Thursday, November 14, 2013

Let’s Talk Turkey!

Different holidays prompt the funniest questions from home chefs. I came across one at Easter that admitted to having to google how to make hard boiled eggs, year after year. That got me thinking that the same might be true when it comes to turkey prep on Thanksgiving.  The truth is, not many people roast a magnificent, heavy bird on a regular basis, and come November perhaps some of us have forgotten how. This 2nd blog in my 2013 Thanksgiving series is on brining and other important steps in roasting your turkey to perfection.

So without further adieu….

I prefer fresh, organic turkey. It’s hardly a shock—but I find they cook in half the time of a frozen bird and are tender and juicy, beyond compare; the best bird I ever had was a 24 pounder we nicknamed Harry. He was fresh off the farm and overflowed the roasting pan. I prepared him using my age-old recipe in At Home in the Kitchen for Herb and Sherry Roasted Turkey with Savory Gravy—click the recipe link for step by step instructions with juicy photos!

This year I ordered mine from New Life Farm in Boon, NC—way, way in advance of November. I called New Life just to chat with the farmer-in-chief about how hard it is to come by a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving. It turns out, he sold out in September! He says that the average weight of (one of his) free range turkeys is around 16 pounds. He raised and sold about 50 turkeys this season, and saved one for his family, which he plans to brine for up to 2 hours in salt and herbs and smoke on a Green Egg grill. YUM! He recommended Bare Essentials as another place to find a competitively priced bird, at around 3.95 per pound.  If you’ve ordered through New Life, you can pick up the star centerpiece to your Thanksgiving at the Watauga Farmers Market, or simply pick it up at the farm. These birds really must be good, as Cory told me that he’s been asked to supply Bare Essentials with all their turkeys next year. Congrats to New Life! I’m proud to be a customer : )

Here are some other places (in North Caroline & beyond!) that know how to talk turkey:

·         --The Fresh Market (click the link to start an order)
·         --Whole Foods
·         --Trader Joe’s (hey, South Florida friends—have you checked out the 1st TJ’s in Pembroke Pines??)

All that being said, I realize not everyone could lay hands on a fresh turkey and may have to welcome a frozen one; just make sure to follow the USDA guideline of thawing it properly, in the refrigerator or very cold water, around 40 degrees; the formula for thawing is one day for every 4 to 5 pounds. In cold water, rather than the fridge, you can cut that time in half—about 30 minutes per pound; a big cooler with ice just might do the trick.

Here are some other important things to remember when you’re talkin’ turkey….  

     Add flavor to your turkey with moisture! Get a juicy finished product by making sure that most of the flavor enhancements going into your turkey are moist, i.e. honey, butter, molasses, citrus juices and broths. I’ve always rubbed the turkey up and under with herbed butter. Soaking the flavor in a brine solution works wonders too. 
·        Let your turkey rest about 1 hour after it comes out of the oven. It’ll be moister and easier to carve once you’re ready to dig in.   About brining….You want to soak the turkey in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey, adding 1 ½ cups salt per gallon of water. The water must be cold—once again, at about 40 degrees.

This Simple Brining Solution Makes for a Really Juicy Outcome!

Use 3 cups cider, 2 gallons cold H20, 8 sprigs fresh rosemary, 5 cloves garlic, ¾ cup Kosher salt, 2 cups brown sugar, 3 tablespoons peppercorns, 5 whole bay leaves and about 3 quartered oranges with the  peels still on.

My turkey roasting technique…

I preheat the oven to 450, place the turkey in the oven and immediately reduce heat to 325 degrees. Cooking time is 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Add five minutes per pound if the bird is stuffed—for some excellent variations on stuffing, check out this link on the Food Network, who snagged me with their cranberry, caramelized onion and goat cheese stuffing recipe—might just have to try that one, in addition to my foolproof White Raisin Stuffing that I can’t wait to try with a bottle of Pinot Grigio. For the gravy, I defer to my blog post from November, 2011.

So get crackin’, home cooks and call or write immediately if you want my help—I’ve cooked my share of turkeys. In fact, an exact number of how many might just depress me. Good thing, I’ve got another blog on choosing the perfect wine on the November blog publishing schedule—look for that one on November 23, 2013.  Cheers!

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