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.
Next time I will just follow the cooking directions on the turkey wrapping. And, I'll stick with my in-laws' advice to just cover the breast, wings and legs in a sheet of aluminum foil, until an hour before it's done -- then, remove foil and allow the bird to brown and the skin to crisp until done. As a final check, I like to cut into the thigh and wing, where it connects to the bird, and make sure there is no red or pink juice. If there is, then resume cooking in 10-minute increments until the juices run clear. Also, loosely cover the breast in foil if you need to cook longer than 10 minutes more.
I've also been reading about roasting the bird breast-side down until the last 15 minutes. Then turn it breast-side up like normal, to allow some time for the skin to crisp up. I'm going to try this next year.
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.
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 mallable, but will tear, so be gentle and work it loose slowly.
I used Sage leaves from my garden, but you can use any you have on hand, or a favorite. 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. I also carefully put stuffing under the neck skin flap.
Loosely wrap the top of the turkey in foil, including the wings and legs. You will remove the foil during the last hour.
My turkey was 13 pounds, so the baking time is 3-4 hours. Adding a few cups of water to roasting pan will help keep turkey moist. Bake the bird for a couple of hours then remove the foil. After the third hour, it's time to start checking the thigh meat to see if it is about done or not. I make a small slice into the thickest thigh part 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.
Also, after the foil is removed, you can start basting the bird. I 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. I have a large basting bulb, but you can use a brush or large spoon. You don't want to keep the oven open too long, as it increases the cooking time. I like a basting bulb because it is quick and easy to use.
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.
Baste the turkey every 15 minutes or so, during the last hour of cooking. 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 15 minutes, while the turkey rests. Often the stuffing is too mushy for me so this firms it up just enough. 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.)