Until this Thanksgiving, I’d never cooked my own turkey before. This is mostly because my dad makes a pretty mean turkey, and when I was away at school, there weren’t generally enough meat-eaters around to warrant an entire turkey. But this year, Matthew’s family asked if I wanted to cook the turkey for their thanksgiving dinner. There’s no time to cook your first turkey like a giant dinner with almost 20 people. No pressure!
Anyway, I accepted the offer, and began my research. There are many ways to cook a turkey and much dispute as to the best way. As for me, I like turkey, but I don’t love turkey. I’ll pass on white meat any day. It’s always too dry for my taste. Even a perfectly cooked bird is just okay for me. So, I think this made me the perfect person to cook a turkey. I am, er, discerning when it comes to turkey.
In the end, I decided on a few things to ensure a juicy bird.
I figured if you want a good bird, you have to go to the source. So I ordered a turkey from Rowe farms. Fresh, free range and grain fed. And I paid a pretty penny for it too. I’m not entirely sure if it was worth the money, or if I’d spend the same amount on a turkey again in the future. It’d be interesting to do a side-by-side taste test with a grocery store turkey prepared the exact same way.
Initially I was going to brine the turkey for optimum juiciness. But after doing some research, I decided to try a dry-brine, or salt rub. This involves rubbing the turkey with salt, and herbs if you want, a few days ahead of time, and letting it sit and season. Apparently the salt draws out the juices and then redistributes them throughout the turkey, along with the flavours from the seasoning, while a regular brine just infuses the bird with water giving it kind of an artificial juiciness. I threw some sage, thyme and rosemary into the food processor and combined the herbs with the salt. I did this thursday evening, and took it out sunday morning. Then I rubbed it under the skin with an herb butter: garlic, sage and thyme.
Unfortunately, this is also the point at which I forgot to continue taking pictures, because I was in a bit of frenzy getting ready. SORRY SUCKERS.
My next decision, concerning cooking method, was one I debated about until the last minute. But in the end I decided to go for it: I cooked the bird breast side down for the first hour. I also, for the first 35 minutes or so, cooked it at a higher temperature, about 425 degrees, then lowered it to 325. Then I flipped it over for the rest of the cooking time and basted it every once in while from there on out.
However, I didn’t plan for my giant 23 pound turkey to cook in a mere two and a half hours! But my digital thermometer did not lie, and after checking it several time in several places, that bird was cooked b 2:30 in the afternoon, and we weren’t due to be going over to his grandparent’s place for another 2 hours! So I wrapped the turkey in some tin foil, and covered it back in the roasting pan, and it stayed reasonably warm until it was time to eat!
Of course, you can’t have turkey without gravy. Now, while I may not be turkey’s #1 fan, I may very well be gravy’s. I love gravy. Because I am a healthy person. IT’S MEAT JUICE AND BUTTER.
My dad tipped me off to Jamie Oliver’s Get-ahead gravy recipe. I followed this recipe fairly closely, except that in addition to chicken wings, I used the neck and giblets from the turkey, and I was maybe a little generous with the red wine. I had Matthew help me strain it, but after it was strained once, we put all the mush into the some cheesecloth and really squeezed all we could out of it.
I also found it didn’t thicken up as much as I wanted it to following Jamie’s method of only adding flour to the pan of roasted meat and veggies, so I also made a beurre manié (mix of flour and butter into a paste) and whisked it into the graving during the finishing step, after you’ve added your roast turkey juices. I was really happy with how this gravy turned out, and I definitely recommend adding the cranberry jelly. It’s the perfect finish.
I also made stuffing to go with my turkey. Though I guess technically it was dressing, since I cooked it separately from the turkey. But I’m not going to write about it, because while it turned out fine, it wasn’t really anything that exciting, and in fact, I messed it up and had to do a little damage repair.
Rest assured, despite the lack of pictures, it was beautiful thing, this turkey. It may have been the juiciest white meat I’ve had yet! I was pretty happy with it, and would make it using this method again, for sure. And, the best part is that Matthew’s Nonno declared my turkey a success part way through the meal, AND once again after the meal was over. So I guess I’m allowed to stick around!