Food Friday: Turkey

5 11 2010

Very soon, we’ll all be thinking about this tryptophan-filled bird, thanks to our pilgrim ancestors who served this wild bird on the very first Thanksgiving. So for today’s Food Friday, let’s talk about a few tips on purchasing, thawing, stuffing, and roasting that turkey!

Purchasing

  • Choose a turkey that is plump and white, with a round breast-bone.
  • If you’re choosing from the farm, hens and toms are usually about of equal tenderness, but you’ll usually pay less for a tom.
  • Choose a large turkey, rather than two small turkeys, as you’ll get more meat per pound. However, if you’re interested in shorter cooking times and double the ever popular drumsticks, go with two birds.
  • A “fresh” turkey means it’s chilled, but not frozen. A natural turkey omits any synthetic or artificial colorings or chemicals. If you’re hosting those who keep kosher, you might consider one marked prepared under rabbinical directions. A “basted” turkey has been injected with a liquid, usually broth, stock, water, or other fats. While this provides moister, it can add weight to your price.
  • You’ll want leftovers, so plan for a whole turkey if you’re serving around 6 to 12. A bone-in cut should serve up around 1/2 pound and the boneless cuts, 1/3 pound. A 12-pound turkey will yield about 16 cups of cooked meat.
  • For whole turkeys or breasts, plan to buy just a couple of days before preparing, as you can refrigerate in the original wrapping and not have to worry about defrosting.

Thawing

  • Thaw at 40F or below to prevent bacteria from growing.
  • It’s best to thaw in the refrigerator in advance. Allow 24 hours per 5 pounds.
  • You can thaw your turkey in a cold-water bath, but be sure it’s in leakproof packaging before submerging in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until thawed. You’ll need about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Cook your turkey immediately.
  • If you’re in a big hurry, dig out your microwave instruction book and follow the directions. Then immediately cook your turkey to prevent bacteria from forming.

Preparing

  • Remove your turkey from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to cook.
  • Remove the giblets, neck, and liver from the body and neck. Rinse off the turkey and pat dry with paper towels inside and out.
  • Season with salt, pepper, seasonings, or onions.
  • Pull the skin over the neck and skewer while you tie the legs and tail together. Twist the wings to the back.
  • Brush the exterior with melted butter or oil and season with more salt and pepper. For a Southern twist, cover the turkey with strips of smoked bacon and secure with toothpicks.
  • For a golden-brown basted turkey, soak a couple layers of cheesecloth with butter or oil and cover the turkey as you roast. Remove the cheesecloth about 30 minutes prior to roasting time for a nice crisp exterior. This should practically baste it for you!
  • Using an oven-cooking bag can reduce your turkey’s roasting time by up to an hour. It gives you a beautiful bird.
  • Don’t let the raw turkey juices touch your finished bird.
  • Wash those hands, utensils, and dishes immediately with hot water and soap!

Roasting

  • Your turkey will cook faster in a large, dark pan.
  • Roast the turkey at 325F and increase the temperature to 400 during the last 10 minutes to get a nice, crisp brown skin.
  • Start your turkey breast side down, and flip it halfway through the cooking time to cook it faster.
  • Adjust your cooking time depending on whether your turkey is refrigerated or frozen, allowing a little more time for a frozen bird. An unstuffed turkey should take around 2-3 hours for 10 pounds or so. A stuffed turkey will take 3 – 3 1/2 hours. Breast should take 2-3 hours.
  • Fully cook your turkeys. Never allow it to be partially cooked to finish later. That’s just asking for food poisoning!
  • Speed up the process by covering the turkey.
  • If your breast is cooking too quickly, cover with foil and continue roasting so it evens with the thigh.
  • Baste your turkey only once per hour. For each time you open the oven, heat is lost and cooking time is lengthened as well as toughening the skin.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check your doneness. Oftentimes the pop-up timers found in the birds can be unreliable. Check to see if it’s done around 1/2 hour before it’s due. Insert a thermometer at its thickest part of the thigh. It should read 175F. Your breast should read 165F, stuffed or unstuffed.
  • For an extra juicy turkey, remove the bird when the thermometer reads 160-163. The residual heat will continue to cook the bird once it’s been removed from the oven. Make sure your juices run clear, and no pink remains.
  • Let the turkey stand at room temperature for around 20 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute through the bird, making it easier to carve and nice and juicy!

Storing

  • For a cooked turkey, you can refrigerate for up to 4 days. Then slice the remaining turkey and freeze it for up to 4 months. Feel free to freeze it covered in gravy and freeze the gravy right along with it.  However, if you’d like to purchase your turkey and freeze it, double wrap the turkey and it can be frozen for 3 months.
  • Remove stuffing from the turkey before storing leftovers.
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