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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2008

Classic Turkey: Don t make holiday entree too complicated

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Roasting a turkey is a straightforward process. The most daunting aspect has to be the sheer size of the turkey it often weighs 14 to 22 pounds and the fact that most home cooks have to defrost a frozen bird.

If the turkey is frozen, defrost it in the refrigerator; plan on one day of thawing for every 4 to 5 pounds turkey. If it is still frozen when you are ready to roast it, put the turkey in a clean sink or pan and cover it with cold tap water; change the water frequently. That way the bird thaws at a rate of 30 minutes per pound.

Once the turkey is thawed, remove the neck and giblets and rinse the neck and body cavities. Drain well.

Now you are ready to cook it.

The easiest way to cook a turkey is to roast it in an oven. Simply salt it inside and outside and put it in the oven for the time recommended by weight; look for it on the processor s label. Use a thermometer to check doneness. Cook the turkey to 180 degrees when tested in the thickest part of the meat, not touching the bone, fat, or gristle.

Stuffing is a consideration. Most stuffings rely on three components: the aromatic vegetables and seasonings, the bread, and a liquid to keep the stuffing moist, according to How to Cook a Turkey by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking (Taunton, $19.95). Properly moistened stuffing should just hold together. Stuffing that s to be cooked on the side in a casserole dish should be a little wetter; stuffing for inside the bird will absorb juices from the turkey as it cooks.

When cooking stuffing in the turkey, the stuffing temperature must register 165 degrees to indicate doneness.

The only time you stuff a turkey is when you are roasting it in the oven. If you don t want to stuff the turkey, you can simply salt the bird inside and out, put it in a deep roasting pan, and follow the roasting directions for time.

Cooking methods

Some cooks don t have enough room in their oven to roast a turkey and make all of the side dishes.

Among the alternatives to roasting are grilling, smoking, and even microwaving, provided you have a turkey that is 12 pounds or less. These also are options for the rare times your oven fails you. When using any of these options, do not stuff the turkey; bake the stuffing in a casserole dish.

For those who want to grill the turkey, brining is an option.

Available this year is Fire & Flavor, which has all-natural, gluten-free, nitrate-free, and Kosher brines in several flavors, including Apple Sage Brining Mix priced at $9.99 and sold at Sautter s Food Center in Sylvania. The sugar and salt in the brine alters the proteins, causing them to trap moisture. If the brine is flavored with herbs, garlic, fruits, and spices, these flavor the meat. The brine mix is dissolved in hot water and then should be cooled before placing the raw turkey in the solution. It must be soaked for 30 minutes to 24 hours in a cooler or refrigerator.

Spice Hunter also has a turkey brine which sells for $7.99 for an 11-ounce jar and $11.99 for a 22-ounce jar, and is available at specialty retailers and stores such as Target.

The most difficult part of brining for the home cook is finding the space in the refrigerator for a whole turkey in a pot covered with the liquid.

When using the smoker or grill, make sure the equipment is in working order and that you have the proper fuel and correct amount to complete the meal. Use a whole turkey according to the weight recommendations of your equipment.

To grill, purchase a turkey that is broad and flat to fit underneath the covered grill top. There should be at least one inch of space between the turkey and the grill lid.

Use the indirect grilling method.

When smoking a turkey, be sure the smoker reaches an internal temperature of 250 to 300 degrees before inserting the bird. Place the turkey in the smoker with the breast facing up. Smoke turkey 20 to 30 minutes per pound, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association and the National Turkey Federation advise.

Seasoning tips

The most inexpensive seasoning is salt sprinkled over and inside the turkey.

Cookbook author Mark Bittman recommends a jerk seasoning turkey rub.

In the Stuffed Roast Turkey recipe from How to Cook A Turkey, basting is used only if the turkey is not browning sufficiently or not evenly; use a pastry brush to paint the skin with some of the brown juices in the roasting pan.

Basting should be done sparingly, however. Every time you open the oven door you lose heat, and when you close the oven door, it takes time for the oven to return to the cooking temperature.

Whether you roast the turkey in the oven, grill it, or use a microwave (a rarity), have that instant-read thermometer handy to check the temperature of the dressing (165 degrees) and the turkey in the thickest part of the meat (170 to 180 degrees).

Once the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest until you are ready to carve it. This gives you time to make gravy and get side dishes ready.

Cooling makes the meat firmer and easier to slice, according to the Chef s Choice company. Remove and set aside the turkey legs and the last joint of each wing. Make a long, deep, horizontal base cut into the breast just above the wing.

Then slice down vertically through the breast until you meet the original base cut.

This will release perfect, even slices.

Contact Kathie Smith at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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