Filed under:

Perfectly Roasted Turkey

Introduction

With Thanksgiving upon us, in the U.S., and the holidays only a month away I thought it timely to share some turkey roasting tips.

Now that turkey can be found all year round, in everything from "bacon" to sandwiches, escalopes and sausages, it's important to take some extra care so that the holiday bird still has an edge. Turkey's current popularity is due to its low fat content; low fat all too often means tasteless.

Sourcing a good turkey is essential. In the U.S. I have used Dartagnan who offer a wide variety of birds including wild turkey, it doesn't come in a bottle :)
In the UK The Ginger Pig is an excellent supplier. Most good supermarkets offer free range birds both fresh and frozen.

Tips

When ordering a whole bird allow 450g or 1lb per person for up to 12 people. For a bird above 5.5kg or 12lb you can reduce that allowance to 350g or ¾lb per person. That will give you plenty of turkey at dinner, a modest amount of leftovers and a carcass for stock or soup.

Brining the turkey will increase its succulence. I have included a brine below. This is a step worth taking.

By the time the legs of a turkey are cooked the breast will likely be over-cooked and dry. To combat this I take two cooler packs, flexible ones are best and apply them to the turkey breasts. These remain in place, while the turkey is regrigerated for about 90 minutes prior to cooking. The resulting temperature differential helps offset over-cooked breast.

The most important thing to do to a roasted bird is to let it rest. It will stay hot in a draught free environment for up to an hour. This will allow you to increase the oven temperature and finish roasted vegetables and/or potatoes.

For easy carving remove one or both breasts and carve them across the grain in the kitchen, then bring it to the table ready to serve. I would normally do this with one thigh too, it is easy enough to separate it from the bone once cooked.

Ingredients

Measures available: Metric  Imperial  U.S.

Brine

  • 4 litres of water
  • 280g table salt or 230g of sea salt or kosher salt
  • 4 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 sprigs each of fresh thyme and parsley
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest and juice of 1 oranges

Turkey

  • 5.5kg Turkey (serves 10-12)
  • 250g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • 2 tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil

Stuffing

  • 450-500g high quality sausages or sausage meat
  • 90g dried apricots, chopped
  • 60g slivered almonds
  • Large sprig of fresh mint, chopped

Brine

  • 1 gallon water
  • 10oz table salt, 20% less if using sea or kosher salt
  • 4 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 sprigs each of fresh thyme and parsley
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest and juice of 1 oranges

Turkey

  • 12lb Turkey (serves 10-12)
  • 8oz unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • 2 tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil

Stuffing

  • 1lb high quality sausages or sausage meat
  • 3oz dried apricots, chopped
  • 2oz slivered almonds
  • Large sprig of fresh mint

Brine

  • 1 gallon of of water
  • ¾ cup of kosher salt or 1 cup of table salt
  • 4 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 sprigs each of fresh thyme and parsley
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest and juice of 1 oranges

Turkey

  • 12lb Turkey (serves 10-12)
  • 1 stick or ½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Stuffing

  • 1lb high quality sausages or sausage meat
  • 3oz dried apricots, chopped
  • 2oz slivered almonds
  • Large sprig of fresh mint

Tools of the Trade

  • A meat thermometer
  • A substantial roasting tray with a trivet or a non-stick roasting tray
  • A container just big enough to hold the turkey in its brine in the refrigerator. A heavy duty plastic bag, suitable for use with food, and fridge box will suffice.
  • A barding needle and thread or poultry ties

Method

Initial preparations (optional)

If you intend to carve the turkey at the table, I recommend that you remove the wishbone at this stage as it makes carving easier. This can be done by lifting the outer skin around the neck, and using a small knife cut around the bone to free it.

Brining and larding

Don't be tempted to reduce the salt content of the brine. I have tried on a number of occasions and it simply does not work.

Fill a small pot ¾ full with some of the brining water and add the salt. Heat gently and stir until all of the salt has disolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the runny honey, the zest of orange and lemon and the fresh herbs. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes or place in an ice bath to cool quickly.

Add the cooled contents of the small pot to the rest of the water along with the juice of the lemon and orange. Mix well and then submerge the turkey in the liquid.

Steep the turkey in the brine and allow it to soak for 1 hour per 450g or 1lb. That's 12 hours for a 5.5kg or 12lb turkey. If your turkey is much bigger and this is your first brining, don't soak the turkey for more than 24 hours.

When the brining time is complete, rinse the turkey thoroughly and pat dry inside and out. Push your hand between the skin and the flesh of the bird, then liberally spread the soft butter between the skin and the flesh. Cover lightly and return to the refrigerator.

If you are using the cool packs, now is a good time to place them on the turkey breasts.

Stuffing

You may have noted that I don't use bread in my stuffing. I don't want anything soaking up the precious fat that will keep the bird moist.

Mix all the stuffing ingredients together. If you have used ready made sausages you do not need to add further seasoning. If using sausage meat use salt sparingly.

Stuff the neck cavity with the stuffing, but don't overstuff it. Any extra stuffing can be cooked in a baking dish alongside the turkey for 50-60 minutes.

Tie up the neck skin with thread, skewers or poultry ties.

Roll the lemon and orange on the counter to loosen the skin then pierce the lemon, orange and apple all over with a skewer or knife. Place the fruits into the body cavity and then seal the cavity with thread, skewers or poultry ties.

Rub the oil all over the bird and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Roasting

Preheat oven to 200°C\395°F\gas mark 6 (reduce temperature by 10% if using a fan oven).

Place the turkey one side or leg down on the trivet or in a non-stick roasting dish and roast for 35 minutes. Turn the turkey over and roast on the other side (i.e. leg) for 35 minutes.

Now turn the turkey upside down so the breasts are facing the bottom and continue to roast for 20 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 180°C\350°F\gas mark 4 (reduce temperature by 10% if using a fan oven) turn the bird breast side up and and continue to roast for thirty minutes basting often.

At this point I take a temperature reading every 10 minutes until the breast reaches 75°C\165°F and the thickest part of the thigh reads 80°C\175°F.

If the breast has reach the desired temperature before the thighs, loosely cover the breast until the thigh reading has been reached. Do remember that the bird will continue to cook for several minutes when you remove it from the oven.

If you do not have a thermometer, use a skewer to pierce the thigh, the juices run clear when the thigh is cooked.

Resting & Carving

Let the bird rest for at least 20-30 minutes, it will be more juicy and tender. You can do this in a cupboard or cover very loosely with foil.

To carve, first remove the stuffing and place on the serving dish. Remove one or both breasts and cut them across the grain. Remove one thigh, the bone should come away quite easily and cut into pieces. Serve.

You may of course carve in your own manner at the table.

Collect any juices from the bird and serve alongside, ideally with a giblet gravy.

Suggestion

An alternative stuffing would be to replace the almonds with chesnuts and the apricots with apples. Use parsley in place of mint.