Whew, the holidays are over! At least there's a break until New Years Eve. And, this Economical Epicurean learned a few culinary lessons on cooking the big bird during this holiday break. Plus, I shot a short stop motion video of the roasting turkey for the fun of it.
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. 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. Roasted turkey is notorious for being too dry. I wanted to try brining it, which I've heard keeps the bird from drying out.
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.
Those poultry roasting bags work well at keeping the bird from drying out. Cooking the bird upside down keeps the breast moist, too. Cutting along the turkey backbone and flatten, or splaycock, will enable the breast and dark meat to finish cooking at the same time and also reduce roasting time.
I loosely cover the bird with foil to keep the breast from drying out. During the last hour or so, add enough water to fill the roasting pan just below the roasting bird for turkey drippings to make a rich gravy. And make sure to scroll down to the end of this blog post, under Hindsight, for my Homemade Turkey Gravy recipe.
And for a crispy skin take off the foil and let the skin brown for the last hour or so.
My method is not new, but it's underused. In my video I use this old school method.
Here are a couple delicious tips for you: 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; then sloshed the water 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.
Of course if fresh herbs are hard to find just roast the turkey herbless, it will still be delish.
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, 22 seconds.
To view or embed from YouTube, click here.
Ingredients for Sausage Stuffing
- Sausage - about one12-ounce package breakfast sausage. 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.
- 1 rib of celery - chopped.
- 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
- Sliced mushrooms - small 4 or 5 ounce package. Optional.
- Stuffing mix - any favorite store bought package, follow package directions.
- Water - according to stuffing directions.
- Stuffing mixes are usually over-seasoned, so I left it out salt and pepper.
- Okay to use any fresh or dried herbs, too. I sometimes add a few chopped leaves of fresh sage, parsley and oregano.
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, mushrooms 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. I add some fresh herbs, too. 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. I have a couple of handy links for cooking times. Butterball has a comprehensive guide for turkey size and cooking times, just click here. Allrecipes has a simpler guide, a click away here.
- 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. Of course this turkey recipe is delish, even without adding herbs under the turkey skin.
- Salt and pepper - to taste.
- Aluminum foil
- Water - during last hour or so, for Turkey Gravy. Two to four cups, depending how deep your roasting pan is. Under Hindsight below, you will find my Homemade Turkey Gravy recipe.
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. Place whole turkey 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 (if necessary.)
Loosely wrap the the turkey in foil.You will remove the foil during the last hour of roasting.
My turkey was 13 pounds, so the baking time is 3-4 hours (okay to follow turkey package direction timeline for the weight of your bird.) Because the bird is covered, 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 water 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 (just in case.) 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 (hey, it may still happen) just spoon on some of the turkey broth over your freshly sliced turkey -- that'll fix it.
For Homemade Turkey Gravy add at least 2 cups of water to roasting pan an hour or so before bird is done. This will give time for tasty roasted pan drippings to loosen and mix with water to make a rich broth. Add another cup of water (or more) to pan after removing bird. The water is the base to your gravy, so add enough water to make plenty of gravy.
Lightly scrape the pan and stir water. Now you can pour out the broth into a large pot or pan to make gravy.
Over medium heat, whisk or stir in 1 tablespoons of flour per cup of broth. I usually mix 3 cups of broth with 3 tablespoons of flour. You can use more or less flour to suit your taste, to make a thick or thin gravy.
To make a gravy without lumps, I add flour to a bowl and pour in a cup of broth. Mix until you have a watery paste. Add that to the pot or pan with the rest of the broth. Stir until well blended.
Stir and heat the gravy until it low simmers. The Turkey Gravy will thicken as it heats up, after 3-5 minutes.
If you are like me, I like some meat in my gravy. While turkey roasts I low boil the neck bone and giblets for about 2 hours in seasoned water, to tenderize. The liquid also serves as extra broth for gravy.
When neck and giblets are tender, let them cool down some and chop the giblets. You can easily peel off the neck meat from the bone. Now you have plenty of tasty meat to add to your Turkey Gravy. Add as much or as little as you like.