Roast Turkey...Made Easy
By Charlie Burke

Roast Turkey Printer Friendly Version


It was with some trepidation that I approached the topic of roasting a turkey…I
wondered if our readers needed yet another
recipe for roast turkey in November
when the cover of nearly every cooking magazine is adorned with a picture-
perfect browned bird, while the editors struggle to convince us that, (at last!), the
definitive recipe for the perfect Thanksgiving turkey is contained within.

I have Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines filed by month and dating back for
more than twenty years, so last weekend I pulled out all the November issues
dating back to the late 1970’s. It was amusing to see all the differing approaches:
wide variations of temperatures touted as ideal, turkeys roasted in various
positions and subjected to all sorts of injections, rubs and subcutaneous
additions. A current magazine even advises making an incision in each breast
and filling them with herbed butter!

It soon became clear to me why there is so much mystique associated with what
should be a simple process, and why so many cooks are intimidated by the
prospect of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. The goal of this column then became
clear -- to provide a straightforward, safe and reliable recipe resulting in a
correctly cooked turkey, moist and full of flavor

If you have read previous columns, you probably have noticed that I favor
roasting at high heat, which I’ve done almost exclusively over the past ten years
since becoming familiar with Barbara Kafka’s classic cookbook:
Roasting, A Simple
Art.  She makes the case, confirmed by our experience, that a properly cooked
turkey is moist and tender without injections or other machinations.

High heat roasting (500 degrees) intensifies flavors and considerably shortens
cooking time so there is less time for the white meat to dry out while the dark
meat reaches proper temperature. We have found that fresh local turkey cooks in
a surprisingly short time and has superior taste, although commercial turkeys are
quite consistent in quality. It is important that the oven be clean, because excess
smoke will be caused by any residue in the oven.

Turkeys in the 12 – 16 pound range are ideal for this technique, while brining, the
only extra step worth considering, helps ensure a moist result; kosher birds
should not be brined because salt has already been added. Because the skin is
impervious, spreading with oil or butter or basting are not necessary to keep the
meat moist. Additionally, the turkey should be covered with a moist cloth and
brought to room temperature before cooking at high temperature (3 – 5 hours for
a 15 - 16 pound turkey).

Cooking the turkey without dressing gives the best results because of shorter
cooking time and is safer. All poultry have salmonella risk, and dressing served
below 180 degrees is the most common source of food poisoning from turkey. If
you wish to cook the dressing in the turkey, bring it to room temperature before
placing it into the turkey and make sure it reaches the proper temperature. It is
best to cook it in a casserole adding some of the liquid from the roasting pan for
flavor.

A thick-bottomed roasting pan with handles and an instant reading thermometer
are good investments which can be used for roasting meats and vegetables
throughout the year.

To serve 10 or more:

One 16 pound turkey
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For brine:

2 cups kosher salt
8 quarts water

If brining, dissolve salt in water in a large stock pot. Add turkey and refrigerate
overnight. Remove from brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Proceed as
below.

For stock:

Neck, gizzard and heart from turkey, rinsed and dried
canola oil
1 medium onion cut in half
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pepper corns
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups water

Place a small volume of oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add neck, gizzard
and heart and cook, turning until browned. Add the remaining stock ingredients
and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours, skimming
foam from time to time. Strain and set aside. This can be done well ahead of the
rest of the meal.

Roasting turkey:

Rinse inside and out, dry with paper towels and bring turkey to room
temperature, keeping skin covered with a moist towel to prevent drying. Preheat
oven to 500 degrees (450 degrees works nearly as well; cooking times will be
slightly longer). Sprinkle turkey with ground pepper and salt and place into a
roasting pan; we place it directly into the pan, but a rack can be used. Cook,
rotating pan 180 degrees after 1 hour; add 1 -2 cups water or chicken stock to pan
if drippings appear to be turning too dark.  ]

Check temperature in the thickest part of the thigh at 1 ¾ hours. Remove from
oven when temperature is 170 degrees, about 2 hour’s total cooking time for
unstuffed turkey. Add approximately 30 minutes if you have stuffed the turkey.
Let turkey sit for 30 minutes, during which the temperature in the thigh should
reach 180 degrees.

Gravy:

While turkey is resting, pour fat from roasting pan and place pan over medium –
high heat. Pour stock into pan; boil, scraping up the browned fond from the pan.
Boil until reduced nearly by half, check and add salt and pepper to taste. Keep
hot and serve with turkey.

This high heat method reliably yields moist flavorful turkey and is remarkable
for its simplicity. Brining is not essential, and plain chicken broth can be used for
making the pan gravy instead of the giblet stock. Cooking times are short: 3 hours
for a 20 pound unstuffed turkey, and an amazing 1 hour and 20 minutes for one
of 12 pounds, according to Kafka.

Become familiar with high temperature roasting, and you will enjoy predictable
results, simplify holiday cooking and have more time to enjoy this special time of
the year with your family.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (
www.nhfma.org) and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows certified
organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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