Turkey, the star of most Thanksgiving dinners, should be the easiest dish in the world to roast. Too bad that some recipes make it seem so formidable.
True, the weight of a turkey, which ranges from about 5 pounds for a breast to more than 20 pounds for some whole birds, makes it an impressive piece of protein to snuggle in a roasting pan.
Selecting your turkey may be the key to finding the easiest method of fixing the holiday dinner. There are plenty of choices. Just look at the number available.
The preliminary estimate of turkeys raised in the United States in 2006 is 265 million. That s up 3 percent from 2005. The average cost per pound of frozen whole turkey in December, 2005, was $1.07, according to the U.S. Census Bureau News.
Fresh turkeys need no thawing and are ready to cook. But, buy a fresh turkey only a day or two before you want to cook it. Frozen ones can be purchased in advance, but require several days of thawing in the refrigerator before roasting.
Turkeys that weigh less than 18 pounds are usually hens, while those weighing more are tom turkeys, according to the Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition. There is no difference in quality between female and male birds. Consumers should buy the size that accommodates the number of people you plan to serve, allowing about one pound per person, plus some for leftovers.
Even though most turkeys labeled fresh have been held several weeks at temperatures ranging from 0 to 26 degrees, many people think fresh tastes better than frozen and is worth the extra money. If you are buying fresh turkey, check
the "sell by" date on the package. If the package has an unusual amount of liquid, feels sticky, or has even the faintest off odor, it is suspect and should be discarded, advises the Joy of Cooking. Avoid bruised poultry. The skin should be yellow or white.
Other options are organic, free-range, or natural.
Organic regulations vary from state to state, but generally, the poultry is raised without antibiotics and fed organically grown feed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Free-range turkeys must have access to the outdoors.
Natural means the turkey has no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed, which does not fundamentally alter the raw product, according to Food Safety Inspection Service meat and poultry labeling terms, advises Sherrie Rosenblatt of the National Turkey Federation.
Self-basting turkeys have been injected with broth or vegetable oil or butter plus seasonings and flavor enhancers to increase moistness and improve the flavor, according to the Joy of Cooking. If the solution makes up 3 to 8 percent of the total weight, the label may read "basted," "marinated," or "added flavoring." Those with more than 8 percent by weight, must list the percentage and the method of preparation.
Some turkeys have pop-up thermometers designed to be indicators of doneness. But experts say that the most reliable test is measuring the temperature with a thermometer. When the thigh (not touching the bone) is 180 degrees and the stuffing is 165 degrees, the bird is done. If the turkey is removed from the oven at 170 degrees and then stands for 20 minutes, the temperature will rise to 180 degrees.
There are also options for those who don't want to prepare a whole bird. Buy a fresh or frozen whole breast, turkey roast, or a boneless turkey breast roast. Fresh turkey parts such as legs, thighs, and wings are also available at selected supermarkets.
The traditional turkey is roasted in the oven. For years, cooks also have cooked turkeys in large electric roasters.
Either way, roasting a turkey can be as simple as sprinkling salt across the rinsed bird, stuffing it if desired, and putting it in a 325-degree oven for the time recommended based on weight.
Other seasonings may be used with salt, such as herbes de Provence or a mixture of chopped thyme, fresh tarragon, pepper, and salt. Parsley-sage-thyme is another combination.
Some recipes call for placing the herbs beneath the skin and the breast meat, perhaps for moistness and flavoring, a process that complicates the turkey preparation.
Brining also is time-consuming, but it is a popular method to produce moist, succulent meat. You can use any liquid from wine to cranberry juice.
Pomegranate juice mixed with water, kosher salt, black peppercorns, bay leaves, rosemary, and sage is used to brine POM-Brined Turkey. Then a pomegranate glaze is used on the turkey.
Large turkeys should be roasted in the oven, but those that are 12 pounds or under may be grilled. Gas or charcoal grilling adds a smoky flavor to the bird. Season the turkey inside and outside, but don't stuff it.
A holiday trend for the last five years or more has been deep-frying turkey (again, do not stuff). It speeds the cooking and delivers a moist bird. Some cooks inject butter and seasonings under the skin before frying.
Cajun Injector, a division of Bruce Foods Inc., is a maker of injectable marinades. These products are sold at stores such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shops, and other sporting goods stores across the country or directly from www.brucefoods.com.
Rotisseries may be used to roast smaller turkeys evenly. Season well with a spice rub and follow the appliance directions.
According to information from the Spice Hunter company, when using rubs on poultry, always wash the meat in cold water. Dry the poultry inside and out before applying the rub. Use disposable towels to decrease the chance of cross-contamination. Sprinkle the rub on the poultry and rub in a circular motion. Also sprinkle the inside of the cavity.
As for me, I'll simply wash and clean the turkey, salt it, make the stuffing, and roast the turkey. It gets star treatment at my house, but the supporting cast of side dishes demand attention, too.
Next week: Thanksgiving side dishes and pumpkin pie.
Contact Kathie Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org