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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey Tips

This picture is from the Buffalo History Gazette

In the past several years of our marriage, I find if I am not hosting a Thanksgiving meal, that I am often asked to "bring the bird". Which I love doing. Everyone knows that I like to work with local farmers who have organic free range birds and if I can't get that, I order it from an organic distributor where I get other groceries. I also like preparing the bird. I have picked up lots of tips and tricks from different people over the years and the combination of those always result in a wonderful holiday Turkey. So I thought I would share some of those things with you. As stated before - it always starts with a good bird. :-)

Preparing the Turkey
I used to work in a little French Bistro in the Theater District in San Fransisco, called City Of Paris Restaurant. The chef gave me his method of preparing a turkey and it has been my favorite ever since. It's result (with Uncle Per's Turkey Times) is ALWAYS a most and flavorful bird, and it is so simple!

1. Start by preparing an herb butter. A really simple one is mixing a generous amount of poultry seasoning and softened butter together until well combined. I have also used chicken grilling mixes and homemade mixes and Herbs de Provence. So what ever you like on chicken will work nicely. (I use about a stick (1/2 C) of butter depending on the size of the bird.)

2. Rinse your turkey and drain and set aside on a work surface. Get your herb butter handy ( I like to use a soup bowl).

3. Your next step is to very gently separate the skin from the meat, by start at the back of the bird (breast up) and tuck your fingers between the skin and breast meat. You will notice it is attache by little tendons. You will slide your gently between the skin and meet, back and forth to loosen the skin from the meat. Careful not to rip the skin, you still want it in tact and surrounding your bird. Do this over the whole top surface of the bird and and over the legs as best you can. Now you will take the soften herb butter and generously butter the bird under the skin with the herbed butter, where ever you can get the butter in between that skin and meat. Than take any remaining herb butter and spread it all over the outside of the bird...it's a messy job - but it's worth it!

4. Now stuff and/or roast your bird as usual. (My suggested method below.)

Turkey Roasting Times
Below is a little chart that I have used for may years to help gauge how long to cook a stuffed turkey. It was shared with me by Ben's Uncle Per (pronounced "pare") If you don't stuff your turkey, it cooks much faster (almost half), but this guide has always helped me decide (each year) whether on not I will keep my stuffing in or out of my bird. I make this choice based on time to cook, space, the planned meal time, other dishes being served and what I will have a chance to make ahead.

If you choose not to stuff your bird, just use a poultry thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. I also like to check the thickest inner part of the leg/thigh area as well, to determine whether it is finished or not. I use the same method of uncovering and high heat to start than turning the heat down and covering it for the duration for an unstuffed bird as well.

Preheat oven to 425F and put your bird in, uncovered for the first 20- 30 minutes. This browns the outside skin of the bird and seals it, which helps you get moist meat in the end result.

You may reduce heat to either 350 or 325 as desired. Here are the weights and times:

At 350F
5-12 lb roast covered another 1- 1/2 hour
12-18 lb roast covered another 1 1/2 - 2 hours
18-25 lb roast covered another 2 1/4- 4 hours

At 325F
5-12 lb roast covered another 2-3 hour
12-18 lb roast covered another 3-4 hours
18-25 lb roast covered another 4-5 hours

Again, always use a poultry thermometer to check the thickest meat section of the breast to be sure your bird is done. Let your bird sit uncovered for about 20-30 minutes outside the oven, before carving for clean slices. This is perfect, because that gives you time to make the gravy
do last minute things.

Momma's Pan Gravy - My mom and grandma always made a simple pan gravy that is delicious. When the bird comes out, remove it from the pan carefully, so it can rest before carving. I use a hand strainer to remove unwanted pieces that may be in the bottom of the pan (keeping in mind some of the pieces are good!). Make a mixture of cornstarch (or arrowroot or flour) and cold water. (about a 1/4c powder to 1/4C water) Put the pan on the stove (if it is a stove top save pan, if not - transfer it to a large shallow pot), bring it to a boil. Pour in the thickening mixture and stir. If it doesn't not thicken well, I mix up some more and repeat. If My turkey did not leave me much liquid in the bottom of the pan, I will pour in additional chicken or turkey broth to increase my gravy base to thicken. It is a key ingredient to the meal which can not be skimped on! :-) I salt and pepper to taste. If it needs a little more "umf" I may put a splash or wine (a light red or a white or a Marcella) or a splash of Braggs Liquid Aminos (or Soy Sauce). You could also add a little chicken or vegetable bullion to it if you needed. This is usually only needed if I extend it too far with too much water or bland broth. But it is good to know. :-)

I've never been one for "giblets" in my gravy or otherwise, but I like to give them to cats and dogs, they LOVE them!

Our Favorite Stuffing
When i was a kid, my mother used to make the most delicious oyster stuffing! I craved it and served it for many of my early Thanksgiving meals. However, when we chose to eat according to Yah's standards in the Bible (Biblically Kosher) we realized, that meant no more Oyster Stuffing for Thanksgiving! I experimented with a few different recipes and found this one - which is now our family favorite. Whether it is in the bird or on the side - it is fabulous and clearly my husband's all time favorite. It is easily prepared ahead and stuffed or baked one the side on that day.
It uses an 2 1/2 Qrt dish and serve 8-10 (and doubles easily).

1 (15oz) bag of seasoned stuffing mix (or equivalent homemade)
3 C apple juice
1 1/2 stick of butter + butter to saute veggies
1lb Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage
1 1/2 celery, chopped
1C onion, finely chopped
6 oz dried cranberries

In a large pot (like a dutch oven), brown and crumble sausage. Remove from pot and set aside.

In the same pot, saute' celery and onion in some butter until tender and set aside.

Make the stuffing with melted butter and apple juice instead of water or broth.

Mix it all together, including cranberries and pack into a 2 1/2 Quart casserole dish.

Bake covered for 20 minutes at 400F then uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more to brown the top. *

*The baking temperature can be varied to go in the oven with other things at lower temperatures (325, 350, 375 for example). It's all cooked, you just want to heat it through and combine the flavors and give a nice brown crust on top. So if it is "fridge cold" you might want to add another 15-30 minutes to its covered cooking time time at the lower heats.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce
My husband would say, it's not Thanksgiving, unless there's cranberry sauce. Some people are used to the jello style sauce that come on like a cylinder on a plate. I guess it's OK - but think the texture and flavor of this softer homemade version is far more superior. This recipe makes 3 C. I usually double or triple it for Thanksgiving. This dish is best made ahead. You can make it several days ahead if you like!

2C fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2C apple juice
1/2C honey
1 tsp fresh orange zest (grated orange peel - be careful not to grate into the white pith)

1. Combine the first three ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes or until the berries pop.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in orange zest. Cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge in a covered container.

This post was shared at Simple Lives Thursdays


Michelle said...

Turkey is in the oven! Thanks much!

preppingtosurvive said...

This is great! Thanks so much for sharing this!

We recently decided not to raise our own turkeys anymore for a variety of reasons, but they sure were delicious! I've printed a copy of your recipes for myself. Thanks.