Taking on the task of cooking the holiday turkey is no small task and can put a lot of pressure on an individual. Many people will remember a lot of things as you share the holiday season together and celebrate the magic of Christmas and one thing they are sure to remember is the taste of the food.
Now I’m no Gordon Ramsay, although I have worked at an exceptional restaurant that he visited called the Hardware Grill and during that time I asked the former Sous Chef how to cook the perfect holiday turkey and this is what he told me.
1. Brine the Turkey.
Brining is the process of marinating meat for several hours in a solution with a high salt content. Brined Meat is generally more flavourful and tender than meat that is not marinated. The reason being is that the meat soaks up the liquid by osmosis and them releases it slowly during the cooking time. Not only does it shorten your cooking tim as well as add more flavor to the meat but it will also add a ton of flavor to your gravy. One of my favorite brine recipes is called the Holiday Poultry Brine and can be found on About.com or by doing a search on Google.
2. Cook Your Turkey Breast Side Down
Yes you read that right. Only in the cooking shows and magazine photo shoots do they cook the turkey breast side up. By cooking the turkey breast side down, you’ll allow all the turkey to self marinate as all of the drippings will drip down and add flavor to the breast. As well the breast will not get dried out as it will be marinating in the juices of the meat.
3. Cover the Turkey for the First Half of Cooking Time
You’ll want to cover your turkey with either a roasting lid or tin foil to lock in the moisture. However, I would suggest cooking it at 500 F to brown the skin and lock in the flavor. Then lower the temperature to 325 F for the remainder of the cooking time. You’ll want to cook the turkey for about 4 to 5 hours for a 20 lb turkey. Halfway through the cooking time remove the lid and allow the turkey to finish browning.
4. Use a Meat Thermometer.
Many people think a turkey takes longer to cook than it does as I’ve heard some people say a 20 lb bird takes 8 hours, which is twice as long. No wonder it taste more like turkey jerky and show leather as cooking anything for twice as long is sure to dry it out. The only sure fire way to know that a turkey is done is to use a meat thermometer. This are fairly inexpensive and can be purchased in a local grocery store, target, Walmart or even eBay. Since there are so many different factors that will determine how long a turkey takes to cook such as the size of the cavity, the amount of meat on the bone, how long the turkey was allowed to thaw etc etc the best way is to use a thermometer and the finished internal temperature of the turkey should be between 165 F to 170 F.
5. Place an Apple and an Onion in the Cavity of the Turkey
Many people like to stuff their turkeys. Frankly I don’t like to do this. Not only is it messy but there is the danger of food poisoning from the bateria of the bird as it cooks from the outside in and during that time dangerous bacteria can develop. Better to be safe than sorry. Instead I like to place an apple and an onion inside the cavity as this will keep the meat moist during cooking from the steam escaping as well as add flavor to the meat.
6. Cook the Turkey on a Bed of Chopped Carrots and Celery
This will keep the turkey from getting marks on the bottom of it since you are cooking it breast side down. It will also add a lot of flavor to one of the more important aspects of the meal, the gravy. I’ve done this on several occasions and it always turns out better when I do. Sure its a little more work but you only do it once a year and the reward that you’ll get from the uuumms and ahhhhs will be more than worth it.
7. Wrap the legs and wings in foil.
Wrapping the legs and wings in foil will prevent them from drying out. Again its a little more work but its worth it as no one wants to chew on a dry piece of meat. At least I don’t. Wrapping the wings and legs in foil will seal in the moisture and as a result the meat will slip off the bone and guests will be fighting over who gets the limited parts of the turkey.
Again, as I said to you, I’m not Chef Ramsay but I do have a Brother and Sister in Law who absolutely hate eating turkey, however upon tasting my turkey being prepared this way, not only did they have second helpings but also thirds. I’m sure you’re guests will be complimenting and wondering how you prepared such a wonderful meal and you’re bird will be the talk of the town.