How to Cook an Epic Turkey

Turkey.

What every North American thinks about having on the table when it come to holidays.

Not necessarily what Italians think about when we think about the holiday table.

Our holiday table had LOTS of food…but turkey was never one of them.

Fast forward to 2015…I’m married, three grown kids, my chef’s papers and I have never cooked a turkey.

I did a bit of research, told my family I was hosting Thanksgiving and learned how to cook a dang good turkey.

It was awesome!

What I learned was that turkey, on it’s own is, well, bland.

I also learned that a lot of store bought turkeys are pumped with water-based liquids that keep the turkey moist but mess with the “real” turkey flavour.

I visited a local turkey farm and learned everything there was to learn about raising, prepping and cooking turkey.

This is what I learned:

Hints About Cooking the Turkey:
  • Turkeys have hardly any fat which means it’s your job to keep it moist.
  • One foolproof way (although I’ve never done it) is to start the turkey upside-down (breast side down) so the juices get trapped in the driest part, and then flip it over to finish cooking it breast side up!  It can be a bit messy/tricky…if this is your first time roasting a turkey, I wouldn’t suggest you try this now!
  • My go-to way of ensuring a moist breast is to do a bacon weave on top of the breast (more on that further down)…but if you don’t like a wee bit of smokiness, pick another method!
  • Plan on 13-15 minutes of cooking time for every pound of turkey if you are roasting empty (which I recommend…I always cook my stuffing on the side!) and around 15 minute per pound if stuffed.
  • Get more flavour into your bird by throwing some citrus into the cavity (take a look at this post to find out about keeping your lemons for this reason!!)
  • Heat the oven to 450°F to preheat and then drop the temperature to 350°F when putting the turkey into the oven….the higher temperature at the beginning ensures a crispy skin and moist centre (you can even cook the turkey for bout 20 minutes at the higher temp and then lower it).  The bird will brown evenly all around at a lower temperature. If the breast is getting too brown, tent with foil for the last 30 to 45 minutes of roasting.
  • The turkey is done when it registers a minimum of 165° in the thickest part of the thigh…the juices should run clear when you pull the leg away a bit!
  • Make sure you rest the turkey for at least 15-30 minutes before carving….if you don’t, all the essential juices the keep the bird moist will come out (resting gives the liquid a chance to re-absorb into the turkey!).  This is one of the most important steps when roasting a turkey.  When it’s whole, your turkey will stay hot for a few hours after cooking, so don’t freak out – it won’t be cold at the table!
  • While the turkey “rests” is the perfect time to make gravy for serving along side your beautiful bird…simply move the turkey to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Now you can use all those tasty pan drippings for gravy making (I don’t really use a recipe for this…just put the roasting pan right on the stove top, scoop away some of the fat on top, make a slurry [which is some chicken stock and flour mixed together] and then pour it into the pan; stir it well and, over medium heat add chicken stock until it is the thickness you like – and remember to season it with salt and pepper to your taste!).
  • If you would rather not make the gravy the same day and would prefer to make it ahead, that’s totally doable too.  I love using Jamie Oliver’s make-ahead gravy…so smart!!

Everyone buys turkey according to their budget, but if you can afford it, find a local farmer and support their trade.  I found that local farmers are so knowledgeable!! And the turkey is almost always never frozen!

Fresh locally farmed/raised turkeys are awesome but if you buy a frozen store bought turkey, here are some additional tips to make it amazing!

What if you have a Frozen Turkey?
How to Safely Thaw the Turkey

For the best roast turkey, let your turkey completely thaw before cooking. If it was completely frozen when you bought it, the turkey will thaw within a few days in the fridge, (about 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey). For quicker thawing, place the turkey in a cold water bath and change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed.

But if you totally forgot to thaw it (don’t worry)…I got your back:

How to Roast a Frozen Turkey

If your turkey isn’t completely thawed yet, don’t worry! You can roast your frozen turkey and it will turn out fine! If your turkey is still frozen — fully or partially — just hop on over to this frozen turkey tutorial and follow the instructions. You’ll be fine…all is not lost!!

A Few Extra Tips:
Add A Roasting Rack to Your Pan:

Roasting racks help air to circulate around the bird in the oven, which makes for more even cooking and crispier skin. Place aromatic vegetable like onions, carrots and celery in the bottom of the roasting pan to help enhance the flavour of the turkey.

Add Some Liquid and Extras to Kick up Your Gravy: 

Pour some chicken stock (or turkey stock if you have it) in the bottom of the roasting pan. Throw in the turkey giblets, organs and neck (all taken out of the plastic bag they usually come in) along with some aromatic vegetables like carrots, onions, garlic. This step will help you create a tasty gravy for serving your turkey with.

Make Sure you Take Steps to Keep the Breast Moist:

Making sure the breast stays moist while the rest of the bird (the darker parts like the legs) cook all the way through can be tough.  You can baste the breast continuously which will ensure moistness, but for an added layer for protection, I usually place a “bacon weave” on the breast portion.  It’s easy to do and the fat from the bacon will melt into the breast while it cooks, imparting a hint of smokiness and lots of moistness!

Here’s how you do it:

Lay down a piece of parchment and begin laying down the strips…

how to cook a turkey

Lay enough strips together, side by side, to cover the breast (6 thick slices are usually enough); then flip down every other slice.

how to cook a turkey

Then, place another slice the other way and fold down the pieces; then flip up the alternating pieces and add another strip across.

Continue until you have a square big enough to place on the bird; any extra pieces can be used for other purposes or you can tuck them around the wing.

 

Once the weave is done, carefully invert the parchment onto the turkey and adjust the slices if needed, tucking in any unruly pieces.

Make it “Stuffless” and “Trussless”:

You really don’t need to truss your bird! Stuffing the bird’s cavity will increase cooking times and lead to dryer meat – cooking the stuffing in a separate dish and moistening it with turkey gravy at the table will give you the tastiest stuffing!  And an un-trussed turkey always cooks more evenly.  Just tuck the wing tips under the wing so it doesn’t pop out in the oven!

Carve Ahead to Reduce Carving Table Stress:

Carving a turkey is just like carving a roast chicken – it’s just much bigger. It’s really not that hard…you just have to deconstruct the turkey first.  Cut off the large pieces (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, etc.) and slice the meat portion of the larger pieces on a cutting board, and then arrange it nicely on a platter. Pre-slicing makes it easy for guests to help themselves and avoids mess at the table.  You can put the whole bird on a platter, present it to your guests and then bring it back in the kitchen to begin the dismantling process!

If You Don’t Want to Make a Whole Turkey:

Sometimes, making a whole bird doesn’t make sense! Especially if there are only a few of you!  If that’s the case, you can simply lay turkey scallopine on parchment, fill it with your favorite stuffing, wrap it in bacon, secure it with baking twine and bake it.  It is even amazing the next day sliced thinly and in sandwiches!!

 

easy rolled and stuffed turkey scallopine

So, I hope that this eliminates your fear of cooking a giant bird for the fam!  IT really is easy and most of the cooking is hands-off…giving you time to enjoy a cocktail by the fire!!

How To Roast a Turkey

There are so many ways to roast a turkey! Here is a foolproof way and it will ensure your bird is beautifully moist and delicious!!

Ingredients

  • 1 Farm fresh turkey
  • 1 package bacon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bunch parsley, washed

Instructions

  1. About 30 minutes before you begin roasting, take the turkey out of the refrigerator and take out the bag of giblets in the body and neck cavity; place the turkey breast-side up on the roasting rack set in a roasting pan, rub it all with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and let it sit while the oven preheats.

  2.  Now you can make a Bacon weave (see the post for instructions) or you can just layer the bacon on top of the breast which ensures a moist breast because the fat from the bacon will drip into the breast - which often tend to dry out first!).  Keeping the turkey out while you make the weave takes the chill off the meat, which helps the meat cook faster and more evenly. Also, if you decide to not add the bacon, this step of leaving the bird out for a while gives the skin time to dry out, which promotes browning and crisping.

  3. Preheat the oven to 475°F and place the oven rack in the bottom third of your oven, remove any racks above it, and heat to 450°F. When ready to roast, add lemons to the cavity of the bird and pour the broth or water into the bottom of roasting pan.

  4. Place the turkey in the oven and turn down the heat to 350°F (if the breast starts getting too browned toward the end of cooking, shield the breast meat with aluminum foil )

  5. Set a timer so that every 45 minutes, you remove the turkey from the oven, and baste the turkey all over (to baste, tilt the pan if needed and use a turkey baster or spoon to scoop up the pan liquids and drizzle them on top of the turkey). (turkey cooking trivia: basting with pan juices cools the surface of the turkey and slows down cooking, which in turn keeps the breast meat cooking at close to the same rate as the legs and thighs).

  6. Remember as mentioned above, you will need about 13-15 minutes of roasting per pound.  In the last 45 minutes or so of cooking, you can also baste the turkey with melted butter or oil (do this if you feel like the skin isn't crisp enough for your liking....this will turn it a beautiful deep golden brown colour!!)

  7. Once the turkey is about 3/4 of the way cooked,  begin checking the turkey's temperature. Check the temperature in three places: the breast, outer thigh, and inside thigh where the meat should be at least 165°F in all three places when the turkey has finished cooking. If it is under that temperature in any of the places you check, put the turkey back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes, making sure to protect the breast meat with foil if needed to keep it from overcooking

  8. Remove the turkey from the oven and tilt the whole pan so the liquids inside the turkey cavity run out into the pan. Then, lift the whole turkey and transfer it to a clean cutting board. Tent the turkey loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for a minimum of 15-30 minutes.

  9. Carve the turkey in the kitchen to avoid the stress of doing at the table!  USe the same method you would to carve a chicken; removing the wings first, then the thighs, then the breast meat. Once you have the meat off, you can separate the thighs into thighs and drumsticks and carve the breast meat into individual slices.

  10. Don't forget about the leftovers turkey!  Whatever is leftover needs to be refrigerated within two hours of cooking, making sure to pour all the liquids that are at the bottom of the pan back onto the turkey to keep it moist.  Serve later in the day, the next two days or freeze for another time!

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