Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Turkey Tip #3 - Preparing the Bird for the Oven and Cooking!

Lets talk about getting that bird ready to hit the heat. Many people still stuff their birds with stuffing. I stopped doing this a last year. One reason was the added length in cooking time required to get a stuffed bird cooked all the way through. This added time gives the white meat more opportunity to dry out. Definitely not a good thing. I was a little concerned as to how I would get the great turkey flavour into the stuffing, (which, when cooked outside the bird is called "dressing") but not to worry. I use my turkey baster to get the pan drippings out of the pan and onto the dressing either during the last hour of cooking if I am doing the dressing and the turkey in the oven at the same time or, if I have to do the dressing after the turkey because there simply isn't enough room for both, I siphon off some pan drippings when I take the turkey out and drizzle them over the dressing before it goes in the oven. I'll pass along my dressing recipe as a separate post.

Once you've rinsed off the salt coat from the night before, pat the turkey dry. Now it's time to get it ready for it's big day in the oven. I cut up some celery, onions, lemons and herbs to put inside both the body cavity and the neck cavity of the bird. The herbs I use are fresh thyme, rosemary and sage. If you don't have fresh use dried. You'll need dried in a minute anyway so if you want to save money and time, just buy dried. Cut the veggies into large 1 inch chunks. Before you stuff these goodies in the body cavity, check around the skin flaps and see if there are chunks of fat. If so, remove them. You will add your own moisture to the bird so you don't need these adding more grease to the mix.

Mix your dried herbs, thyme, rosemary, sage, summer savory, poultry seasoning, whatever, with a good amount of Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. I usually mix up about 1/2 cup of olive oil and a squeeze of half a lemon with about 2 tbsp of dried herbs. This is your basting mix. Spread it all over the turkey before it goes in the oven. You will use this to baste the bird every 20 to 30 minutes while cooking.

We have one more important step. Keeping the breast meat moist. The brining you did the night before will help but it won't be enough. Some people put cheesecloth over the breast meat at the beginning of cooking, some put bacon strips over the breast meat. I put butter mixed with herbs under the skin. Not a lot! For this 22 pound bird I used about 4 tablespoons. I have a 12.5 pound bird for Christmas dinner and I will only use 2 tablespoons for it. Mix the butter with the herbs and shove it under the skin. Make room between the skin and meat before you go in with the butter. It's easier if you have the space ready. This and basting will keep your meat moist!

And now - to the oven. I start mine at 425 for the first 30 minutes, uncovered. Then I baste, reduce the heat to 350 and tent foil over the bird. I cook it until the meat themometer says 180 degrees or until a leg gets loose. I usually do the leg method as I don't always have a themometer handy. Jiggle the leg, if it starts to give way from the body easily, it's done! And there should be no bloody juices coming from the bird. DO NOT CUT INTO THE BIRD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The meat must rest for at least 20 minutes after you take it out of the oven otherwise you will open it up, let all the juices out and end up with a dry bird. Blah!

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