Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without a turkey…. and because the Canadian Thanksgiving is today I thought I would post about how I roast a turkey.
Essentially I follow Nigella Lawson’s “Spiced and Super Juicy Roast Turkey” recipe from her Feasts Book (page 10) with a few modifications.
This recipe involves brining the bird overnight, so it needs to be started the day before. Use the best quality turkey you can find – free-range or organic (or both!) for preference, but if all you can afford is a cheap grocery-store frozen turkey, the brining in this method will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the meat.
If your turkey is frozen, you also need to figure in to the timing how long it will take to defrost…. some large turkeys can take up to 5 days in the fridge! I don’t recommend thawing on the kitchen counter as there is a risk of bacteria growth, but there are quick thawing methods that involve submerging the turkey in a bucket of water and letting the cold tap run over it. Never try to thaw a frozen turkey using warm water!
I also roast the turkey breast side down for part of the cooking time. It is almost impossible to get a dried out turkey using this method!
Super Juicy Roast Turkey
Serves lots! (6 in our family with several meals worth of leftovers…)
1 turkey (mine weighed 7.5kg – around 17lb)
For the brine:
1 cup sea salt
4 cinnamon sticks
1 whole bulb of garlic separated into cloves (no need to peel the individual cloves, just get rid of the papery white skin)
3-4 slices root ginger
1 navel orange cut into thick slices
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of mixed fresh herbs tied together (I used parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage)
To cook the turkey:
4 tbsp fat of choice – melted (try coconut oil or bacon fat. You could even use some chicken fat (Schmaltz) if you have it.)
1 navel orange cut in half
1 onion cut in half
1 large bunch of mixed herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano)
2-3 bay leaves
4-5 cloves of garlic
Take your turkey out of any packaging (first noting the weight as that affects the cooking time – there is a handy table for how long to cook your turkey here). Next you need to feel around inside the cavity for any giblets that may be in there. I found the neck, heart, liver and gizzard in mine this year. You nearly always get the neck, but the other giblets may vary. Set these aside in the fridge in a covered dish as they will be used to make the gravy.
Place a small amount of boiling water in the largest cooking pot that you own (or a bucket/container big enough to hold the turkey) and add the salt. stir well to dissolve the salt. Then add enough water to cool it down. Add all the spices, herbs and the orange slices, then put the turkey in the brine and top it up with more cold water and ice until the turkey is fully submerged.
Place the turkey in your fridge until ready to cook it. If you can’t fit the turkey and it’s brining container in the fridge, find the coolest place you can. One year, I stored our Christmas Turkey in the garage… I guess it was a little cold, because the turkey and it’s brine froze overnight! This year, the turkey and it’s container (the biggest pan I own that I use for making bone-broth) fit quite nicely.
When ready to cook the turkey, remove it from it’s briney bath and let it sit on the countertop to dry the skin slightly while you prepare all the onion, orange, garlic and herbs that will be used to cook it.
Pat the skin dry, then push the orange, onion, herbs, garlic and bayleaves up inside the cavity.
Season the skin well with salt and brush with the melted fat.
Tuck the wingtips underneath the back and the ends of the drumsticks into the skin at the tail to secure them. This helps to keep the turkey in a nice compact shape which means it roasts more evenly, and saves the need for complicated trussing.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place an oven rack in the largest roasting tin you own and place a sheet of foil on that. I then like to add a layer of parchment paper to stop the aluminum foil being in contact with the food.
Now you place the turkey breast side down on top of the foil and parchment paper. The reason for doing this is that most of the fat in a turkey is around the back, and cooking it breast side down allows this fat to melt and permeate the breast. It keeps it more juicy even if it does squish the breast a little.
Pop the turkey in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes.
After this time, turn the heat in the oven down to 180°C/350°F. Using a clean pair of oven-mitts, turn the turkey right side up, covering the breast with the foil and parchment paper and return to the oven.
Cook for 3-4 more hours, removing the foil and paper after 2 hours to allow the breast skin to brown. If it appears to be browning too fast, cover it with foil and paper again.
If your turkey is a different weight to mine, it will need a longer or shorter cooking time. There is a handy table here that tells you how long to give it. But always plan on using a meat thermometer to test if it is done as ovens vary widely in how fast they cook food.
Cook like this until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast and thighs is 82°C/180°F when measured with a meat thermometer. Because I am paranoid about having an undercooked turkey, I tend to measure the temperature in several places throughout the breast and thighs, usually at least 6 different places, and if one comes out lower than I expect it goes back in the oven for a time.
Once you are satisfied that the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest in a warm place covered in more parchment paper and foil and several towels for at least an hour.
This resting period is the ideal time to turn the heat up in the oven to roast the veggies and cook everything else that you are serving. It is also the perfect time to make the gravy using the pan juices and any giblet/neck cooking juices.
Make sure you save any drippings in the pan, as they get used to make the gravy.