Turkey Roasting Guide
The center of most Thanksgiving dinners is, of course, the roasted turkey, glistening with juices, aromatic, golden brown and delicious. Roasting the turkey perfectly is a learned skill, but it doesn't have to be a complicated procedure. Today we will explore several different ways to choose the right bird as well as different ways to cook turkeys and let you decide which one would work for you and your family.
When choosing a turkey, allow one and one half to two pounds per person. The smaller the turkey the more weight is taken up by bones, so you need larger portions. Once you determine the size, look for a nicely shaped bird whether fresh or frozen. Fresh turkeys can usually be ordered in advance and frozen turkeys need time to thaw, so plan ahead to allow for these factors.
A fresh turkey can be safely kept in the refrigerator for two days. To thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, allow three to five days depending on the size of the turkey. Leave it in the sealed wrappings and set it in a pan. When the turkey is nearly thawed the giblets and neck can be removed. Once the turkey is completely thawed, rinse it with fresh water and pat it dry inside and out with paper towels.
To thaw in water, cover the turkey with cold water and allow 30 minutes per pound. Make absolutely sure the turkey is in a sealed plastic bag to avoid bacterial contamination. Rinse thawed turkey and pat dry.
Read the About.com article, How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey for more detailed information.
Make some homemade turkey stock ahead of time with which to baste the turkey. You can use the neck (not the liver, giblets or heart) to make about 2 cups. For larger quantities buy an extra turkey leg or two, or wings if you can get them. Roast the turkey parts until golden. Pour some water or white wine into the roasting pan, heat and scrape up all the browned on bits in the bottom of the pan. The is called the "fond." Place the turkey pieces and liquid in a pot and add water to about 2" over the top of the meat. Add a quartered onion, a stalk of celery cut in large chunks and a scrubbed carrot cut in large chunks. Also add some stems of parsley saving the tops for other purposes, and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half. A few peppercorns can be added as well as some sage and thyme stems if desired. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Allow to cool, then strain and discard the solids. Let your stock sit in the refrigerator until the fat comes to the top and solidifies. Skim it off to make gravy that is not greasy. This is much better than canned broth and only as salty as you want it to be.
The next decision that must be made is how long to cook the turkey. I use the USDA guide to cooking turkey, Let's Talk Turkey, for cooking times and safe cooked temperature advice. They provide a handy table with total cooking times for different size, unstuffed, turkeys, from 3 hours for a 12 pound bird, to 5 hours for a 24 pound bird. The USDA advises not to stuff the turkey for food safety reasons. Their guide is well worth reading as is the About.com article on the subject, Turkey Handling Tips.
Rub the breast with either butter or oil and season inside and out with salt and pepper, and any other seasonings you like. Put the turkey into a roasting pan large enough to accomodate the bird. The turkey can either be placed directly in the bottom of the pan or on a rack. A rack allows for hot air circulation and a crisper skin. You may tuck the wings under the bird or let them stick up to get crispy. You may also want to place quartered onions, sliced lemons or oranges and other aromatic vegetables or herbs inside the cavity to add flavor. Don't stuff it too full to permit thorough cooking.
If you don't have a meat thermometer, get one because you'll need it. Tie or truss the legs to help the bird keep its shape and place the thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh. Don't rely on those pop ups, because by the time they pop the turkey is overcooked. You'll want to see an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or 74 degrees Celsius. When you see this temperature, check the temperature of the breast and wing area to make sure the bird is cooked through. The leg should move when fully cooked and juices should run clear.
Now that you've determined the size, thawed the turkey and prepared it for roasting, it's time for a few recipes. These are basic recipes that we hope will be useful to you.