We may be in the breach between the turkey days of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it's never too early to learn better ways to bake the bird. Paul Ward extolls on the benefits of inverting your poultry for better cooking, on the jump. Step by step instructions included.
Which leads to the question -- how do you cook your bird? I tried out Alton Brown's Turkey Triangle this year with some measure of success... but the best for me has been a combination of small bird plus rotisserie cooker. Some of my relations swear by the smoker, and some friends rave over deep-frying. One in particular says the best way to ensure a good bird for the table is to order it from a barbecue company. How 'bout it?
Paul's step-by-step fowl flipping:
In 1984 my sister just finished college and started work in St. Louis. She had to work the Friday after Thanksgiving and thus could not make it home for the holiday. I took Amtrak from LR to St. Louis to spend the holiday weekend with her. She cooked a turkey and I prepared to carve it. I wondered why there was so little meat coming off the bone. I turned it over and realized she cooked the turkey breast-side-down. Years later I read several recipes for roast chicken or turkey that recommended starting the bird breast-side-down to slow the cooking of the white meat and keep it moist. Now I do all roast chickens and turkeys this way.
I’m holding what used to be a white kitchen towel over a roasting pan and rack. Some turkey roasting recipes recommend placing moistened cheesecloth over the breast to keep the breast meat moist and slow its cooking. Dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat, so this method is designed to keep the white meat from overcooking when the dark meat is done.
I don’t have cheesecloth, so I use a kitchen towel. After several Thanksgivings, our “turkey towel” is almost the same color as the skin of the roast turkey. In the days before Thanksgiving, we begin our annual search for the turkey towel.
We used bay leaves, rosemary, and sage from our garden. Moisten the turkey towel with water or white wine, place on your rack, drizzle with olive oil. Place a bay leave and some herbs in the turkey’s large cavity and neck cavity. Add some carrot, celery, and onion. Place more of the same herbs and aromatic vegetables in the roasting pan.
Place turkey breast-side-down on the towel on the rack.
Rub the skin with softened butter or drizzle with oil.
Sprinkle with S & P.
Pour some water or white wine in the roasting pan.
Place in preheated 350 degree oven.
Meanwhile, place onion, carrot, celery, a bay leaf, and the turkey neck in a pot with cold water and bring to a simmer. This will make a turkey stock you’ll use in your gravy.
To baste the bird, melt a stick of butter and add dry sherry and some garlic. Smells great!
After about 1 ½ hours, it’s time to … flip the bird!
Take 2 large ziplock bags, turn them inside out, put them over your oven mitts, and secure with a rubber band. Why inside out, you ask? When done, turn them right-side out and you can put leftover turkey in them. Great for sending relatives off with some leftovers.
Grab the bird and towel and flip. Baste the turkey-towel-covered breast with your butter/sherry mixture. Return to oven.
Check doneness with an instant-read thermometer. Remove when done, tilting bird to let cavity juices run into roasting pan. Place bird on cutting board, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest while you make the gravy.
It may not be pretty, but it tastes good.
You know the gravy drill. Strain and de-fat your turkey stock. Remove vegetables and herbs from roasting pan and de-fat the pan juices*. Deglaze pan with wine or sherry, add de-fatted pan juices and turkey stock, plus additional chicken stock, and reduce. Thicken with a mixture of cornstarch and wine. *or you can make a roux of some of the fat from the drippings in which you cook some flour. After cooking the flour a little bit, add the liquids and heat until thickened. I prefer the cornstarch method because I can reduce the liquids first, concentrating the flavor. And it’s lower in fat than a roux-thickened gravy.