Saturday, November 14, 2015

Roasted Turkey ~ Pictorial Step by Step

Nothing is more daunting to the uninitiated than the first Thanksgiving turkey. While I've posted my trials and test on best turkey technique previously (which you should read to fully understand what you are doing and why), I've still had many questions from those trying to follow my recommendations. So this year I'm doing a simple pictorial step-by-step guide. This surely will produce the best roasted turkey you've ever encountered.

Julian's Turkey
What You Will Need
  • turkey, fresh preferred (15-20 pounds)
  • brine mixture, or 20 ounces salt and 2 gallons of water
  • brining bag or a large pot and possibly a cooler (see notes below)
  • 2 large carrots, 2 celery stalks, 1 medium onion
  • poultry seasons
  • salt and pepper
  • package of cheesecloth
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 bottle (750ml) white white
  • 2-3 tablespoons flour, for gravy
  • roasting pan and roasting rack
  • basting bulb or large spoon
  • silicon oven mits
  • gravy fat separator
  • ingredients for dressing/stuffing (optional)
  • ingredients for glaze (below and optional)

2 days ahead (Tuesday morning, for Thanksgiving Dinner)
Make the Brine (and defrost the turkey if using frozen)
Brine Ingredients
You should make the brine ahead so it has to cool before use. You can use a package brine mix, or make your own. There are many good recipes online and I like the one by Ree Drummond, but really any recipe will work well.  Just remember that you need 10 ounces of salt (by weight) per gallon of water. Salt crystal sizes mean that it will weigh differently so do not just substitute dry measures for weight. Weigh the salt. For a turkey of 15-20 pounds you will need two gallons of brine, and to that you can add additional water if needed to cover the turkey. If you just want to use salt and water, that will work fine too. Bring about half a gallon of water to a boil and add 20 ounces of salt, stir until dissolved and let cool. Refrigerate for tomorrows use. When ready to use, add the remaining water (1 1/2 gallons) and stir to combine. This will result in two gallons of brine.

Make sure you have a large container or a big heavy plastic bag. They now make bags just for turkey brining, so buy one of those if you like. I got mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond. If you are using a large container make sure it fits into your refrigerator. If you are using a cooler, clean it and make sure the garage is cool enough to maintain the temperature below 40F degrees. If not, be prepared to periodically add ice to the water to maintain a safe temperature.

1 day ahead (Wednesday morning, for Thanksgiving Dinner)
Brine the Turkey


As you can see here, I've put a large zip locked plastic bag into my refrigerator's meat drawer, where I previously had my fresh turkey stored. if you bought a frozen turkey, it must be thawed before you brine it. 


Pour some of your brine into the bottom of the bag or container. Wash the turkey inside and out and place, breast side DOWN into the brine. Set aside the neck, giblets, etc. and refrigerate for later use.


Pour on the remainder of the brine and add water to cover.


Put the brined turkey into the refrigerator or in a cool place where you can maintain temperature to between 32F - 40F degrees.

In the meat drawer, with brine.
Stuffing/Dressing Prep
I assume you will likely be wanting dressing for dinner with the turkey, as it's certainly traditional. I do not recommend stuffing the turkey, as it will slow cooking and make it cook unevenly, causing dry breast meat. So if you are using fresh bread, you can cube it and prepare the bread the same day as you brine the turkey.  I like to use a crusty bread, which could be a French loaf or a Focaccia bread. Cut it into large cubes.


Place the cubes on baking trays and lightly toast in a 250F degree oven for about 45 minutes.


Remove from the oven and let set, uncovered so the bread dries out completely. Drying the bread ensures that it will soak up the broth you will be making to finish the stuffing.  You can finish making the dressing now (the day before Thanksgiving), placing it in a baking dish in your refrigerator for tomorrow's service, if you follow a recipe like mine where all ingredients are pre-cooked on the stove top before mixing together. If you are using any raw ingredients then you should make it only the day you will bake/serve. My recipe for classic Chestnut Stuffing is always a hit!

Now, remove two sticks (1/2 pound) of butter from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for tomorrow's use.

Serving Day (Thanksgiving Day)
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse dry about 1 hour before baking. This permits it to warm up slightly. Make sure it is well dried with paper towels on all sides and inside. Most turkeys in the 15-20 pound range will take 2-3 1/2 hours to roast. See timing on the package for estimates, but remember only temperature should be your guide as to when it comes out of the oven.

While the turkey is coming to temperature roughly chop two carrots, two stalks of celery and a medium onion. Spray the bottom of your roast pan with food release for easy clean up. Add the vegetables and the turkey neck. This will become your gravy base. Add water until the vegetables are about half covered. This will prevent smoking from the drippings as they hit a hot pan. Place a roasting rack into the pan and make sure it is stably seated (i.e., not sitting on vegetables.)



Using room temperature butter, give the turkey a good massage all over with 1/4 pound of butter (1 stick). Get under the skin where you can reasonably do so, and do the skin surfaces as well.


Pre-heat the oven to 425F degrees. Season the turkey all over. You can use any seasonings you prefer. Many people use the pre-mixed poultry seasoning and that will work just fine. You may also just want to use salt and pepper. Whatever you use make sure you also do inside the body cavity. 


Tie the legs together with butchers twine, or tuck them into the skin fold or metal clasp they often provide in a dressed turkey. Tuck the wing tips under the bird as shown in the image above, then place the turkey breast side DOWN onto the roasting rack. Place it in the 425F degree oven for 30 minutes.

While the turkey begins roasting, melt one stick (1/4 pound) of butter and with one 750ML bottle of white wine. This doesn't need to cook, just simply be warmed enough to melt the already soft butter. Once melted turn off the heat and let sit on the warm burner to keep the butter melted. Cut four pieces of cheesecloth big enough to cover the turkey and set aside.


After 30 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Have someone hold the hot roasting pan stable while you turn the turkey over, breast side now up. I like to use silicon oven mits for this task as they can easily be wiped clean. Careful when handling, as the turkey will already be quite hot. 


With the turkey now breast side up, holding the four layers of cheesecloth together, dip them into the wine/butter mixture. Let drain a bit then lay over the turkey covering it completely. Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh area, going down between the leg and the body. Do not allow it to sit on a bone but rather into the meat itself. Place the turkey back into the 350F oven.


After 30 minutes, baste the turkey over the cheesecloth. Close the oven and roast another 30 minutes and baste again. Observe the temperature of the turkey.  If the temperature is already 135F degrees or so, remove the cheesecloth and baste directly on the meat with the wine/butter mixture. If not, baste on the cheesecloth and check again in 30 minutes.

It's necessary to remove the cheesecloth about 30-60 minutes before the turkey will be done if you would like a brown crispy skin. If your timing is off and the cheesecloth is on too long, it's better to remove the turkey with a pale skin then to continue cooking to brown, as this will over cook the meat making it dry. If the color is important to you because it's going to serve as a center piece before carving, a quick painting with my glaze recipe and a few minutes more in the oven will finish it off nicely.

Glaze (optional)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup orange juice, no pulp
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Stir together the above ingredients and paint the turkey. Return to oven for five minutes, baste again, and return to oven for another 5 minutes.

Continue roasting the turkey until the meat thermometer reaches 170-180F at the thigh and 160F at the breast.  Remove from the oven and onto a cutting board with drainage channel (to catch juices that run off.) Lightly tent with foil for 30-60 minutes before carving.

Julian's Roasted Glazed Turkey
Now make the gravy by straining the drippings and vegetables and reserving the liquid. Use a gravy separator to remove the fat. Heat the drippings to a low boil, and separate 1 cup of the liquid and set aside keeping it hot. To the remaining liquid, make a slurry of flour and cold water, and stir in to lightly thicken.

When ready to serve, carve the turkey and place on a platter. Pour the reserved cup of hot turkey broth onto the sliced meat and serve. The gravy is for use on potatoes and stuffing, and on individual turkey servings. The hot broth will keep the carved turkey on your platter moist and warm.

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