Let’s face it. Few culinary tasks can scare a newbie (or even a seasoned) cook faster than attempting to cook a turkey. Whether it is the fear of overcooking or under-cooking, stuffing or no stuffing, preparing a great tasting turkey is just daunting. We all want a perfect bird presented at the next family feast. Here we will go over a few simple ideas on how to wow the crowd with turkey.
Make sure you have a large enough bird. Large enough is the key here; you don’t want a turkey so large it won’t even fit into the oven. A good rule to follow is to allow approximately one pound of raw meat per guest. And when choosing your poultry, try free range. Not only is it good environmental practice, a free range bird has matured at a slower rate and allowed plenty of exercise which means tastier meat on your table.
Don’t delay dinner by forgetting to thaw early enough. Give yourself plenty of time to completely defrost the turkey. The best way to do this is by completely taking off the packaging, placing it into a pan, covering it with foil and putting it in the fridge. Counter thawing is never a safe option, but once it is completely unfrozen leave it out to let it warm up for a short period of time so you aren’t placing a super cold bird in your nice hot oven.
Season, season, season. Seriously, it’s a big hunk of meat, it needs seasoned everywhere. A good and tasty way to do this is with butter or good oil (olive oil isn’t high fat enough). Add salt, pepper, herbs, citrus or whatever you like to the butter and rub the bird all over, even under the skin. Many people place strips of bacon over the top of the bird for an extra kick. Another good thing to try is adding aromatic veggies like carrots, celery and onion into the pan along with about half an inch of stock. This will infuse flavor and make the beginnings of really good gravy.
Basting isn’t necessary, and it actually will leave you with a soggy bird. The same goes for stuffing. If you stuff a turkey the stuffing won’t cook evenly and if it’s under-cooked you could get sick. To cook it sufficiently you will overcook your meat. If you want that great presentation, try spooning in cooked stuffing right before you head to the table.
As far as actual cooking temperature goes, everyone seems to have an opinion. Some like low and slow, believing that makes a more moist bird, some like faster and hotter. If you choose lower and slower, try 325 degrees and allow approximately 15-20 minutes per pound. There are many cooking charts available to give you a close estimate on time. This is where you really need to have a thermometer. It should read 165-170 degrees when done.
It actually doesn’t matter how you place the turkey in the pan. Upside down or right side up won’t affect how it cooks. One good idea, though, is to place it on a cooking rack inside the pan to evenly cook around the bird and keep the bottom from getting soggy.
Lastly, let the turkey rest before carving. This seals in the juices and keeps it warm while you finish cooking. Give it at least 15 minutes. If you worry about it cooling off too much, try covering it loosely with foil.
A good looking, great tasting turkey ready to impress with just a few simple steps!