Let’s talk turkey!

I cannot begin to count the Thanksgiving meals I’ve eaten or cooked that were about turkey that was either all dried-out white meat, or overly fatty thighs or legs.  May be that’s why we only roasted turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas!  It was honestly not so great.

So a few years ago I set out to research the very best way to cook an excellent turkey, one that tasted very moist and flavorful.  After much trial and error, I think I’ve found it.

There are three secrets to great turkey: brine, roasting upside-down, and slow cooking.

First, thaw the turkey if it is frozen a full two (2) days ahead of time in your refrigerator.  Letting it sit out on a countertop or un-refrigerated is dangerous, and could cause spoilage or too much bacterial growth.  Once thawed, soak it in salt water (brine).  I use a ratio of 2 cups salt per gallon of water (coarse or kosher salt is best, or ordinary salt is fine, too).  I let it sit in the brine, covered, for 4-6 hours.  You can go slower and brine longer, perhaps 8-10 hours if you use brine that is 1 cup salt in 1 gallon of water (half of it ice).  I use a large cooler to soak it in, the kind that you carry a picnic or big bottles of drinks in that’s lined with insulation and has a protective lid – that way the turkey is always cold.

After it is fully brined, rinse it, and place in breast-side down in a roasting pan, preferably on a roasting rack.  If you don’t have a rack, balled-up aluminum foil placed underneath will work fine.  Chop-up an apple, a couple of carrots, a stalk or two of celery, a small onion and place these in the turkey’s cavity.  I don’t stuff it with stuffing (dressing as we called it in the Midwest in the day); I cook the stuffing separately.  Put aluminum foil over the top, or rather the turkey’s bottom.

I roast my turkeys slowly at about 300 or 350 degrees for 2-3 hours depending on the size of the bird.  Then, I take its temperature by placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, and on 2 or 3 other areas of breast and drumsticks.  I want to get it above 165 degrees, minimum, as recommended by the USDA. Once at this temperature, I quickly flip the bird over using gloves and paper-towels, remove all foil, baste it a few times, and roast it for another 30-40 minutes letting the breast brown beautifully.  Keep a eye on it, to make sure it doesn’t over brown.

The last 30-40 minutes, I roast sliced carrots, parsnips, potatoes, squash, and/or green and red peppers that have been brushed lightly with olive oil, on a baking sheet.

As for gravy, I make a low-fat pan gravy.  In a separate skillet, I take 2-3 tablespoons of turkey drippings (ideally separate the fat out of it beforehand), 2-3 tablespoons of flour slowly added and stirred over a low flame.  This is called a French roux – slowly adding flour a little at a time into the hot liquid.  Stir, stir and stir, not stopping.  Once integrated into the natural turkey broth, add about a cup or so of non-fat (skim) milk.  Keep stirring over low-heat until it thickens.  This is delicious, no lumps, very low fat.  No need to add salt, pepper or other seasonings.

Happy thanksgiving feast.

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