(Column) Everyone has an opinion on how to make the perfect roast turkey. Do you roast it stuffed or unstuffed? Do you baste the bird with its own juices or butter? How long do you leave it in the oven? How long do you leave it sit after roasting before you carve it? Hopefully, we’ll answer all your questions in this column.
The best way to end up with a perfectly roasted turkey is to start with a perfectly butchered bird. That means a fresh Kosher turkey. Fresh, because freezing the turkey means that there will be some damage to the turkey on a cellular level. Kosher, because Kosher meats are cleaner and are guaranteed to be butchered correctly. That being said, there’s a huge cost difference between a frozen grocery store turkey and a fresh Kosher one.
If you prefer to pocket the $50 price difference who’s to say you’re wrong? As long as you defrost the turkey slowly (that means 2-3 days in the refrigerator), the difference in taste will be relatively negligible.
Remember, we’re talking about roasting a turkey not a life or death decision (unless you don’t keep the turkey refrigerated as it thaws, thawing at room temperature is a lot faster, but invites all sorts of bacteria to develop).
One of the best things you can do to improve the flavor of your turkey is brine it before roasting. Brining is basically soaking the bird in salted, seasoned water for 24 hours. The turkey absorbs a great deal of the brining liquid, making for a moist roast. To brine your turkey, use a plastic storage bin big enough to contain your turkey. Line it with a clean trash bag (the tall kitchen size is usually perfect). If your refrigerator isn’t big enough to hold a brining container, you can also use an insulated cooler, as long as you keep it well chilled. Place your turkey in the container and pour in enough brine (see recipe below) to cover completely. This should be done the day before you plan to roast the turkey.
In a large stock pot mix the following:
5-7 quarts water
1-1½ cups coarse Kosher salt
5 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
Bring liquid just to boil and allow to cool to room temperature.
After the liquid has cooled, rinse and clean a 15-20 lb. turkey.
Remove giblet package, any excess fat and tail and set aside.
Place the turkey in the plastic bag and pour the cooled liquid over it.
Seal the bag, place in container.
Turn the turkey within the bag occasionally.
While the turkey is brining, take the tail and any solidified pieces of fat removed from the bird and place in a saucepan. Over low heat, render out the fat and pour into a small bowl. Refrigerate for use in roasting turkey.
Coarse-ground Kosher salt
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 head of garlic
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 apple, quartered
Rendered turkey fat (and/or softened butter)
Sprigs of fresh sage
1 bottle Riesling
Preheat oven to 325°.
You will be cooking the turkey for about 15 minutes per pound and you want to turkey to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving, so time accordingly.
Remove turkey from brine, rinse thoroughly.
Pat dry with a paper towel.
Salt and pepper the turkey inside and out.
Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan.
In the turkey’s cavity place onions, garlic, thyme, rosemary and apple.
Starting at the neck reach your hand between the turkey’s skin and flesh and massage in the rendered fat and/or butter (be careful not to tear the skin)
Place sprigs of fresh sage under the skin of the turkey, arranging decoratively.
Sprinkle coarse ground kosher salt liberally on turkey.
Pour a mixture of stock and wine in roasting pan until it is about 1” deep, but not touching the turkey (replenish as necessary during roasting.)
Tuck the turkey’s wings under the breast and tie it legs together using butcher twine.
Place the pan on the lowest shelf of the oven.
Tent the breast with a sheet of aluminum foil.
Baste the turkey all over every 30 minutes with the juices on the bottom of the pan. Whenever the drippings evaporate, add stock and/or wine to replenish.
Remove the aluminum foil about 2/3 of the way through the cooking time.
Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh reads 165° F.
Note: The following step is optional, but it does make for much moister breast meat.
About 30 minutes before roasting time is done, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Using a set of turkey tongs, turn the bird so that it is breast side down on the rack. Return to the oven and finish roasting. When you remove the turkey from the oven to rest, turn it breast side up again. This technique serves a dual purpose; all the juices drain back into the breast and it allows the skin on the underside of the turkey to become crisp. Do NOT try this without a set of turkey tongs.
Allow to rest 15-20 minutes before carving.