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Published: Tuesday, 11/6/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Let’s talk turkey

It’s that time of year again, and help is available

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
A roasted turkey. A roasted turkey.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Thanksgiving is coming. What to serve? What to serve?

Uncle Clark bagged a deer, but Lois has sworn off red meat. Perry is allergic to shellfish and nuts. Cousin Jimmy only eats kosher food — which no one can understand, because he isn’t Jewish.

What to serve?

Hey! How about turkey? Everyone likes turkey. It is native to America so it is particularly appropriate for the holiday, and the grocery stores seem to be filled with them this time of the year.

If you don’t like the idea of brining your own, you can even buy a kosher turkey, which ought to please Cousin Jimmy.

Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that most of the country eats the same food. We may be ultra-polarized today, but in just two weeks we will all (or nearly all) be sitting down to turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. And nothing pulls the country together like culinary unity.

Though it is ubiquitous on Thanksgiving, turkey is eaten relatively rarely throughout the rest of the year. According to figures from the National Turkey Federation, fully 21 percent of all the turkeys consumed in the United States are eaten on Thanksgiving. Another 10 percent are eaten at Christmas and almost 9 percent on Easter.

Most home cooks often don’t take the opportunity to cook turkey other than on these three holidays. So as the fourth Thursday in November approaches each year, many cooks tend to panic.

Here’s the answer to that: Don’t panic. As the immortal Cab Calloway might have said, a turkey ain’t nothin’ but a bird.

It’s just poultry. When you get right down to it, turkeys are just overgrown chickens. And you can cook a chicken, right?

The Butterball hotline has a staff (Mary Clingman, Diana Jimenez and the rest of the gang) who answer questions about turkey-cooking throughout the months of November and December. They answer about 100,000 questions — or rather, the same few questions 100,000 times — from cooks who are worried or confused.

The basics are really quite simple. Pat the bird dry with paper towels. Season it with plenty of salt and pepper. Cook it, breast up, at 325°. Roast a 7-10 pound bird for 2½-3 hours (2¾- 3½ if stuffed), a 10-18 pound bird for 3-3½ hours (3¾-4½, stuffed), 18-22 pound bird for 3½-4 hours (4½-5, stuffed), a 22-24 pound bird for 4-4½ hours (5-5½, stuffed), and a 24-30 pound bird for 4½-5 hours (5½-6¼, stuffed).

It’s that simple. You don’t even have to call Butterball (but if you do, the number is 800-288-8372 — it’s 800-BUTTERB).

But what if you don’t want to simply roast your turkey? What if you want to give it a little glamour, a little sass, a little pizzazz?

This year we set out to make a turkey that is roasted-plus. We came up with three easy methods to make your turkey stand out from the crowd, but still be a recognizably American roast turkey. In other words, they are not too different. Just better.

If a turkey is just an overgrown chicken, we thought, then it is a really, really big Cornish game hen. And Cornish game hens taste great with an orange glaze. So we decided to try the same method with a turkey.

It worked like a charm — if you have to try a charm a couple of times before you get it right. For the purposes of science, we brushed a simple glaze of butter melted with marmalade on one-third of the turkey before baking it. We brushed more on another third with about 45 minutes to go, and brushed the final third with the glaze five minutes before it was done.

The question was whether and when the glaze would burn. We knew that the sugar in the marmalade would burn, but we did not know if, when tempered by the butter, it would burn at the relatively low temperature of 325°.

The part of the bird that was glazed the entire time did, in fact, turn an unappealingly dark brown, though the flavor was surprisingly unaffected. The part that had been brushed for just a few minutes tasted too much like turkey that had been topped with jam. But the part that had been glazed for 45 minutes was just right, slightly sweet with an intriguing undertone of orange.

For the other two turkeys, we tried for the Holy Grail of Thanksgiving: a crispy skin. Once again, we turned to chicken for our inspiration. We know of two effective means of achieving a crisp skin on a roasted chicken, so we tried them both. Both, we are happy to say, worked reasonably well.

One trick to having a crispy skin is to dry out the skin before cooking it. Thoroughly pat the skin dry with paper towels, sprinkle it liberally with salt (but don’t make it saltier than you want to eat it), and let it sit uncovered to dry out in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Before you cook it, pat it dry again. Some people put it in front of a fan for an hour before cooking.

The other trick is to coat the skin lightly with fat such as butter or oil before cooking it. We wanted to give a little flavor to this coating, so we prepared a flavored butter and flavored oil.

We mixed softened butter with finely-minced fresh rosemary and rubbed it all over the turkey before baking. It was a little gooey, but the results were well worth it. And you can tell yourself that most of the butter drips off while roasting.

For the oil, we gently heated two peeled cloves of garlic and a sprig of rosemary in a cup of oil, until the garlic started to turn brown. We brushed some of this flavored oil onto the turkey before cooking. You can tell yourself that most of the oil drips off while roasting.

Though we used rosemary for both techniques, thyme or sage would work just as well.

Why? Because they go so well with chicken.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.

Turkey with Scented-Oil

1 turkey

1 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 (4-6 inch) sprig fresh rosemary (see cook's note)

Salt and pepper

Cook's note: Two sprigs of thyme or two sprigs of sage will also work well.

Preheat oven to 325e_SDgr and arrange a rack in lower third. Remove racks above it.

Remove neck and gizzards (if any) from turkey and pat dry. For crisper skin, allow to dry for up to 24 hours, uncovered and salted, in the refrigerator or place in front of a fan for at least 1 hour.

In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, gently heat oil, garlic, and rosemary until garlic begins to burn. Remove rosemary and garlic. Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a small bowl and brush the contents of that bowl all over the skin of the turkey. If you need more oil, pour out more into the small bowl and use that. Do not dip brush that has touched raw turkey into pan with oil in it unless you do not plan to save this oil for later uses. Refrigerate reserved oil for later uses. Season turkey with salt and pepper.

Place turkey on a rack in a roasting dish, breast-side up, and roast until meat thermometer inserted into thigh reaches at least 170e_SDgr or skin is browned and thighs move freely in their joints. If skin gets so dark it looks as if it might start to burn, cover with a piece of foil.

Yield: Depends on size of the turkey

Butter-Rubbed Turkey

1 turkey

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary or ½ rounded teaspoon dried (see cook's note)

Salt and pepper

Cook's note: You can also use thyme or sage.

Preheat oven to 325e_SDgr and arrange a rack in lower third. Remove racks above it.

Remove neck and gizzards (if any) from turkey and pat dry. For crisper skin, allow to dry for up to 24 hours, uncovered and salted, in the refrigerator or place in front of a fan for at least 1 hour.

Using a large spoon, mix together butter and rosemary until the herb is incorporated into the butter. Rub skin of turkey all over with butter-herb mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Place turkey on a rack in a roasting dish, breast-side up, and roast until meat thermometer inserted into thigh reaches at least 170e_SDgr or skin is browned and thighs move freely in their joints. If skin gets so dark it looks as if it might start to burn, cover with a piece of foil.

Yield: Depends on size of the turkey

Orange-Glazed Turkey

1 turkey

Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons butter (½ stick)

½ cup marmalade

Preheat oven to 325e_SDgr and arrange a rack in lower third. Remove racks above it.

Remove neck and gizzards (if any) from turkey and pat dry. For crisper skin, allow to dry for up to 24 hours, uncovered and salted, in the refrigerator or place in front of a fan for at least 1 hour.

Season turkey with salt and pepper. Place on a rack in a roasting dish, breast-side up, and put into the oven.

About 45 minutes before you think turkey will be done, melt butter and marmalade in a small saucepan over medium heat until it forms a liquid. Brush this mixture all over skin of turkey. Return to oven and roast until meat thermometer inserted into thigh reaches at least 170e_SDgr or skin is browned and thighs move freely in their joints. If skin gets so dark it looks as if it might start to burn, cover with a piece of foil.

Yield: Depends on size of the turkey



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