Turkey Tips

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Every year about this time Christmas music starts playing on the radio putting me in a panic about getting ready for Christmas. The stores are decorated and my house isn’t. I haven’t purchased the first gift. Recently I took my mother to the Doctor and there was a dry erase board announcing how many days until Christmas. The technician taking blood informed me that Christmas was only three and a half weeks after Thanksgiving weekend. At that point my mind went into overdrive. It’s no wonder when Thanksgiving sneaks up on us we haven’t given it a thought and wonder why our turkey isn’t thawed on Thanksgiving morning. I’m sure you’ve been there too. It’s 7 am Thanksgiving morning; you’ve just dragged yourself out of bed. You wander into the kitchen to get the Turkey out of the refrigerator and it’s still frozen solid like a giant ice cube. You’ve calculated you need at least 3 and 1/2 hours at 325 F to cook the bird plus you have to cook all the sides after the turkey comes out of the oven. Now what are you going to do?

I’m going to give you a handy panic guide for preventing disaster. Hopefully none of us will be thawing turkey under cold running water this year! The Butterball website has a handy calculator for figuring out how much turkey you need to buy and how long it takes to thaw and cook it. You may want to check it out.  Here are some general guidelines.

Turkey Tips 

How many pounds do I buy per person? If you don’t want leftovers plan on 1 lb. per person. If you want leftovers plan on 1 and 1/2 lbs. per person for light eaters or 2 lbs. per person for big eaters.

How long do I thaw the turkey? To thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator I always add one day to whatever any guideline says just to be on the safe side.  Also, remember to add additional time if you brine the turkey or want crispy skin (see below). To thaw the turkey: Butterball recommends 2 days for an 8 lb.; 2 and 1/2 days for a 10 lb.; and 3 days for a 12 lb. turkey- I still add an additional day, I don’t like surprises on Thanksgiving morning!

How do I brine a turkey? Brining adds fabulous flavor to turkey and keeps it moist. Try my redneck brining method. Thaw the turkey, make and cool your brine (look online for recipes) then get out your tailgating cooler and two white, unscented tall kitchen garbage bags (we don’t want the turkey to taste like dryer sheets do we?)  Put a layer of ice in the cooler. Place one garbage bag inside the other one. Write down how much the turkey weighs and save for the day you cook it. (If you don’t you’ll be weighing your turkey on the bathroom scales Thanksgiving morning!) Remove the plastic wrap, giblets, neck etc. Rinse the turkey and place in the garbage bags. Pour the brine over the turkey, remove the air from the bags, twist, and seal with a twist tie.   Cover turkey with ice. Brine turkey for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Turn the turkey over halfway through the brining time adding more ice if needed.

How do I get crispy skin? Take the plastic off the turkey; remove giblets, neck, and gravy packet (if there is one) Rinse and pat dry with paper towels then place turkey on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the refrigerator overnight to let the skin dry out. For a brined turkey: remove turkey from brine, pat dry with paper towels then place in refrigerator overnight. For herbed or citrus butter under the skin turkey: Remove turkey from plastic, remove neck and giblets and gravy packet, Rinse turkey and pat dry with paper towels. Loosen skin from breast thigh and legs. Slather citrus or her butter underneath skin and then place in refrigerator overnight. Remember to add this additional time to your thawing time!

How do I make Herb Butter to go under the skin? Mix 1 stick softened unsalted butter, with ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Remove leaves from 6 sprigs of fresh thyme and 4 fresh rosemary sprigs and chop finely. Add to butter mixture. Loosen skin from turkey. Slather butter mixture under breasts, thighs and legs. Wear gloves.

How do I dress the turkey? For a savory flavor profile stuff the cavity of the bird with onion, garlic, celery carrots, rosemary and thyme sprigs. For a citrus profile Slice a lemon and orange into thin slices. Place slices under the skin (securing with toothpicks if necessary. Stuff the remaining orange and lemon slices along with 4 sprigs of fresh thyme and 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary inside the cavity of the bird. Coat the skin of the bird with melted butter then place in the oven to roast. Sprinkle the bird with salt and pepper. Omit salt if turkey was brined.

How long do I cook the turkey?  For an unstuffed bird: 20 minutes per lb. at 325 F/ 15 minutes per pound at 350 F/ 10 minutes per pound at 400 F/ if you use a temperature above 400 degrees try a combination of temperatures so the turkey doesn’t dry out. The food network recommendation for roasting a 10-12 lb. turkey is 325 F for 2 hours (add an extra 15 minutes per lb. for birds over 12 lbs.) and then increase the temperature to 425 F for one more hour. If you are really pressed for time cut the turkey in half (one breast on each side) and flatten. Cook on 325 F for 8 minutes per lb. Slather the turkey with melted butter before you put it in the oven. Resist the temptation to open the oven door while roasting the turkey; it just increases the cooking time. After the thigh has reached 165 F remove the turkey from the oven and loosely cover with foil to keep it warm while it rests. The turkey will hold its temperature for 45 minutes, enough time to heat the sides and make the gravy.

Do I need a thermometer? Yes! You can’t tell if the turkey is done just by looking J Buy a $10.00 digital thermometer and insert it into the thickest part of the thigh. The temperature should read 165 degrees F. To get an accurate temperature; make sure you aren’t touching the thighbone with the tip of the thermometer.

How do I get crispy skin? Take the plastic off the turkey; remove giblets, neck, and gravy packet (if there is one) Rinse and pat dry with paper towels then place turkey on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the refrigerator overnight to let the skin dry out. For a brined turkey: remove turkey from brine, pat dry with paper towels then place in refrigerator overnight. For herbed or citrus butter under the skin turkey: Remove turkey from plastic, remove neck and giblets and gravy packet, Rinse turkey and pat dry with paper towels. Loosen skin from breast thigh and legs. Slather citrus or her butter underneath skin and then place in refrigerator overnight. Remember to add this additional time to your thawing time!

How do I make delicious gravy?  To get really great tasting gravy you have to start with drippings that have been roasted with vegetables. This infuses the gravy with layers of flavor. In a roasting pan scatter 2 onions, 2 carrots, and 2 celery stalks that have been diced. Then add 4 smashed garlic cloves, 8 sprigs of thyme, 4 fresh sage leaves and 1 cup of 33% lower sodium chicken broth. You can either place the Turkey on top of the vegetables or on a roasting rack breast side up. Refrigerate overnight so the skin can dry out. The next day pull the roasting pan out of the refrigerator and set on the counter for 30 minutes before you place it in the oven. After the turkey is done pour all the drippings and vegetables into a mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan into the drippings. Discard vegetables. Pour drippings into a large gallon zip lock bag. Hold upright and allow the turkey fat to separate from the broth. Cut a small hole in the bottom of the bag and catch the broth in a measuring cup. Just before the fat comes out stop the flow and then allow the fat to pour into another measuring cup. Measure 1/2 cup of the fat, 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour and 8 cups of a combination of the reserved turkey broth and 33% lower sodium chicken broth (like Swanson’s). Place broth in microwave and heat for several minutes until hot. Pour turkey fat in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat. Whisk in flour (Wondra works great for this) and cook for 4 minutes or until golden brown. Add hot broth gradually and whisk until smooth and thickened. This should take about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Strain if you have any lumps.

If you’ve read this far you are serous about your turkey! We go all out at my house. The poor bird gets thawed, brined, buttered under and on top of the skin and it’s inside filled with wonderful things. Did I mention the gravy? I just want to swim in it…Doc and I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Published in The News and Neighbor on November 23, 2013

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