Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holiday Turkey Post Mortem - VIDEO

Whew, the holidays are over! At least there's a break until New Year's 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 through 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 have 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 submerged 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 through 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 flattening, 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 top/breast of the bird with foil to keep the white meat 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 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 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 successful, 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 one 12-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 with 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 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 for 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 the 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 on 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 the last hour or so, for Turkey Gravy. Two to four cups, depending on how deep your roasting pan is. Under Hindsight below, you will find my Homemade Turkey Gravy recipe.

Directions for Roasting 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, for about half an hour, or until done. This is the Chef's reward for all the hard work!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the 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 its breast and fill up the neck cavity. I use a couple of  toothpicks to thread the skin closed (if necessary.)

Loosely wrap the breast/top of 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 the 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, which 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 the 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 for 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 the roasting pan an hour or so before the 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 the pan after removing the bird. The water is the base to your gravy, so add enough water to make plenty of gravy.

Lightly scrape the pan and stir the 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 tablespoon 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 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 the 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.


ninjaswearblack said...

I made my first turkey this year for Thanksgiving following the advice given in this video: and it was the best turkey I have ever eaten. Turkey takes no work to get right

Keith M. Peterson said...

Hello, I like to read your blog! I buy an extra turkey or two when they're really cheap (.49/lb w/ purchase) and freeze them for later in the year. I've cooked them many ways, but I think the best and fastest way is a recipe thru and developed by Sunset magazine. It's cooked at a higher temp for a shorter amount of time, unstuffed, on a rack--imagine a 20lb turkey done in 2 -2.5 hrs! I always use a disposable foil pan on a cookie sheet. We're all about the flavor & leftover turkey sandwiches (hot or cold), so I like to finish with the breast facing DOWN, much more moist! You gotta try this recipe! I also think brining is joke--who needs that much salt, and just don't OVERCOOK it! This year at a relative's house we had to choke down turkey breast meat that was so dry, it was disintegrating into powder--no joke!

neenermom said...

I agree with Mr. Peterson. I have been roasting my bird upside down for almost ten years and we have never had a bad bird. I also brine my bird overnight with a homemade brining recipe. Start the bird right side up in a hot 400 degree oven, after it has it's nice color (about 45 minutes) flip it upside down, let all the juices run down into the breast until it's almost done, then I flip it back over for about fifteen more minutes. You will not have dry turkey breast!

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