Everything about Roasting Turkey

everything you need to know about roasting turkey

Everything about Roasting a Turkey

I have now cooked at least 10 turkeys in the past few years and am pretty good at it – yes very modest you think but I am. Almost all the time I have been using turkeys over the 6 kilo mark, usually around 7 or 8 kilos (that’s about 26 pounds) which are difficult to make well.First the best way of cooking a turkey is to roast it in a rather traditional way and unfortunately the entire process takes time and a good deal of care. For holidays you will need to begin the day before, a couple of days is better.

Purchase your turkey and trimmings 2 days before the holiday. You will also need some chicken stock, this time try making fresh chicken stock because it tastes so much better. There are actually a couple of pre-made chicken stocks that are available at the supermarket and are quite good. You will need some for the stuffing if you stuff your bird, some for basting and some for the gravy. About 2 1/2 liters should do.

Be sure to ask your poultry butcher to remove the wish bone for you. It will make carving the bird much easier and you will be able to get many more large slices from the breasts. You can always roast the wish bone with the bird; some people hide it in the stuffing for the kids.When you pick up your bird, pass the meat butcher and get pork fat sliced thinly on a slicing machine, enough to cover the entire top of the bird, legs and all. It has to be sliced on a slicing machine or the slices will be too thick. It’s no different from getting a roast wrapped in fat ready for the oven. No! It will not change the taste of the bird. This is exactly the way you would handle very small birds that really don’t have enough of their own fat and will always be dry if you don’t do this.

You will also need some softened butter, about 300 grams or 6 ounces. This depends on the size of the bird.

Wash the bird when you bring it home:

Wash the bird inside and out. Look inside the bird and if there are 2 brown glands left along the birds back bone remove them with your fingers and rinse the bird well. If you leave these they will give your bird and stuffing a rather nasty flavor. Also be sure to rinse out the birds neck cavity. Dry the bird well with paper towels wrap in plastic wrap or in a plastic bag and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

The day before, trim your bird:

Let’s begin with the preparation of the bird. This can be done the day before.  Leave the extra neck skin, I stuff the neck cavity, this extra skin can be cut so that you can just fold it under the bird while it roasts. If you completely remove it, it will shrink during the roasting and expose the breast meat directly to the ovens heat and dry it out.

Remove the wing tips and take the giblets (neck, gizzard, heart), discard the liver, trim the bird of any extra fat, or extra trimmed skin and add it to 1½ liter or 1½ quart of chicken stock or dark chicken stock with a half a medium onion, one carrot sliced, 1 celery stalk cut in half, one bay leaf, a pinch of thyme and a couple of sprigs of parsley. Gently simmer this for 1 to 2 hours with the pot tightly covered. When done strain through a fine strainer and discard the vegetables. You should still have one liter or quart of strong stock for gravy. Place in the fridge overnight, in the morning remove the fat that has hardened and risen to the top and it’s ready to use.

Preparing the bird for roasting:

Turkey breasts do tend to be dryer and by the time the thighs and legs cook, the breasts are over cooked and dry. There are many ways to deal with the problem and I think I have heard them all. Try it this way and I think you will be more than happy with the results, it hasn’t failed me yet.

Create pockets for butter by placing your hand under the skin of one breast and begin to gently lift the skin off of the breast meat lifting from the meat as far up as the wing joint. Take care not to tear the skin. Then repeat this on the other breast. under the skin slide you fingers over the tops of each leg and create a pocket for the butter on these as well. When you roast the bird the butter will melt and baste the bird.

Take the softened butter and either using a piping bag or pressing the butter into large disks that you can slide up under the skin, fill the pockets (breast and legs) with butter and using your hands smooth the butter out to create a large reservoir that will eventually melt and baste the bird.

Stuff the bird with your preferred stuffing, the past couple of Thanksgivings I have been using my Sausage and Apple Stuffing which can easily be make vegetarian if you like.

Stuff the bird and sew up the opening or use toothpicks or a small barbeque skewer to close it up.

If you don’t stuff the bird:

Take the softened butter and either using a piping bag or pressing the butter into large disks that you can slide up under the skin, fill the pockets (breast and legs) with butter and using your hands smooth the butter out to create a large reservoir that will eventually melt and baste the bird.

If you don’t stuff the turkey another option is to mix a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped fresh herbs with the butter that goes under to skin to flavor the turkey as it cooks.

In any case place a few good size springs of fresh thyme and a couple of large sprigs of rosemary into the bird’s cavity. You should also cut up a couple of lemons and roast the bird with them in it as well. Close up the bird with toothpicks or a small barbeque skewer.

Truss up your bird:

Pour over the bird a few spoons full of vegetable or olive oil and rub it into the bird’s skin not missing any. Now salt and pepper the entire bird and sprinkle it with dried thyme. Take the pork fat and place a single layer over the entire top of the bird. Truss the bird with some heavy kitchen string so that the pork fat is securely tied to the bird. As the fat melts it will baste the bird, this layer will almost guarantee that your bird will not be dry. Be sure that the wings and legs are tied well, secured tightly to the sides of the bird.

Time to roast your Turkey:
Preheat your oven set at 230°C or 450°F

This is a very hot oven but you will turn it down to 180°C or 350°F for birds under 5 kilos or 9 pounds. 170°C or 325°F for birds over 5 kilos or 10 pounds.

Once the bird is stuffed and trussed you can cook the bird. Place it in roasting tray and on a rack if you have one. Put it into a very hot over 230°C or 450°F, roast for 30 minutes then turn the heat down according to the size of the bird. See above.

You will not need to baste the bird for the first 45 minutes or hour if it is a large bird. Look into the oven and if the fat has begun to shrink and expose the bird then begin basting and baste well at least once every 20 to 30 minutes. For this you will need a cup of chicken stock and all the fat in the bottom of the pan. Heat the stock and add to the roasting pan and then use the pans liquid to baste the bird. If the pan becomes too dry after you have added the chicken stock just add a bit of hot water. A plastic turkey baster really makes the job so much easier. Don’t be sloppy with this task, if you don’t baste the bird you will simply not have a well cooked turkey and your laziness will show on the plate.

If the turkey is getting too much color – and that can be a problem, take a large piece of aluminum foil and cover the bird closely with it and that should slow down the browning process.

Roasting times:

Timing the cooking of a turkey for the layman is a real pain but the small investment of an electronic meat thermometer, or if your oven has a built in thermometer that you can insert into the bird will help.

The internal temp needs to reach 85°C or 180°F to 185°F when you insert the meat thermometer into the bird’s inner thigh muscle – between the thigh and the bird’s breast, being careful not to touch the thigh bone.

The internal temperature of the stuffing must reach 74°C or 165°F in order for it to be cooked well enough.

Estimating cooking times:
Add 10 minutes per kilo or 5 minutes per pound to the times below if the turkey is stuffed.

40 to 50 minutes per kilo for birds up to 3 kilo (Stuffed)
20 to 25 minutes for birds up to 3 kilos or 6 pounds. (not stuffed)

30 to 40 minutes per kilo for birds larger than 3 kilos. (Stuffed)
15 to 20 minutes for per pound for birds larger than 6 pounds. (not stuffed)

26 to 30 minutes per kilo for birds over 7 kilos. (Stuffed)
13 to 15 minutes per pound for birds over 16 pounds. (not stuffed)

Always begin checking for doneness about 40 minutes before you think it should be done and do that each time you baste the bird. Seeing the temperature change gives you a better idea of how long it will take to be cooked.

When the bird is done remove the pan from the oven and place on a kitchen counter that can take the heat of the pan.

Before you remove the bird from the oven I can’t tell you how important it is that you have your kitchen mitts, pot holders and towels ready and a clean space for putting the turkey. A scalding hot turkey that weighs as much as a small child is an unforgiving thing.

Remove the bird to some extra wide and heavy aluminum foil and wrap the bird tightly in a couple of layers of it. Place on a large platter breast down and cover with a towel. Let sit for ½ hour 45 minutes. This is important and you mustn’t skip this step.

Take the roasting pan and drain off all the fat leaving behind any liquid that the bird gave off during the roasting. Place the pans on the stove over a medium heat, pour in about a cup of white wine or stock and scrape up all the bits in the bottom of the pan (not anything that is burnt).  When done, strain it through a fine sieve and it’s ready for making gravy.

Any liquid that the bird gives off while it was wrapped can also be added to the gravy stock.

Related Pages:

Roasting Turkey
Sausage and Apple Stuffing

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