The traditional holiday staple, cooked to perfection.
Small confession: I have never made turkey before, nor have I ever celebrated Thanksgiving before. While I am 110% pro expressing gratitude for what we have, I was born in a communist Romania that never had this holiday and I came to Canada a bit too late to change my ways over night.
Now that this is out in the open: I always loved the look of an entire turkey that has been roasted and it fascinated me to hear others saying how they celebrated this holiday.
This being said, this is my venture to learning how to make a Thanksgiving turkey and a lot of time and research were put into making this recipe a delicious reality.
Whenever we discuss turkey - anyone who has ever done any work in dietetics will think about food safety. This is because defrosting a turkey can take up to 5 days, depending on the size of the turkey:
An 8-12 lbs (4-5.5 kg) bird should be thawed for 1-2 days.
A 12-16 lbs (5.5-7.3 kg) bird should be thawed for 2-3 days.
A 16-20 lbs (7.3 - 9 kg) bird should be thawed for 3-4 days.
A 20-24 lbs (9-11 kg) bird should be thawed for 4-5 days.
Keep the turkey in the fridge during this time to minimize bacterial growth.
Most turkeys also have thawing instructions directly on their packaging.
What is Brining and why do we brine turkey?
Brine is a water and salt solution in which turkey is completely submerged prior to its roasting in the oven. Salt and water will enter the muscle fibers and help increase the water content in turkey, thus making the final results more juicy.
Turkey should be brined for 8-18 hours, depending on its size.
You will need a very large pot to fully submerge your turkey.
Place breast down in a large roasting pan, on the lowest rack of the oven. Placing the bird breast down, without the use of a rack, makes for a more juicier breast meat - as it allows the juices to collect.
Oil the bird to prevent the meat from drying out. Butter can also be used instead. Margarine is not recommended due to its low smoking point.
Roasting instruction will be found on the packaging as well - this will come super handy if you cannot find a turkey that is exactly the size we recommended.
Ideally, turkey should be cooked unstuffed. Cooking stuffing in a separate pan ensures superior food safety and minimizes cooking time. Instead, a few potatoes inserted into the bird cavity can absorb off-flavors and fat released during cooking. These should be discarded after.
Dry or day old bread cubes, onions, celery, carrots will traditionally be combined with cooking juices to make the stuffing. Apples, apricots, mushrooms, nuts and raisins can also add a personal touch to the stuffing.
Once again, I used a bit of taste pairing science to make an out-of-this-world stuffing. Poultry, mushrooms, onions, hazelnuts and cranberries all have a common volatile ingredient that gives them an earthy (and somewhat metallic) aroma of mushrooms. While the fat from the turkey juice will soften this a bit, I chose to brighten the flavor with a sweet touch from cranberries. The fact that cranberries are also traditionally eaten at Thanksgiving also helps.
Basting the turkey should be done every 20 minutes. Covering the bird with its own juices periodically ensures further helps preserve internal moisture.
If a baster is not available, a large spoon or a large brush can be used instead.
*** I read somewhere that cooking the turkey with its breast down implies that basting is not necessary - so I let mine cooking for 4 straight hours without basting it. Did I love the end result? Meah. It didn't turn out dry, yet when I researched turkey carving and came across one of Jamie Oliver's videos and saw his juicy turkey, I felt bad I skipped this step. But at least we know now: you should definitely baste your turkey periodically if you want the meat to be nice and juicy.
Allow the turkey to rest for 20 minutes and firm up - then flip and broil it for 5 minutes to brown the turkey breast as well. Once this is done, a turkey can be carved and eaten.
Serve it with a side of mushroom stuffing.
When you're buying a turkey read the packaging. Ours said: may be missing some parts. If you're thinking that this may mean giblets, you may make the same error as we did. Our turkey way missing its legs. Yes, we discovered this on Thanksgiving day - after 3 days of thawing. No, it is not the end of the world, but it may be something to watch out for.
Adding flavorings to brine will probably not make the turkey taste significantly different - but it will make your kitchen smell amazing.
Turkey is a time consuming dish to make - a project that I would have not tackled had it not been for the long week-end. Making it could be totally worth it if you're cooking for a large family and love the taste of turkey - otherwise you can apply similar principles and make a roast chicken instead.
The mushroom stuffing turned out delicious and is definitely a keeper for my recipe book.
This recipe is part of the 2020 - Week 42 Menu - Thanksgiving Dinner. Look under Menus for the other recipes of the series or Subscribe to our mailing list and receive complete weekly menu ideas with everything from the grocery shopping list to all standardized recipes in a menu, as well as an organized Order of Cooking list to save you time in the kitchen.
I hope all my research proves useful to you.
If you'd like to try our standardized recipes for both the Turkey and Stuffing, you can download them both here (one document for both):