How To Cook the Perfect Turkey: Advent Calendar Day 3
We’re just coming out from under a heap of Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, but unlike many Americans we’re going to miss those suckers because this year I managed to cook the Most Incredible Turkey Known To Humankind – moist, succulent, and bursting with flavour, with a delectable burnished skin and not a trace of sawdust or cardboard.
This was the best turkey, avocado, bread sauce, gravy and mango chutney sandwich in the history of turkey, avocado, bread sauce, gravy and mango chutney sandwiches.
I take no personal credit for this superhuman feat, as all we did was gather advice from Alton Brown, Saveur Magazine, the Kelly Bronze website and various wonderful Facebook friends and squoosh it all together. It ended up so good though that we made detailed notes for posterity.
Buy the most fabulous turkey you can afford: TMITKTH was a 14 lb heirloom turkey. If you’re in the UK, Kelly Bronze turkeys are definitely worth the extra expense in my experience and I believe they are now becoming available for sale in the Eastern US.
Brine your turkey: I know this is not very usual outside of the US but believe me it makes all the difference. We adjusted this recipe from Saveur Magazine to fit our turkey and bucket.
Make a brine with 2tbsp of fresh sage which has been chopped and toasted in a hot dry frying pan (skillet), 2 cups of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 quarts (2 litres) of warm water. Feel free to add other herbs, spices and aromatics, this is just what we did for TMITKTH. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then add another quart/litre of water and leave to cool.
Place your turkey in a clean bucket (we lined ours with a bin liner) add the cool brine and then cover with water and ice. Squash the bird down with the lid of a Le Creuset pot if it’s floating too much.
Leave it overnight in a cool place. We brined ours for 15 hours in the end.
Butter it to within an inch of its life: Dry the turkey thoroughly. Soften at least one stick (120g) butter (the Husband told me afterwards that he had used two sticks, which did seem slightly excessive).
Stir a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh sage, thyme or other herbs into the butter, together with 4 fat minced garlic cloves. Feel free to try other herbs. That’s just what we used for TMITKTH.
Slather the garlic and herb butter all over the turkey and smear a ton under the skin of the breast. Chop a lemon in half and shove into the turkey’s cavities. Tie its legs together. Sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper. DO NOT STUFF WITH STUFFING.
Yeah, I was too drunk and stressed to take a picture of the actual turkey itself. I’m such a crap food blogger.
Roast it on a bed of root vegetables: Quarter two or three onions, chop some big chunks of carrot, halve a head of garlic horizontally and create a ‘rack’ of root vegetables on the bottom of your roasting pan. Add branches of sage, rosemary and thyme. Feel free to experiment with other root veggies and herbs, this is just what we used for TMITKTH. Lay your turkey on your bed of veg BREAST SIDE DOWN.
Cook it FAST: This is what we learned from Alton and the Kelly Bronze website. Long slow cooking creates cardboard birds. This is also why you don’t stuff the bird, as this slows down cooking times.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C). Essentially as hot as your oven will go. ‘Sizzle’ for 30 mins. Then turn down oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and roast for a further 75 mins. Turn turkey over and roast for a further 30 mins or until the internal temp of the thickest part of breast is 165 degrees F (75 degrees C). I do love my meat thermometer. Don’t bother basting as all that does is cool down the oven (thanks Alton) and slow down the cooking time. In fact after turning down the temp we left TMITKTH in the oven and went out to our neighbours for cocktails and appetizers.
When your beautiful burnished bronze bird is ready, take it out of the oven and rest it for about 45 mins covered in foil.
Make The Most Delicious Gravy Known To Humankind: Strain all the roasted root vegetables and pan juices through sieve. I hoiked out most of the onions as I don’t like my gravy to be too oniony and took out the carrots to serve as an extra side. Pour off most of the butter. Add the juices back to roasting pan and smoosh the roasted garlic head with the back of a fork so that the super soft garlic puree oozes out into the juices. Remove the papery garlic skins. Warm the juices on the stove and sprinkle over 2-3 tablespoons flour, whisk all the time until smooth. Add a generous slosh of white wine, dry vermouth or white port and strained home made giblet stock or other good quality chicken stock. (simmer the giblets from the turkey for about three hours in about a pint of water with half an onion, a chunked up carrot, some garlic cloves, parsley stems and peppercorns). Bubble the gravy until thick, whisking all the time to avoid lumps.
To make up for not having an actual turkey pic in this blog post, here are some gratuitous pictures of the apple pie I made, after working a little bit of paste food colouring into the pastry. I was delighted with how that turned out.