Our resident TopChef and cooking advisor has some Turkey tips for you this holiday season…… It’s just my husband and I in our household, so I rarely make turkey. Perhaps a turkey breast now and then, but never a whole turkey. Besides I never needed to. Thanksgiving was always celebrated at my uncle’s house with fried turkey, a regular turkey and usually a pig as well since most Cubans think pig should be eaten at all holidays. Anyway they have now moved out of State and I am in charge of the Turkey for Thanksgiving. I found myself having all of these question – like how long do I have to defrost it? How big of a turkey do I need, etc.
I figured I can’t be the only one with this dilemma, so I’ve done my research and would like to pass it onto anyone that needs it.
As to how big of a turkey to purchase? Most sites I visited recommend 1 pound per person. Give yourself 2 days to thaw the turkey. Marinate the turkey at least one day before to make sure flavors set in – but to marinate the turkey, it has to be completely defrosted first. So wait, that means I need to defrost the turkey in the fridge 3 days before Thanksgiving (November 21st) in order to marinate 24 hours before cooking on the 23rd. Of course if you have a larger turkey, then you will need more fridge time. For example a 17 to 20 pound turkey should sit in the fridge for 4 to 5 days.
While on the subject of marinating, it is great if you have an injector to make sure you get the flavors into all the grooves. If you don’t, try to stick your hand under the skin around the breast area and rub. You can season with whatever you’d like. We use a little fresh rosemary and thyme as well as plenty of garlic powder and naraja agria (sour oranges sold next to the mojo in most grocery stores.) I want to research other options, but that is for another post.
Let the turkey sit out 1 hour before putting in the oven. The “experts” said that would ensure the turkey would cook evenly from skin to bone. Oh yes and don’t forget to stick your hand into the turkey and remove the bag with all of the miscellaneous parts in it.
Good thing I have reminders on my iPad for all of this as I am already stressing about all of these details and deadlines.
Pre heat your oven to 450 degrees. Melt some butter and rub it into the skin, and cook the turkey at this temperature for 20 minutes. Then turn down to 300, cover with aluminum foil and roast breast side down for the first hour. Turn and baste, and continue to cook until done. (see temperatures below)
We can all agree that dry turkey is no good, so I am a big fan of basting. I find it reminds me of lab when using the giant sized eye dropper to baste my turkey. But again the experts rained on my parade by stating that over basting is a bad thing. Each time you open the oven door the temperature drops and it prevents the turkey from cooking evenly. But if you don’t have a little window to see in – how will you know the turkey is okay? Furthermore, no one actually tells you how much basting is okay and when you have crossed the line, so I guess I will go with once per hour, although now that they told me not to, I will certainly be tempted to open the oven each time I walk by.
Have a good thermometer. I have one that has a long probe and you open the oven door and put it in, and in a reasonable amount of time you know the temperature. Well they advise against this method again because of the door opening thing noted above. A better option is to have a thermometer that can stay inside your turkey the entire time it is cooking. Do they still make those turkeys with the little while plastic thing that pops up when it’s done? Optimal temperature is 170 degrees for the breast meat and 180 degrees for the dark meat.
The turkey should sit again for at least 30 minutes before carving. This will lock in the juices.
Other useful tips: Make your stuffing separately, and not inside of the turkey. Save the pan dripping to make a wonderful homemade gravy.