This post, and the following two, are from my old blog. I loved putting these posts together and wanted to bring them on over to my new place. I’m just sentimental that way. I hope you enjoy them and I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. I’m also at Aiming Low today, talking more turkey.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is cooking the turkey for my in-laws the very first time. Jack’s father, Bob, is no longer with us, but I think of him often and always around Thanksgiving because of how nerve-wracking the whole experience was.
That first Thanksgiving I had recently purchased Pam Anderson’s The Perfect Recipe and was determined to try out the turkey recipe. It promised the most perfectly moist turkey ever in less time than the traditional method, and I confidently set out to create this masterpiece.
The trick to cooking a moist and flavorful turkey in less time, according to Pam, was to use a brined turkey, cook it at 400 degrees, and start the turkey breast side down, rotating the bird at specific intervals. If all went well, my 12 pound turkey would be fully cooked in 2 hours and 10 minutes. My plan was to start cooking the turkey three hours before dinner, which allowed me a fifty minute window for it to rest, or finish cooking if need be.
Bob, whom the grandkids called PopPop, was a very charismatic man, and a bit intense. I started to get nervous when Bob cornered me in the kitchen about 5 hours before dinner and politely asked, “When the hell are you putting that bird in?” Gulp. My first moment of hesitation. I replied, “I’ve got plenty of time. It only takes about 2 hours to cook.”
And with that, Jack and his mother flew into the room. From the team: “Need any help? No harm in putting it in now. If it gets done early, we can keep it warm. Heh. Heh.” Apparently, making Bob wait for his Thanksgiving turkey was not a good idea, and had never been done.
To which I said, “Don’t effing throw down the gauntlet on me people! I will cook this turkey in 2 hours and show you all how it’s done! Cooking a bird for 4 hours until it’s dry is for cavewomen, not scary bitches like me who don’t like to be challenged on their first Thanksgiving turkey!” Okay, maybe I just said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got it under control.”
I stuck to my plan, despite maximum hovering by my girly-man husband Jack. That turkey turned out perfectly done in exactly the time I had estimated, and Bob proclaimed it the best turkey he had ever eaten. Really.
Though I’m no food blogger and definitely don’t play one at home, thanks to the genius of Pam Anderson, this turkey recipe is a keeper and I wanted to pass it on. I have adapted her recipe a bit. This post is really designed to be the engineering behind cooking the turkey, not the recipes for the brine, the seasonings, or the gravy. I have posted some links at the bottom for some of these things.
Also, through the years, I have found there are some essential turkey truths:
1. Use a 12 – 14 pound turkey. Unless you enjoy mixing muscle relaxers with Thanksgiving day cocktails, save your back, leave the 18 – 22 pound turkey to the Food Network, and go with a twelve-pounder. It’s also much more difficult to brine a turkey that large. If you have a large family or really need that much turkey leftovers, do two 10 pounders.
2. Fresh vs. frozen doesn’t really matter. Alton Brown, that sexy man, prefers frozen because of quality concerns. That’s good enough for me. Just don’t get one of those infused or self-basting ones. You want to control what is flowing through your turkey.
3. Thou shalt brine thy turkey. All other methods of flavoring the meat itself are hen hockey. 12 hours is the max. Only use kosher salt, not table salt.
4. Don’t stuff the turkey. Stuff the dressing in at the end, no pun intended, if you really need the vision of a turkey filled with bread. By the time the stuffing gets hot enough (160 degrees) to cook all the raw turkey juice that soaked into your stuffing, your turkey will be over-cooked and dry.
5. Pull out the pop-out indicator and throw it away. Get a digital thermometer with a wire so everyone who is hovering can see how close the turkey is to being done.
Here, without further ado, is my adaptation of Pam Anderson’s Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey recipe.
1. Place turkey in a pot or clean bucket large enough to hold it. Add your brine mixture and cold water to cover. Put in refrigerator, or outside if you live somewhere really cold, for 10 – 12 hours. Remove turkey from brine, rinse thoroughly under cool running water and pat dry.
2. Adjust your oven rack to the lowest position and preheat to 400 degrees. Fill the turkey cavity with some chopped onion, carrot, celery, lemon wedges and fresh thyme sprigs. Truss your bird. Scatter more onion, carrot, celery and thyme sprigs in a large roasting pan and add 1 cup of water Set V-rack in pan and place turkey breast side down. Rub turkey all over with canola oil. Roast for 45 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the oven and close the door. Add 1/2 cup of water and baste the turkey’s back. With a wad of paper towels in each hand, turn the turkey on its side so one leg and wing are up. This may be awkward and terrifying. Have a spotter. Baste exposed area of turkey and return to oven. Roast for 20 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the oven and close the door. Use the wads of paper towels to turn the turkey so the other leg/wing faces up. Baste exposed areas, adding more water to the pan, if necessary, to keep vegetables from burning. Roast 20 minutes more.
5. For the third time, remove the pan from the oven and close the door. Turn turkey breast side up and baste. Roast 35-55 minutes longer, until a meat thermometer inserted into the breast registers 160-165 degrees and the leg/thigh registers about 170 degrees. Take the turkey out of the oven, cover it with foil, and let it rest while you make gravy from the pan.
That’s it. It really works. If you have some time-tested turkey tips, leave me a comment. I really want to know. Hope your turkey day is wonderful. Gobble.
Williams-Sonoma has an amazing collection of tips, techniques and recipes. Definitively worth checking out.
You can purchase a V-rack roasting pan or just buy a v-rack for $12 to $25 if you already have a roasting pan.
You can make Alton Brown’s brine recipe. It’s a serious recipe. I have had great results with just salt and sugar, and with the Williams-Sonoma turkey brine mix. Their brining bags are also helpful, but I feel a little guilty using the plastic. If you can’t fit a large stockpot in your fridge, those bags may be a lifesaver.
This year I’m doing a dry brine of 1/3 cup kosher salt. You rub the salt all over the bird and let it sit uncovered in the fridge for 4 hours before you begin cooking. Rinse well, pat dry and prepare for cooking as usual. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Pam Anderson’s The Perfect Recipe is one of my favorite cookbooks ever. She tested your favorite dishes of all time until she found the “perfect recipe” for each one. You’ll find mac and cheese, cobblers, potato salad, chicken soup, meat loaf and lobster. Over 150 recipes in all. I go to it over and over again.