Recipe:The Perfect Roast Turkey
Many recipes exist for roasting turkey for the holiday, and hacking your way through the thicket to the perfect recipe can be a difficult job. Then, to make it worse, that "perfect" recipe may involve tremendous amounts of effort, and even some danger! (Turning every twenty minutes? Deep frying? Ack!)
The goal of this recipe is to provide a turkey that requires very little effort to make, is juicy in both the dark and white meat (while being fully cooked everywhere!), and has a lovely golden-brown crispy skin. While you will need to start this recipe days before you actually eat the turkey, the actual effort involved ... brining the turkey, keeping it in the refrigerator, flipping it once during cooking ... is minimal.
In order to keep this recipe simple, I have pulled the gravy preparation steps into a separate recipe. I strongly recommend that you make the gravy, as it's really stellar and really simple.
- A container and refrigerator large enough to immerse your entire turkey in brine. The Cook's Illustrated gang recommend a large cooler chest.
- An oven thermometer (most oven thermostats are way off)
- A quick read meat thermometer (the spike kind)
- Roasting pan with a rack. (Here is an example of one.)
- Carving fork and knife
- One (1) Turkey
- One pound of good sliced bacon
- Kosher Salt
- Black Peppercorns
- 10 Heads Of Garlic
If your turkey is frozen, you should start by defrosting it in the refrigerator. The USDA recommends that you defrost the turkey for one day for every 5 pounds of weight.
Brining the turkey is a critical step, as it will cause your turkey to retain much more moisture during the cooking process by forcing more moisture into the turkey's cells via osmosis, and locking that moisture there by denaturing the proteins in the cells, forming a "moisture trap".
The brine itself is a simple salt solution, 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water, plus a handful of coarsely crushed black peppercorns and the garlic heads. There is no need to be delicate here ... I whack the garlic heads between two cutting boards and toss them, tissue and all, into the water.
Cover the turkey with the brine, and refrigerate for 8 - 24 hours. More is better, less is fine.
The Extra Bits
There are some strange organs that should be in a bag stuffed in the neck cavity, and the neck is stuffed in the main cavity. Your first thought may be "Ew! I don't need to use every part of the buffalo, er, turkey. I'm just going to toss these out..." Resist this impulse! These extra bits, while certainly odd and of questionable duties in the live animal, will add really good flavors to your gravy.
You now have very salty turkey. Rinse it under a lot of warm water.
"Maillard reactions" are the chemical reactions that produce the golden brown color that is associated with good tasting food. Water is the enemy of maillard reactions, which is why you should always roast meat that is dry and room temperature. (If it starts cold, it'll release water as it heats, and steam the meat). So the first thing we have to do is dry the turkey. Start with a towel. Then air dry the turkey in your refrigerator for 8 hours or more. Don't worry if the turkey skin starts to look dried out ... that's the point.
As noted above, the turkey shouldn't be cold when you start to cook it. So take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit someplace for a few hours.
The Very High Heat
Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.
Once the oven is preheated, it's now time to stuff the turkey if you want. If you do use a cooked stuffing, make sure that the stuffing is hot before you put it in the cavity, and stuff the cavity loosely. Don't forget the smaller cavity at the front of the turkey.
If you don't want to cook your stuffing in the bird, a lovely idea is to fill the cavity with coarsely chopped celery, carrots, leeks (both the white and green parts), onions and garlic, tossed with olive oil and a little salt and black pepper.
In any case, no stuffing is actually necessary. It will make the turkey a little harder to handle, and much messier to carve.
Put the turkey in the v-rack in the roasting pan breast side down. Put the pan in the oven, and immediately turn the oven down to 425 degrees. Roast at this temperature for 45 minutes.
You might find that the pan smokes a bit when the first fat drops down. A few tablespoons or even half a cup of water in the bottom of the pan will solve this if the smoking bothers you.
Flip It! Flip It Good!
After the 45 minutes, take the pan out of the oven and put it on the stovetop or some other heat resistant place, like a wooden cutting board. With a pair of clean towels, grip the turkey firmly and flip it over, so it's now breast side up. If you have torn the turkey skin in any way, "bandage" the tears with strips of bacon. If you haven't torn the turkey skin, you could still put on some bacon bandages, because bacon is delicious.
The Last Laps
Put the bandaged turkey back in the oven, and roast for another two hours or so. At around 90 minutes, start testing the doneness of the turkey using your meat thermomemter. You want the temperature, at both the deepest part of the breast and at the thigh, to be 160 degrees. Take the turkey out of the oven, and set down someplace safe, tented with foil. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes. The temperature will continue to rise, reaching the safe temperature of 165 degrees.
Carve And Eat
Chop the turkey into pieces with a carving fork and knife, and serve with gravy.