How far are you willing to go for Perfect Turkey? By perfect I mean crisp, browned skin over juicy, flavorful breast meat. I’m willing to go pretty far, although I draw the line at roasting the turkey breast-side down (so the breast collects juices) and then flipping the buttery, 14-18 lb, 350-degree bird over to finish roasting. It’s supposed to be incredible, and I’m sure it is, but I have other, very simple, and far (!) less dangerous methods that turn out a gorgeous, juicy bird.
So here you go, Perfect Turkey Tips:
First, and these days not at all unusual – brining, aka soaking the (thawed or fresh) turkey in salted, seasoned water, in the refrigerator, for 10-24 hours. What a difference it makes in flavor and texture (juiciness!) and it really is so easy, especially with the big plastic brining or roasting bags you can pick up at the grocery store.
Second, and now we’re getting at the two must-dos for achieving nicely browned, crisp skin – air-dry the bird, on a rack, in the refrigerator, overnight before you roast it. Wet, soggy skin does not get nicely crisp, as you might imagine. The turkey’s got to sit in the fridge anyhow, obviously, so like brining this is an easy step. Put a couple of cookie racks over a baking sheet, put the (already brined) bird on it, uncovered, and in she goes for a good night’s chill.
Third, and again toward nicely browned, crisp skin – correct basting. That means don’t baste with the juices in the bottom of the roasting pan. Why? They’re wet, those juices, and you just bothered to air-dry the skin, so why make it soft and soggy all over again? Do baste with melted butter (add herbs for extra flavor, if you like). Hot fat = crispy skin. Yeah baby! Mmmm. (How to time the brine and air-dry? Brine overnight Tuesday, air-dry overnight Wednesday. Voila. If the turkey is frozen? Start thawing it in the fridge today, it takes more than 24 hours.)
Fourth, and also easy – loosely cover the breast with foil for the first two hours of roasting. In fact, if the breast is browning nicely under the foil, keep it there the entire time. The shield it provides keeps the breast from cooking faster than the rest of the bird, which it tends to do (and is often why breast meat is overly dry).
So. Let me know if you try any of these ideas. Can you tell I’m going over my notes, making my plan for dinner? It’s going to be just the four of us, here, this year. I usually spend Thanksgiving with my aunts Mary and Marge, their families, and my parents and sibs. We rotate houses and menu assignments each year, although the menu is loosely the same – and delicious. I’m so spoiled. My aunts and stepmom are amazing cooks and it is an elegant, gorgeous, fabulous feast, every year. I crave it, in fact. John and my stepdaughter A usually go to NYC to visit his parents and bro, but not this year. So instead of driving out to Willmar and back in a day (dinner is at Marge’s this year), we decided to hang here, the four of us, which we’ve never done before. Cook a pared- down, simple dinner, somewhat tailored to the quirks of my – frankly, weird! – children and husband, none of whom like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, stuffing, or pumpkin pie. Mashed potatoes! Pumpkin pie! Lord, how did this happen? Those are the traditional highlights! But there it is.
Therefore, our menu:
Herb-roasted turkey (I’m NOT making chicken for Thanksgiving, I do have my limits) with pan juices
Stuffing (a tiny amount, for me and whoever else might adventurously try a bite or two)
Crispy oven-roasted potatoes (these will be a huge hit)
Home-made challah bread (as will this, akaRockin’ Challah, pictured below; I can in fact imagine both kids eating mostly bread and potatoes. Fine, because they’re on the menu. John actually made Apasta (!) the first year we hosted Thanksgiving – ah, the lessons of blending families. My aunts will never forget that – needless to say, kids in our, or most anyone else’s family, aren’t prepared their own separate Thanksgiving dinner! We’ve come a long way since then, thank goodness…)
Crunchy cabbage salad with orange vinaigrette, pine nuts, and mint
Warm brownie “pie” with whipped cream (basically, nothing more than brownies baked in a 9-inch round pan, ha; I’m going to use my Fudgy Passover Brownie recipe because it’s so good, my new fav brownie recipe, actually)
I have to admit that it’s nice to not plan appetizers – I figure I’ll make a big batch of popcorn at some point, and that’s about it. And to know that none of us will be stuffed after dinner – should be a relatively light affair. And hey, given the forecast of 55 degrees, we could go for a bike ride afterward! Crazy! But way cool. (Recipes posted in comments, below.)