Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Cook a Turkey: Part One

A Practice Run for Christmas:

We cook a lot of turkey in my house.  We don't consider it just for the holidays.  So when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas there is no stress. I can cook a turkey.  In my sleep.  Over the years, I've tried several different techniques to see if I can improve on what I usually do.  A couple of weeks ago, when the turkeys started showing up on sale in the grocery stores, I picked up a 13 pound frozen bird.

In my 56 years, I've had smoked turkey, deep fried turkey, turkey cooked at a very high temperature -- flipping every 20 minutes or so, turkeys roasted low and slow.  Daughter Jessi cooks her turkey upside down -- which I've never had much luck with.  I've had beer can turkey on a grill and in the oven.  I've had wild turkey.  But this time, I wanted a turkey that would be moist and edible after the initial hogging out.  I wanted turkey that was moist when cold.  Ah ---

Whenever I'm in the mood for something new, I think back to "the best I ever had."  And this year, I racked my memory for the best turkey recipe and I'm almost embarrassed to tell you...

Back around 1988 we met my husband's old SEAL buddy "Fats" and his family in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  The deal was that Fats and Jack would re-roof the Uncle's house.  In exchange for the roof, Fat's wife and myself along with our 4 kids would stay in a house on the beach.  Sounds like a good deal to me and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  The roof was to be installed over Thanksgiving week.  The Aunt invited us all for Thanksgiving dinner.

I was a little concerned when I stepped into the kitchen to see if I could help out with the preparations and found the turkey in a microwave oven.  This is back when microwaves were big monsters that could hardly fit on a counter.  I looked in the microwave and the turkey, wrapped in some kind of plastic was going round and round.  I prepared myself for the worst turkey ever. 

Imagine my chagrin when the turkey was brought out, carefully lifted from the plastic bag and placed on an antique serving platter, a lovely roasted brown with oozing juices.  This turkey was so moist that it spoiled me forever.  Wings (my fave) were NOT over done, the legs (usually difficult to keep moist) were juicy and succulent.  The breasts were shameful in their plumpness and perfection.  Usually I like the sides best, but that year I couldn't get enough turkey.

While I don't even know if they make microwaves big enough to hold a turkey anymore, I thought that I would try the oven bag technique in my conventional oven.  I already had a box of the Reynolds Oven Bags in the pantry so why not.  I went to the Reynolds Oven Bag website to see if there were any tips or tricks that would make it fool proof.  Here's a link and there is a really wonderful video on how to make the perfect turkey in an oven bag:

You know how sometimes you watch things or read things and you think "Easy Peasy" and then you get into it and it turns into a nightmare?  Not this.  It really is as simple as it sounds.  Really.  Let me tell you how I did it:

  • Don't even get me started on long it took to thaw my turkey.  I keep my refrigerator pretty cold.  That started out of habit when my son was still living at home.  He adored his milk hurt-your-teeth ice cold.  But anyway, thaw the bird.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • You'll need a pan that is at least two inches deep.  My turkey was 13 pounds and fit perfectly fine in a 13 x 9 x 2 pan -- that's right, the kind of pan you make a cake in.
  • Take 1 tablespoon of flour, and toss it in the bag.  Grab the opening and shake the flour all around.
  • Place the bag on its side, in the pan with the opening of the bag to the side.  In the bottom of the bag, I tossed a couple of stalks of celery, a couple of carrots and two onions cut in half.  You will not be eating these vegetables.  They will help keep the back of the turkey up out of the juices and also lend their flavor to those juices that you can turn into the best gravy ever.  I cooked the neck bone separately, but you could put that in the bottom as well.
  • Make sure you check both cavities of the turkey for bags of giblets and the neck bone.  Remove. 
  • Remove the little plastic pop up timer. 
  • Dry turkey with paper towels.
  • Using your hands or a pastry brush, rub oil or butter into the skin of the turkey.
  • You can use your own favorite seasonings, but I use salt, pepper and paprika.  I thought I might need the paprika to help with the color, but I think it would have been fine without it.
  • It's okay to leave the legs just the way they were when you got it or you can tie them up.
  • Place the turkey in the Oven Bag.  Close it up with the included ties.  Cut 6 half inch slits in the top of the bag.  Tuck all the bag loosely into the pan. 
  • Place pan on bottom rack in oven.
  • It is recommended that you follow the roasting timetable that is included with the Oven Bags rather than the roasting timetable that comes with your turkey.
The Oven Bag takes just about 1 hour off of the roasting time.  The time wasn't that big of a deal, it was the moistness that I was looking for.

2.25 hours later, my turkey was done to perfection.  And the juiciness and beauty is unforgettable. And I did NOT start with a premium turkey.  Just an old store brand, Winn Dixie frozen turkey.  I also didn't stuff the bird.  It's just way easier to make it on the side.

Since I made the turkey in the middle of the day, I let it rest lightly tented on the counter and proceeded to make the gravy.  First I discard the spend celery, onions and carrots.  Then I poured the contents from the bag into a large bowl.  I tore the bits of meat off the neck bone.  I was able to skim the fat after it rest for about a half an hour, leaving behind the juices and other delicious tidbits.  And by this time I had already rinsed out the roasting pan -- how great was that.  I made my gravy in my big frying pan which was much easier that trying to use two burners under  the roasting pan. 

So what I'm trying to say is that this was the best turkey and the best gravy I've ever had in my 56 years of life.  AND it was the easiest.  So if you're tired of stressing over a turkey, worrying about over cooking it, under cooking it, or ending up so dry that it resembles that turkey from Christmas Vacation, I hope you'll give the Oven Bag technique a try. 

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