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The holidays are upon us and it’s time to start planning those holiday dinners for friends and family. Everyone has their favorites: from old-school marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, to the classic green bean casserole. But for me it’s all about the turkey! Juicy and golden, it graces most of our holiday dinner tables. But, alas! there can be many turkey tragedies, “turkey sins” I call them. From the overcooked and dried out, to the not-fully-defrosted-and-then-baked-raw travesty! Zowie!
Ample planning and some good rules of thumb can ensure a low-stress turkey roasting day. Below, I’ll walk you through the 10 turkey sins, and provide tips on how to have a d’lish holiday meal.
Turkey Sin #1: Roasting a Half-Frozen Bird
If you’re buying a standard bird at the grocery store, take into consideration most of these babies are frozen or “half” frozen. The rule of thumb is: you should start defrosting your bird in the refrigerator about 5 days in advance—up to 7 if it’s a biggie! If you can order one fresh, then great; get your order in at least 2+ weeks ahead at your favorite market or butcher/poultry shop. Remember to get to “know your turkey” – if your going for local and free range it will cook a bit quicker (and need more seasoning) than a traditional “plumped” turkey.
Turkey Sin #2: Leaving the Bag of Giblets in the Bird
How many of you have seen these left in during baking!? Once your bird is ready for the big day, take it out of the wrapper. Remove the bag of “goodies and giblets” from inside, and also check inside the neck cavity. (NO body wants a turkey “butt” surprise). You can use the neck and giblets to make a little pan of turkey stock for adding to gravy if you like.
Turkey Sin #3: “Steaming”, Rather than Roasting, your Bird
Roasting your turkey in a big old deep roasting pan creates steam from the turkey juices and does not make for a crispy-skinned bird. To avoid this, rinse your turkey inside and out; then pat it dry. Place in a wide shallow pan, up on a roasting rack. Stick some aromatics, such as quartered onions, an orange, and a few big sprigs of fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage and rosemary, in the inside cavity.
Turkey Sin #4: Underseasoning
All the gravy and cranberry sauce in Plymouth Rock can’t hide an underseasoned bird. You can carefully stuff fun things, like fresh sage leaves, sprigs of thyme, fresh basil leaves, and small tufts of rosemary, under the turkey’s skin but watch out for tears in the skin. Herbs will add a nice flavor to the meat. Season your turkey liberally with kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper – or I love to use my Dish D’Lish French Seasoning Salt! This means really season it well—rub it all over, under the wings, on the back of the bird—massage that baby! For a medium-sized turkey, you want to use at least 1 tablespoon of kosher salt plus about 1 teaspoon of pepper or about 2 Tbsp of my Dish D’Lish French Seasoning Salt.
Turkey Sin #5: An Undercooked or Overcooked Bird
Undercook your bird, and put your guests at risk. Overcook your bird, and you’ll need to offer guests a LOT of wine for washing it down…which could lead to family drama! Cooking your bird just right is tricky. To start with, there are a million different methods. I’m a roasted-turkey gal, but I know there are lots of you turkey-fryers out there. And it does make a good bird (but beware of garage fires!) —but I gotta have my gravy. To keep it simple, get yourself a good instant-read thermometer and be sure to preheat your oven. See my favorite recipe and tips, below, for roasting. To avoid overcooking your bird, plan your day. When are you serving dinner? Work back from there. Unless you are cooking a 40-lb monster turkey or eating dinner at 11 AM, there is no need to get the bird in the oven at 6 AM!! Yes, I have succumbed to eating one of those roasted-for-8-hours birds, and it wasn’t pretty! Turkey sin #5-B note- do not leave the thermometer in the bird when you are roasting it – see sample below….
Turkey Sin #6: An Improperly Carved Turkey
After all that hard work put into creating a picture-perfect, delicious-tasting bird, do not let the knife get into inexperienced hands! It may be tradition to let the man of the house perform the ceremonious carve, but not if he’s going to hack it to death (Family Note: seen at the in-laws frequently- for God sakes just let me do it)! Give the bird 20 minutes to rest. This will allow you to get the rest of the dinner on the table. To start carving, take off the breast first, and slice thin. Disjoint the legs, thighs, and wings and slice the thighs if desired. My in-laws use an electric knife (it was probably a wedding gift from the 60’s!) and, actually, the thing works pretty darn well. I favor my super-sharp Hinkel chef’s knife. But, hey! use whatever gets you the nicest slices.
Turkey Sin #7: Not Enough Gravy
Gravy and turkey is like milk and cookies: delightfully harmonious. To be sure you make enough, immediately transfer your roasted bird to a platter to rest, and collect all those yummy juices for making pan gravy. Or, what I like to do is make turkey stock a few days ahead using some purchased turkey legs and then make a big batch of gravy in the bird-cooking pan. There’s nothing worse than not enough gravy! I like my do ahead gravy recipe below – and it makes LOTS!
Turkey Sin #8: Letting the Cooked Bird Sit Out…. All Day… and beyond
Once you have the meat off the bird, remember to not let it sit on the counter all evening, increasing the risk of spoilage. I like to take off any extra meat and refrigerate it for soups or sandwiches. Don’t throw away that turkey carcass! Break it up, throw it in a big pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 1–2 hours. Strain the stock well, then cool. Now you have yummy turkey broth to make some tasty soup later in the week.
Turkey Sin #9: No Turkey Leftovers for Sandwiches
And this brings us to the sin second only to not making enough gravy: not cooking enough turkey. Turkey sandwiches—I love them piled high with homemade cranberry compote—are absolutely de rigueur for next-day snacking … or midnight refrigerator raids, for those who cannot wait! So if you’re inviting your peeps over for dinner –encourage people to bring some their own Tupperware – give them some leftovers …. it will make for very happy guests and less to cram in the already packed refrigerator!
Turkey Sin #10: Not Enjoying Yourself
Running around the kitchen like a turkey with its head cut off is no way to enjoy the holiday. Don’t allow the day to consume you. Why not give each person something to bring to the dinner? Maybe even send them a recipe you would like them to make. The holidays are all about gathering over a meal, so get those football-watchers off the couch and into the kitchen. Get your guests involved by setting the table, pouring drinks, warming the rolls, anything to help. You’ll relax more and create lasting memories with your family and friends.
One of my favorite turkey-roasting methods follows, so whether you are a first-time cooker or an old hand at the turkey game, I hope my tips and recipes will allow you to have a super-successful holiday meal!
Kathy’s Herb-Lacquered Roasted Turkey
Chef’s Notes: Read recipe all the way through a few days before your dinner. A tasty do-ahead turkey gravy that makes LOTS follows.
Allow about 1 1/2 hours’ roasting time for a 12-pound turkey (that is totally defrosted and not stuffed), and add about 5 to 10 minutes for each additional pound. This will be one of the most beautiful turkeys you’ve ever roasted!
If roasting a large turkey 20 – 24 lbs, bake at 350 degrees. A 22-lb turkey should take about 2 1/2 – 3 hours to reach 175–180 degrees internal temperature (insert an instant-read thermometer in the back side of the thigh- not sutffed).
Makes 8 to 16 servings, with leftovers
1 12- to 16-pound turkey
4 or more large, fresh rosemary sprigs
1 large onion, skin on, quartered
1 head of garlic, broken apart
8 large sage leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt + 1/2 – 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
OR 2 + tablespoons Dish D’Lish French Seasoning Salt
Place an oven rack low in the oven, removing extra racks if necessary. Preheat oven to 375°F.
Remove the giblets and neck from turkey cavities, checking that both cavities are empty. Rinse turkey with cold water, inside and out, and pat dry. Keep the legs tied together with the metal clip, or tie with butcher’s twine.
Place half of the rosemary sprigs and all the onion and garlic in the bird’s body cavity.
(If you decide to stuff your turkey with traditional stuffing there are some things you must know: When stuffing a turkey, do so just before roasting; do not stuff it the night before. Loosely stuff the turkey so that the stuffing will completely cook through. Do not pack the stuffing. You can stuff both ends of a turkey, the large inside cavity and the smaller nook under the skin flap at the neck – cooking time may need to be increased.)
Pull the leaves off the remaining rosemary sprigs. Carefully loosen the turkey skin over the breast and legs (by running your hands under it), being careful not to tear it. Keeping them as flat as possible, tuck the sage leaves and the rosemary leaves you pulled off under the breast, thigh, and leg skin, arranging the herbs decoratively. Carefully pull the breast skin tightly down over breast bone, then, using metal closure skewers, thread them through both sides of the skin flaps to bridge the turkey body-cavity opening. Thread skewers alternately from left to right then right to left. With a 12-inch piece of butcher’s twine or white cotton string, work back and forth around the skewers to lace up the cavity, shoelace-style.
Spray a roasting rack with nonstick vegetable spray and place the turkey on the rack in an open, shallow roasting pan. Rub the turkey all over with the olive oil, then generously sprinkle the turkey with the salt and pepper or French Seasoning Salt, seasoning it well all over.
Place the turkey on the low oven rack and roast until the inner, thickest part of the thigh registers 175°F. (Insert metal stem, instant-read thermometer in the back side of thigh by the turkey body.)
If you are cooking a larger turkey, you may need to tent the breast loosely with a piece of buttered foil to avoid over-browning of the breast. About 30 to 45 minutes before the end of cooking, remove tent to allow browning.
When the turkey is done, remove from the oven. Before carving the turkey, let it stand for 15 minutes to allow the juices to settle. As the turkey stands, the turkey thigh temperature will reach 180°F. (If stuffing be sure stuffing comes to 165°F) Use the pan drippings to make your gravy – see recipe below.
© Copyright 2009 by Kathy Casey Food Studios® blogging at Dishing with Kathy Casey – Twitter
Old-Fashioned Turkey Mushroom Gravy- THAT MAKES A LOT!
Makes 10 cups, or about 20 generous 1/2-cup servings
You can make this a few days ahead and then re-heat in your turkey roasting pan for extra turkey flavor goodness! Read through the entire recipe before starting.
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary – or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
8 ounces (4 cups) thinly sliced mushrooms, or chopped wild mushrooms
1 cup flour
10 cups Rich Turkey Stock (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the rosemary and mushrooms and sauté over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the flour and stir vigorously until combined and smooth. Cook for about 1 minute. Add the stock all at once and whisk vigorously so as to eliminate any lumps. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the gravy is nicely thickened. Season with salt and white pepper.
You can make the gravy a couple of days ahead to save yourself some precious holiday time!
Then right before serving- and while your turkey is set aside to rest – ready your turkey roasting pan full of turkey goodness: remove excess fat from your turkey roasting pan. Place the pan over a burner – add a big splash of white wine, champagne, potato cooking water, chicken broth or water. Using a metal spatula – scrape up all the goodies in the bottem of the pan… this is the turkey goodness. Then add your prepared Turkey Mushroom gravy – whisk well and heat till hot. Serve up and enjoy – you’ll have lots of gravy for all!
Rich Turkey Stock
Makes about 10 cups
2 large turkey legs or thighs, about 2 pounds total
1 yellow onion, unpeeled, coarsely chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, cut into large chunks
Up to 2 cups mushroom stems, optional
4 stalks celery, cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
12 cups water
Preheat an oven to 400°F.
Roast the turkey pieces in a baking pan for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the skin is golden brown. Place them in an 8-quart pot and add the vegetables and seasonings. Deglaze the roasting pan with the wine, scraping the pan well to loosen browned bits, and add to the pot. Add the water.
Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a rapid simmer. Reduce the heat to low and lightly simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain the stock and skim off any fat. Discard the vegetables. (Most of the flavor will have cooked out of the turkey; however, the meat can be removed from the bones and saved for another use.)
© Copyright 2009 by Kathy Casey Food Studios® blogging at Dishing with Kathy Casey – Twitter