Today is the last day of this column on Beliefnet.com. After over 12 years of daily writings on Beliefnet, I’m moving on. I thank God for this wonderful experience. As far as I’ve been told, I’m the last original Beliefnet contributing editor and writer; everyone else is new. Now, however, I need to make some […]
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.