It is that time of year again…TURKEY TIME! Here is my list of Turkey dos and donts. Hopefully everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving, turkey, tofurkey, or whatever you have.
DO buy your turkey locally from a farm that you know or a butcher you trust. I buy our turkey from Arch River Farm in Milbrook, NY. Their turkeys are great and super flavorful. The best part is that when you call to order your turkey, you speak to either the farmer himself (Jeff) or his wife (Janet.) They are both lovely people and explain their methods of raising turkeys and can even give you cooking tips.
I have ordered turkeys from Whole Foods in the past and they are great too. Their TG catalog details the farms/breeds of birds/etc.
Here is a note on the cost of buying small farmed birds:
To sum it up: It is expensive to grow cage free turkeys in small ‘batches’ and it begs the question: How the hell does butterball do it for less than $1/pound.
DO plan ahead. I buy my bird fresh but frozen birds are good too as long as you know where they come from. It takes 2 full days to thaw a frozen bird in the fridge. You can thaw a frozen turkey in cold water (the preferred method to the fridge but it takes a lot more effort) in 8-10 hrs by putting your turkey in a cooler/plastic bag/bucket and covering it with cold water (replacing the water every 2 hrs.) Keeping it in the fridge for 2 days takes up a LOT of fridge room so definitely take that into account.
DO try to reduce your cooking time as much as possible…more on this in my next post. I butcher and braise our turkey and that ensures that the thigh meat and breast meat both remain tender.
DONT stuff your turkey. Stuffing your turkey adds density and therefore cooking time. Tyler Florence has been experimenting with putting the stuffing under the skin rather than in the cavity but I personally haven’t tried that. Stuffing the cavity means that you have to cook that stuffing (since it is now surrounded by raw poultry) to at least 165 degrees to kill salmonella which means that the rest of your bird will be bone dry.
DO season your turkeys with local produce/spices as much as possible.
DONT get too fancy with spices and seasoning…if you cook your turkey well, it should speak for itself and it should be awesome…not just passable.
DO take note of what is seasonal around you and try to incorporate that into your meal. I braise my turkey surrounded by locally grown carrots, onions, potatoes, etc and they enhance the broth that the turkey is braising in.
(this is a kabocha squash pie…yum!)
DONT throw away the giblets. Use these to enhance your stock/gravy or freeze them to use in your next stock.
(or you can use them to scare your friends/kids)
DO use your meat thermometer as opposed to going by the clock. Your breast should register 160 before you take it out of the oven and the thigh should register 180.
DONT use the little button thermometer that comes in some turkeys. If you listen to this, your turkey will be overcooked. DON’T remove the little bugger…it will leave a hole for juice to escape. Leave it in, ignore, and remove after resting/before slicing.
DO ***REST*** your turkey and realize that your turkey continues to cook while it rests. If you slice into it immediately, the juices will flow out of the meat that you have taken care of for the past few hours onto your cutting board…wah wah. DON’T (PLEASE DON’T) Slice your bird on the table. It is a messy and sometimes ugly business and it NEVER looks like a Norman Rockwell Painting….ever. My turkey slicing method involves removing the thighs, then the wings, then the breasts. You want to slice the breasts into short little rainbows. (this is last year’s bird)
DONT be shy with fat (oil, butter, bacon, etc) on your turkey. It protects the breast from drying out and adds valuable flavor. You can always use foil to protect the skin if it browns too quickly.
One year, I made a bacon covered turkey that was delicious. The only problem was when I went to make gravy out of the drippings, it tasted like maple syrup.
This brings me to
DONT baste your turkey. Opening the oven reduces the temperature inside, therefore making cooking time longer and making it more likely that your turkey will dry out.
DONT listen to the instructions on the package of your turkey. They are a GUIDELINE and should not be used as gospel. A lot depends on the type of oven you have/how old it is/etc.
DO experiment with different cooking methods. The weeks following Thanksgiving were always full of turkey experimentation in my house because turkeys go on major major sale.
Try Spatchcocking the turkey (removing the backbone) to make it cook faster and more evenly.
Try Butchering the turkey-thighs come off and breasts come off allowing you to cook the thighs to doneness without scorching the breasts. (this is my preferred method…the turkey is awesome and the stock it cooks in makes KILLER gravy.)
A NOTE*** I am not a huge fan of brining but a lot of people SWEAR by it. I personally have not found it that useful, but if you are a briner go for it. The idea of brining is that putting the turkey in a solution of ‘flavor’ and different osmotic pressure will encourage the flavored moisture to replace the plain water in the bird and help it to remain moist while cooking. Here are some general instructions from Alton Brown:
(he uses hot water, 2/3 cup sugar, a pound of salt, and 16 cups (OMG) of vegetable broth)
Place turkey in the brine, breast side up. If your turkey floats, fill a one-gallon resealable plastic bag with water and place it on top of the turkey. Set the cooler, lid closed, in a cool place for 8–12 hours, turning the turkey over once if possible. Check the brining liquid periodically with the probe thermometer. If the temperature is above 40°, add a few freezer packs that have been enclosed in resealable plastic bags.
DO have a fun time getting your turkey prepped. It is the best American holiday in my opinion and we should cherish our time in the kitchen instead of dread it. Have a glass of champagne at 9am and dance with your kids. They will never forget those times together.
Coming soon…my favorite Turkey and Thanksgiving Recipes!
xo, SW and Sweet P