Tuesday, November 17, 2009

thanksgiving turkey 101

Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian and will be eating a nice, juicy Tofurky at my house the day after Thanksgiving.(I noticed that the Tofurky roast no longer comes with Tofurky Jerky legs. How sad: legless tofu bird.)

Apparently there is widespread Internet panic about the Thanksgiving bird. Stress no more, people. Forget the dried out carcass that ends up on most holiday tables. Try this at least once – this is my husband’s method and he actually does eat turkey, so I have verification that it works. If you like this method, you may find that turkey is cooked as often at your house as it is here. Bird: It’s not just for Thanksgiving.

  • If your bird is frozen, thaw it in the fridge FOR A REALLY LONG TIME. Seriously, I read the recommendations on the package and then add a day. These things are disgusting blocks of poultry juice ice and they always take longer to thaw than any recommendation I have ever seen. YMMV. USDA recommendations are here. I heart the USDA and their food safety OCD.
  • When your turkey has thawed, remove the parts stowed inside the body cavity. (Think CSI and a drug mule.) Double check – sometimes those extra parts are sneaky. (More on the parts later.)
  • Wash the bird thoroughly and cut it like a chicken. (Google this and you will find step-by-step instructions, including videos. Learn this skill and save money! Or, if you are a veg and this is as gross to you as it is to me, convince someone else in the house to take care of the butchering. Be sure to cut the bird and not your hand.) A turkey is just a giant chicken. Not really, but use your imagination.
  • Arrange turkey pieces on a rack on a large roasting or broiler pan. Drizzle skin with extra virgin olive oil and if you’re feeling naughty, top with some tiny bits of butter. I sprinkle some sea salt and fresh ground pepper, but that’s personal choice. (At this point, you can stuff things under the turkey skin – not in the bird – like lemon slices, fresh rosemary and sage, etc. I rarely do this. I have no excuse.)
  • Bake that sucker at 325 - 350 until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast and thigh is 165 degrees. (I cook until it is 160-ish  and then remove from the oven and let it rest until the temperature has risen to 165. This is not USDA canon. Don’t listen to me. Listen to the USDA. I listen to Alton Brown.) If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you need one. Follow the USDA’s temperature recommendations because salmonella = gross.
  • I appreciate the food safety folks at Clemson Extension at least as much as the USDA. Read their turkey safety rules and commit them to memory. One little bout of food poisoning (not even meat-related) makes you wary. Wary, I tell you.
  • The baking time will be substantially less than that of a whole bird, but it varies by size. I have found that I can cook a beast of a turkey in under two hours. This means it remains moist and tender and does not become the desiccated ash pile so many of us remember from childhood holidays.

Now, about those turkey organs and such… Don’t throw them out. Those parts can be boiled to make stock and the bits can be added to gravy (or gra-by, as my daughter called it when she was little). Around here, they sometimes make it into homemade dog food. That’s a recipe for another day.

Also, stuffing should include chopped boiled eggs, onions and sage. These ingredients are not negotiable. It is also never stuffed inside a bird or even polluted with meatish things. This is because I love stuffing and it goes great with Tofurky roast.

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