We're about a month away from the Thanksgiving holiday, so it's time to start getting the ducks lined up for the turkey dinner! When it comes to that holiday, some of us are faced with making a perfect turkey, and the stacks are high usually. There is a good chance that many of us cook for a crowd, so the pressure is on. The home cook is faced with a dilemma, since turkeys are clumsy to cook due to their sheer size, but with patience and a few tricks a delicious turkey can be archived in a few steps.
For my part I have been cooking turkey a lot already, and this year I found yet another perfect way to roast a bird. As always, the goal is to impart more tastiness into the bird and have it merge with the cooking process into an amazing, flavorful result. It is known that turkey needs some help in that department, since its plain flavor profile leaves much to be desired. It never ceases to amaze me how many ways I am able to find to cook a turkey on the internet--needless to say we people have something in common, since many of us are clearly obsessed with cooking turkey! The big question is: which instruction or recipe really works, though?
Got to love turkey!
During my turkey testing over the past months, I went somewhat involuntarily along the long route and ended up with an endless number of variations when it comes to brining, adding spices, cooking, herb crusting and other methods. During this process I realized clear differences and came to some conclusions. It’s a good thing I like turkey…
At this point, I'm a firm believer in salt water brining a turkey before cooking. I tried the salt seasoning method, which is simply rubbing a good amount of salt on the outside of the turkey. In my case it did not penetrate enough and actually lead to a salty-skinned turkey. Another not-worth-the-extra-step method to impart flavor was to brine the turkey with liquids with different ratios of spices, vinegar, natural sweeteners, salt and water. It actually denaturated the turkey flavor and did not move the needle considerably in the flavor department in comparison to a simple salt brine. Conclusion: brine it is!
I'm a big fan of rubbing spices under the skin of the raw turkey before roasting, and it proved to be a big success on many occasions. The perfect flavor experience was a layer of crispy skin above, with spice-coated juicy turkey meat. It has its place in my blue ribbon turkey cooking methods.
Originally, I thought the extra step of injecting flavor was not necessary, but it proved to be successful. To inject flavor and butter certainly made a tasty difference. I see it as an inside-out pasting. The toy of choice for injecting a spice solution is an injector, which is a syringe-type instrument with a thick needle. It’s money well spent, as it lets you inject extra flavor into the turkey before roasting.
I reached the best results by roasting slowly to get the turkey to the point of doneness. I cook turkey at a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit and my preferred internal temperature is 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The FDA suggests cooking a turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. It makes a rather dry turkey, though. I never cook my turkeys to more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and then I let it rest on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes. The carryover heat from the oven and the prolonged resting time will kill potential pathogens and make it safe for eating. We cooks call that process time pasteurization vs. temperature pasteurization. My cook time in my convection oven is in the 3 to 3-1/2 hour range. The best way is to start temping the turkey after 2-3/4 hours and every 15 minutes thereafter. The final internal temperature should show 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and then the turkey should be rested for 30 minutes on the kitchen counter loosely covered with aluminum foil.
Whole turkey roasting?
To make sure that your turkey is evenly cooked in terms of the legs and the breast, I actually prefer to cut the turkey legs off. Roasting the breast on the turkey's rib cage with the cut-off legs alongside it never disappointed me. If you like your turkey to be roasted whole, you can do that too. It’s a matter of preference: perfect moisture vs. the whole beast look.
The following steps below will guide you through my perfect recipe for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday.
Keep in mind the turkey cooking process will take approximately 4-1/2 hours.
This Year’s Perfect Turkey
(all steps are for a 16-18 pound turkey)
1st step: Brine
1/2 cup sea salt, such as Baline
1 gallon cold water
1) Combine salt and water and mix with a whisk to dissolve the salt.
2) Place turkey in a large enough container and pour salt/water mix over the turkey. Brine turkey for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Chef’s Tip: In case you’re working with a smaller container, turn the turkey upside town so the legs and breast are totally submerged in the brine.
2nd step: Spice Rub
3 bay leaves, crumbled between fingers
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon sweet paprika powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
20 grindings black pepper from a mill
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1) In a small bowl combine all ingredients and mix with a table fork to a paste.
2) Place turkey into a roasting pan. With your fingers, separate the space between the skin and the meat. It should be done carefully so as to not tear the skin.
3) Evenly distribute the spice mixture on the turkey breast and legs under the skin.
Chef's Note: Keep one tablespoon of the spice rub mixture for the pump solution.
Chef's Tip: Before I rub the spices under the skin I prefer to cut the legs off. In my opinion it makes a moister, more evenly cooked turkey.
3rd step: Inside-Out Pasting
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon of the spice rub (above recipe)
4 oz butter, cold
1) In a small sauce pot bring the vinegar and maple syrup to boil. On medium heat reduce liquid by 50% so it will yield 1 cup.
2) In a pot bring 1/4 cup of water and the spice mix to a boil on high heat. Move the pot to the side of the stove and let steep for 15 minutes.
3) Strain spice mix/water through a fine mesh sieve into the reduced vinegar/maple syrup mixture.
4) With a whisk incorporate the butter into the warm vinegar/maple/spice mix. Cool mixture on the kitchen counter.
5) Fill the injector syringe with the solution. Insert the tip of the injector pin about halfway into the turkey breast and legs and gently pump the solution into the turkey. It should be done in an even pattern all over the breast and legs. Use every drop of the solution.
4th step: Slow Roasting
1) Place turkey into a cold oven and set temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Cook turkey for 2-3/4 hours, then check with a kitchen thermometer at the thickest part of the breast, which is about 5-inches up from the bottom of the roasting pan at the turkey's breast. Cook turkey until the internal temperature reads 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
3) Let turkey rest for 30 minutes.
Bonus step between step 3 and 4: Crusting the turkey
Go the extra mile by giving the turkey a honey/mustard herb crust.
Once the turkey has reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit, coat the turkey with the following mixture:
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1) In a small bowl combine mustard, honey and herbs with a table fork.
2) With a brush, evenly coat the turkey legs and breast with the mustard mixture.
3) Press panko bread crumbs onto the turkey breast and legs gently.
4) Continue to cook until the thermometer shows 150 degrees Fahrenheit.