Episode 53 Let’s Talk About Turkey
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People celebrate Thanksgiving in many ways. Some of you will be hosting and some of you will be guests. Most of you will have turkey.
There are many kinds of turkey. Growing up my mother would get a conventional turkey from the grocery store. Conventional turkeys (think Butterball) are injected with a salt solution. The buzz about turkeys in the food world is to brine them.
Brining is a process of soaking a turkey in a salt water solution. If you buy a natural turkey you definitely want to brine it. But if you buy a conventional turkey you do not want to brine it. It will be way too salty.
If you are brining a natural turkey it is very important to keep it at a safe temperature. That means you need to brine it in the refrigerator (not easy to do because it takes up so much room) or your can brine it in an insulated cooler. If you are using a cooler make sure there is ice in the brine to keep the turkey at a safe temperature.
Cooking a Turkey
The two best ways I know to cook a turkey are to use a roasting bag or to roast it on a rack in a roasting pan. With both methods it is best to get the turkey prepped the night before so all you have to do the next day is put it in the oven.
A roasting bag is made of the same material as slow cooker liners. Turkeys braise in the liquid that is released as they cook. The cook much faster and produce juicy meat, but they do not produce crispy skin.
Roasting a turkey in a roasting pan is a lot like roasting a chicken. If you prep it the night before, the skin will dry out in the air of the refrigerator and will get super crispy as it roasts.
With either method, you will want to calculate how many hours per pound it takes to cook and work backwards from your target serving time. If your turkey takes 4 hours and you want to eat at 6:00, put the turkey in the oven at 1:30. That gives you 25 minutes to let the turkey rest and 5 minutes to carve it.
Stuffing vs Dressing
Stuffing and Dressing are often used interchangeably, but the are different. Stuffing is traditionally cooked inside the cavity of the bird and dressing is cooked in a casserole dish alongside the bird. I highly recommend making dressing because there are food safety issues with stuffing. Stuffing spends a long time in the danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the temperature where bacteria thrive and multiply. Compounded with the reality of Thanksgiving food setting at room temperature for at least and hour, it is not advisable to stuff the bird. If you prefer a super wet dressing, add extra broth and cook it in a deep casserole dish that is tightly covered to keep in the moisture.
In our family, my mother makes amazing dressing and it is cooked in a greased casserole dish so it gets crispy on the outside.
There are a few ways to make gravy. I grew up with a bird roasted in a roasting bag which yields lots of juices. My mother simply made a flour and water slurry and mixed it into the boiling juices until it reached the desired thickness. Many people make a roux which is a mixture of equal parts flour and fat cooked until bubbly and starting to brown. You then add any pan juices and broth and bring to a boil. The roux will thicken the gravy. Some recipes call for deglazing the roasting pan with a little wine. I highly recommend a white wine. One year my sister was at her husband’s family for Thanksgiving and they followed an internet recipe that called for red wine and the gravy turned out bright pink. It tasted amazing but the color was shocking. If you need a gluten-free gravy, you can use a cornstarch and water slurry rather than the flour and water slurry. The gravy will have a different texture, but it will thicken nicely and taste great.
Use a Turkey Breast for Small Gatherings
If you are having a small gathering, a turkey breast is perfect. I like to make turkey breasts in my Instant Pot. This has many advantages. It doesn’t take any oven space. It cooks very quickly. I have cooked a frozen turkey breast in 90 minutes. I recommend thawing it first, but you can do it from frozen. The breast will stay moist, but it will not have a crispy skin.
My Favorite Side Dishes
Cook’s Illustrated Sweet Potato Casserole
100 Days of Real Food Green Bean Casserole
Get Your Copy of the Feed Your Family Tonight Holiday Planning Guide 2019.