It is time to figure out how you are going to roast that big turkey. There are so many methods available. But we think it is best to stick with the tried-and-true until you gain more experience. Many inexperienced cooks are intimidated by this big bird. But it can be made quite easy.
It is so easy to just say, “Come on over if you can.” We don’t want to press too hard on people who may already have plans. But a bachelor has to plan a bit. In constructing your menu, you should take into consideration any food limitations some of your guests may have and how many could be there. You will want to get a turkey that has plenty of meat, but not too much. Figuring about one pound for every possible guest, plus maybe another for leftovers. If you’re on your own or there’s just a few of you, consider a turkey breast or chicken instead of a whole turkey. It will be easier and just as good.
Fresh not always best
You might think ordering a fresh turkey is better than a frozen one. It depends a lot on where the turkey is coming from and just how fresh it is. Unless you happen to know a turkey farmer who will slaughter the bird the day before, you might be buying a “not so fresh” turkey. It’s best to go frozen. Not only can you have your turkey ready in time, but these birds are processed and frozen almost immediately after the bird has been killed. Thawed correctly, a frozen bird can be fresher than the fresh bird. And there will be no chance for contamination. But you have to plan for three or four days of thawing slowly in the refrigerator.
Review your recipes to make a grocery list
Convenience stores do a brisk business on Thanksgiving morning. It’s about the only thing open. You don’t want to be one of those people who forgot to buy bread. If you get out all the recipes you’ll be making and review them, you easily can make your shopping list. It’s best to get this done up to a week before the big day.
Get the frozen turkey out of the freezer on the Saturday or Sunday before so It has at least three days to thaw correctly in the refrigerator. Then add an extra day in advance if your brine your turkey. We know some chefs don’t appreciate this method. But we have found that brining is worth the trouble. There are plenty of recipes online, including one in our recipes section. Brining uses the power of osmosis to get the salt and seasoned water into the bird. It makes for a particularly tender and juicy turkey (or any other poultry).
The primary ingredients in a brine are salt and water. Beyond that, add in your favorite combination of herbs and spices. Ice is also helpful, especially if you don’t have any space in the fridge. A cooler or a five-gallon bucket are great for this procedure. Make sure whatever you use that it has a lid. If you boil the brine first, as some recipes call for, be sure to do it early in the day before Thanksgiving so the mixture has time to cool. Then wash and pat dry the turkey and place into the brining vessel. Add in brine, water and ice until the turkey is completely submerged. Allow it to remain in the brine overnight. Make sure the bird does not get warmer than 40-degrees F.
Remove the giblets
Many cooks, especially those who don’t cook a lot of poultry, forget to hunt around inside the cavity of the bird or down the neck. A goodie bag awaits, usually containing certain vital organs, like the heart, liver and gizzard. The neck is usually included. That goes into a stock pot. The organs can be mixed into the stuffing or sauteed if you like those things. If you don’t it’s okay to throw them away.
On the morning of the feast, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it off in a very clean sink and pat it dry with paper towels. While you prepare your turkey, preheat the oven to 425F. Inside the cavity, put in some celery tops, a quartered onion and some fresh herbs like sage, garlic, rosemary and parsley. Some people like to paint the outside of the turkey with vegetable oil or butter. It’s a matter of personal taste. For sure, you want to season the outside of the bird with salt and pepper. You can add other spices according to your taste.
Basting or not
Many commercially grown turkeys today are self-basting. That means a butter-flavored solution has been injected into the meat of the bird before freezing. Basting can help the turkey remain moist, but if it’s self-basting there is not need. If you chose a turkey with one of those pop-up timers, don’t remove it, but don’t use it as a guide, either. Only a thermometer will tell you what’s really going on.
Time and rest
If you figure that baking a chicken usually takes about an hour, an eight to ten pound turkey is going to take about three hours or more. Allow about four hours, plus additional time to rest. Your finished turkey should rest untouched but tented with foil for about 20 minutes. This will allow time for the juices to settle down and redistribute so it doesn’t run out of the bird when you start carving. That gives you a juicier turkey. During the resting time, you can finish off your side dishes.
It’s best to avoid carving at the table. It can get messy. If you want to show off your beautiful bird, place it on the serving plate and carry it to the table so all can see. You can use this as a time to call people to the table if they are not already there. Then, carry it back to the kitchen, transfer to a cutting board and begin to disassemble your turkey. There are many resources available to show you how to carve a turkey or any other bird. Placing the bird on its back, begin by removing the legs, wings and thighs. To tackle the breast, begin by making a horizontal cut just above the thigh, slanting the knife slightly upwards, following the contour of the bones. Just to one side of the breast next to the back bone, make a downward cut, again following the contours of the bones, until you meet the first cut. This allows you to remove the breast and move it to a cutting board for easier slicing.
Don’t shy away from making a gravy just because you haven’t done it before. While the turkey is resting, pour the juices in the bottom of the roasting pan into the aforementioned fat separator and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Then pour most of what settles to the bottom and a little of the fat on top to a saucepan and bring the liquid to a boil. Slowly add a slurry of flour, cornstarch and water, about a tablespoon of each, and whisk like your life depends on it. Make sure there are no lumps if you can. Taste for seasoning as the gravy thickens.
Enjoy a good turkey dinner.