked bird. Here are a few tips to ensure that your Thanksgiving is a delicious success—with no casualties. First of all, don’t buy one of those self-basting turkeys with vegetable oil injected into them. They’re … fowl.
Figure out how many people you’ll be feeding, and plan on about half a pound of turkey per person. That’ll leave plenty of leftovers for sandwiches, soups, and stews—maybe even turkey tetrazzini. Oh, and consider buying two smaller turkeys rather than one large one. They’ll cook faster and you’ll have twice as many wings, thighs and drumsticks.
I prefer unbasted, natural, free-range turkeys. You can special order them at most supermarkets or pick them up at stores such as Liberty Heights Fresh and Whole Foods Market. Buy the turkey a few days before Thanksgiving and give it two or three days to defrost in the fridge, if frozen. Don’t come home from the store with a rock-hard frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning and expect to eat it that day. Also, if you purchase a turkey with one of those little plastic pop-up timers, you’ll discover that they are, well, turkeys. They’re pretty unreliable, so use a meat thermometer to test a turkey for doneness.
I have found that brining my bird the night before cooking helps to ensure that the turkey will be moist and tender. Brining makes a noticeable difference in the texture and flavor of the turkey meat, too. Here’s how to do it: Dissolve 2 cups of kosher salt or 1 cup of regular table salt in 2 gallons of cold water in a clean bucket, large stock pot, or lobster pot. Place the turkey in the pot and refrigerate, or keep in a very cool place (40 degrees or lower) for 8-12 hours. I usually brine the turkey on Thanksgiving Eve and put it out in the cold garage. In the morning, I remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it thoroughly inside and out until all traces of the salt are removed.
The problem with cooking most large turkeys is that by the time the dark meat is done, the breast is typically overcooked and dry. Here’s how to help remedy that: After the turkey is defrosted, but still in the fridge, fill a large Ziploc bag full of ice cubes. Lay the ice pack over the turkey breast in the refrigerator like saddlebags. The ice will keep the breast cooler than the rest of the bird. Keep the ice pack on the breast until you’re ready to put the turkey in the oven. You won’t believe what a difference this simple tip will make!
Health experts don’t recommend cooking a turkey with stuffing or dressing in the turkey cavity. But if you must, only stuff a turkey right before roasting since stuffing sitting in an uncooked turkey can develop nasty and dangerous bacteria. It’s better to cook your stuffing separately from the turkey. The turkey will cook faster and the stuffing won’t be saturated with fat.
Here is my method for cooking a 15-18 pound turkey. You can modify the recipe using herbs, rubs, sauces, or whatever on the turkey. But this is the simplest, most straightforward way I know of cooking the perfect holiday bird.
Adjust the oven rack to its lowest position. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey’s body cavity. (If you brined your bird, you’ll already have done this.) Remove the icepack saddle bags described above. Rinse the turkey with cold water inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Brush or rub the turkey with 3-4 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter. Generously sprinkle the turkey inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (You can also add herbs like thyme, rosemary, etc. at this stage if you wish.) Place an onion, quartered, inside the turkey cavity.
Place the turkey upside down, with the breast facing downward, on a nonstick roasting rack (Calphalon makes a good one). Put the roasting rack in a large roasting pan; I like my new KitchenAid roaster with domed lid. Place the turkey in the oven and cook for one hour at 400 degrees. After an hour, lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees and roast the turkey for about 1 hour and 45 minutes more. Remove the turkey from the oven and turn it breast side up. (I do this with big wads of paper towels.) Baste the breast with pan juices. Increase the oven to 400 degrees, put the turkey back into the oven, breast up, and continue cooking the turkey until the breast registers 160 degrees and a thigh registers 175 to 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. This should take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. (Note: Exact roasting times will vary depending on the size of the turkey.)
Be sure to let the turkey rest—and you do the same—for about 20 minutes before you start hacking it up. The bird will be unbelievably moist and easy to carve.