I was on the lookout for whole frozen turkey for less than a dollar a pound -- without the caveat of a $25 minimum purchase. I found my local Ralphs grocery sold Jennie-O whole turkeys for 79 cents a pound. I got a 13-pounder for just over $10 -- what a deal! But even if you prefer an heirloom, free-range, all- natural, hormone-, steroid-, and antibiotic-free heritage bird fed on an alfalfa pasture, protected by a 7-foot fence, and raised on a sustainable farm -- you can still apply my cooking tips.
I have only cooked turkey a couple of times, and at these prices, it was a good chance to get some more experience. Roasted turkey is notorious for being too dry. I wanted to try brining it, which I've heard keeps the bird from drying out. Since we were having a rib roast for Christmas dinner with the in-laws, I thought I'd invite some friends and neighbors over for a cheap pre-Christmas fowl feast. Hey, I could feed seven, and still have leftovers though the New Year.
There has been a lot of bytes spilled on the subject of salt-brining a turkey. Well, I think brining is bogus! I tried it and I didn't like it -- maybe I did it wrong? I salted the turkey all over, which I read works as well as submerging a turkey overnight in a cooler of icy salted water. It's supposed to keep the breast moist and tender during roasting.
Well, if you overcook the bird, just a little bit, all that effort goes out the window, and you still get a dry bird. It's too much work for too little payoff.
The other problem with brining is you get over-salted turkey parts. It takes too much rinsing and soaking to get rid of all the salt. I like to chomp on crunchy turkey wing bits, and sink my incisors into the "oysters" (known to the French as: "sot-l'y-laisse,") which are two tender meaty rubies embedded in the bony undercarriage of the fowl's carcass. And, the jolt of an over briny bite is too much. You would have to run the turkey though a car wash twice to get out the salt from all those tasty tidbits.
The only sure-fire way to get a moist bird is to fill the bottom of your roasting pan with water and loosely cover the turkey with foil. If you keep a couple cups of water in the roasting pan throughout the baking process your bird will not dry out -- that's it, simple. And for a crispy skin take off the foil and let the skin brown for the last 20-30 minutes.
My method is not new, but it is underused. In my video I use the old school method, however imperfect it is. You can still follow all the directions below, but loosely wrap the bird with foil and always keep a couple cups of water in the roasting pan.
Here are a couple of things I did right: I added fresh sage leaves under the turkey skin (I would even add more next time). It made a fragrant bird and added a light earthy herb flavor. Also, I added 2 cups of water to my roasting pan when I took off the aluminum foil during the last hour; and sloshed it around to loosen the browned bits and mix in the drippings. I basted the turkey breast and legs about every 15 minutes until done. Sage leaves are such a tasty addition that you'll also want to bake your next chicken (or breast and thigh pieces) with them.
No one complained about the bird being salty in places. The Sausage Stuffing I made was perfect (see recipe video below), and my wife's Squash, Tomatoes and Onions (click here to see the recipe) made a welcome light veggie side While not the best pre-Chrismas dinner, it was a success, and I learned a few things. So, check out my fun video of an imperfect turkey dinner.
And, if you learned any turkey cooking tips of your own this year, or have some tried-and-true advice to pass on, leave a comment for me and my visitors. Have an entertaining New Year!
Turkey & Sausage Stuffing - VIDEO
Play it here. Video runs 4 minutes, 25 seconds.
To view or embed from YouTube, click here.
Ingredients for Sausage Stuffing
- Cheap package of sausage - I found a 12-ounce one for 99.99 cents, but you could use less or more, to your taste. Or, keep it vegetarian and use more mushrooms and veggies.
- 1/2 bell pepper, chopped - any color
- 1 onion, chopped - small or medium size
- 1 rib of celery, chopped - I left it out in my video, but added it here anyway.
- 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
- 1 large package of your favorite stuffing mix - follow package directions.
- Water according to stuffing directions.
- Stuffing mixes are usually over-seasoned, so I left it out extra salt and pepper.
Over a medium heat in a large pan or pot, saute the sausage until brown and cooked through. Break apart the sausage into bite sizes. You can drain off some of the fat -- I kept it in, to flavor the veggies and stuffing. Set sausage aside when done.
In the same pan, add the chopped onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook about 5 minutes until soft. Finally add the chopped garlic and cook another minute.
Prepare the stuffing according to the package directions. I cut the water or broth amount in half. If you add all the water they call for the stuffing is very mushy - fine if you like it that way. The stuffing will get more moisture from the roasting bird.
I like to add a couple extra slices of toasted bread, sliced into small cubes. And if I have extra stuffing to roast at the end, well, just get some turkey pan liquid and add that. I have a tall loaf pan to add the extra stuffing
Now it's time to mix it all together. You may need to do this in batches, depending how much stuffing you are making. In a large bowl add the stuffing, sausage and cooked veggies. Mix well, and set it aside while preparing the turkey for roasting.
Ingredients for Turkey with Sage
- 10-15 pound turkey - I got a 13-pound bird. If yours is larger, then follow package directions for baking times.
- Sage leaves -- a handful, depending how many leaves you can get under the turkey skin. You can use almost any fresh herb, including: basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano -- or any combination.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Aluminum foil
Directions for Roasting the Stuffed Turkey
First remove any turkey parts in the chest cavity. Mine had a turkey neck, giblets, heart and liver. It also had a plastic pouch of gravy. Don't throw out the extra turkey parts - just throw them in a pot of water and low boil for about 2 hours to flavor your gravy (chop and shred the neck meat and add to your favorite gravy recipe.)
For the liver, I like to season it and roast it on the rack with the bird, about half an hour, or until done. This is the Chef's reward for all the hard work!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse off the turkey inside and out. Drain well and place in a roasting pan. Season the turkey, inside and out, with salt and pepper.
Loosen the breast, leg and thigh skin. I do this with my clean fingers. Watch the video to see how I did it. It's a yucky process, but done carefully, you will get a flavorful bird loaded with a pungent, earthy herb taste. Loosening the breast is easy, it's harder to do the legs and thigh. The skin is malleable, but will tear, so be gentle and work it loose slowly.
I used sage leaves from my garden, but you can use any fresh herbs you have on hand.. I spaced the leaves about an inch apart. But next time I would add more leaves.
Next, fill the chest cavity with stuffing -- don't pack too tight, just fill 'er up. If you add stuffing under the neck skin, do it before stuffing the breast cavity. Flip the bird on it's breast and fill up the neck cavity. I use a couple of toothpicks to thread the skin closed.
Loosely wrap the the turkey in foil.You will remove the foil during the last 45 minutes. And add 2 cups of water to the roasting pan. Be sure to add more water as needed throughout the roasting process - usually a couple cups of water every hour or so.
My turkey was 13 pounds, so the baking time is 3-4 hours. Because the bird is steam roasting, you have a little wiggle room - the turkey will stay moist longer. After the third hour, it's time to start checking the thigh meat to see if it's done. I make a small slice into the thickest part of the thigh, that is attached to the body, and look for any pink or red juices. The bird is done when the juices run clear, or the internal temperature of the thigh meat is at least 165 degrees.
Add more water, if necessary, to the roasting pan once the foil is off. Slosh around the water to get all the tasty bits in the pan loose. The water and pan juices will be the base of your turkey gravy.
If you have leftover stuffing you can add it to a loaf pan, and bake it with the bird during the last hour of cooking. I like a tall pan, as opposed to a shallow dish, so the dressing doesn't dry out. (Add some of the turkey broth from the roasting pan for extra flavor and moisten.)
When turkey is done remove it and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. I also like to remove the stuffing while the bird is resting. I add the bird stuffing to a loaf pan and let it cook in the oven about 15 minutes, while the turkey rests. Often the stuffing is too mushy for me so this firms it up just enough, as well as cooking it through. Of course, you can leave the stuffing in the bird, for a nicer presentation on the dinner table (the internal temperature of the stuffing should measure at least 165 degrees.)
And should the bird still be a little dry, just spoon on some of the turkey broth over your freshly sliced turkey -- that'll do it.