Are you game to do things to a turkey that would make most home cooks tremble? If you are, check out our recipe for making a turkey that will knock the socks off your own merry little band of Pilgrims. Like our kitchen and bath advice, some of it goes against common wisdom. Well, there’s nothing common about Riverbend Home – or about you. Happy Thanksgiving!
1. Give it a nice salt-water bath. Brining is the best way to produce tender, juicy white meat. Mix 1C kosher salt, ½ C brown sugar, 2 gallons of liquid (1/2 chicken broth and 1/2 ice water work well) and some fresh sliced ginger, bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic cloves in a 5 gallon bucket. Brine the turkey in this mixture overnight 8-12 hours, breast side down. It’s important to keep the turkey cold — under 40 degrees — during this process.
When you are ready to prepare the bird for cooking, bring it to the sink, rinse off the brine and pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
2. Shallow is good. Step away from that monster enameled roasting pan: shallow pans circulate heat and air better. Get the bird up on a rack over a large baking sheet or pan. Line it with heavy duty aluminum foil to help with clean-up.
3. Stuff it with flavor. In his book, Good Eats: The Early Years, chef Alton Brown notes: “…as the turkey around [the stuffing] cooks, juices that may contain salmonella bacteria soak into the stuffing, which then must be cooked to a minimum of 165°F in order to be safe. Getting the stuffing to this temperature usually means overcooking the turkey.”
Cooking the dressing you’re going to serve separately offers an opportunity to add flavor to your bird from the inside out. Assemble an aromatic mix: a halved apple, a cut onion, some garlic cloves, a stick of cinnamon, a handful of bay leaves, a piece of ginger, and/or some cloves. Give these “stuffing” ingredients a 5-minute head start in the microwave, let them cool, then add them to the bird’s cavity before it goes into the oven. Discard the mix when the turkey is done.
4. Turn up the heat. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees (yes, you heard us: 500 degrees!). Oil the turkey lightly and cook it on the bottom rack for 30 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Put a foil tent over the breast for the rest of the cooking period.
And while we’re talking cooking times: There’s no need to get up at 6 am to put in your bird when dinner time is 2 pm. Go get that good digital instant-read meat thermometer. The bird is ready when the temperature reaches 165 degrees at the thickest part of the breast meat and at the joint between the leg and thigh. (The bird will go a few degrees higher as it rests, so there’s no need to build a margin of safety into the cooking time.) It should take about 2 ½ hours for a 14-16 pound bird.
5. A little beauty rest. Here’s how to keep the juices you’ve so carefully preserved from ending up on your cutting board: When you remove the turkey from the oven, leave its foil tent in place and let it rest on a board on your counter at least 15 minutes before carving. The juices will be distributed back through the breast. If you carve too soon the juices will spurt out onto the board (or into grouchy Aunt Edna’s eye).
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