The holidays are my favourite time of year. I love an opportunity to get dressed up, spend time with friends and family and absolutely gorge myself on delicious food. One of my favourite holiday meals is the classic Turkey dinner. In our family, we eat turkey at both Thanksgiving and Christmas (and sometimes Easter) and I will not pass up an opportunity to cook it myself if given the choice. You all already know I love to cook, but preparing a long drawn out meal over many days is my idea of time perfectly spent. Today I’m going to cover the making of the prized turkey. A lot of people don’t like turkey. They think it’s dry, under-seasoned and just overall underwhelming for the amount of effort it takes. I’m going to change all of that for you today. Yes- making the turkey takes time, but the steps are very easy and most of the time is inactive time where you would be enjoying a glass of wine or perfecting your tablescape. So- SHALL WE BEGIN?!
2-3 heads of Garlic
Onions (I use 8-10, your number will depend on the size of your turkey)
White Wine (or chicken stock, or both?!?!)
I would always recommend a fresh turkey over a frozen one. I say this for two reasons- fresh is always better, that’s a fact and I personally do not have the space to de-thaw a turkey over many many days.
48 HOURS BEFORE
I order my turkey from the local butcher every year and pick it up 2 days before the meal (a Thursday if the dinner is Saturday). Two days is still pushing it, but it’s the bare minimum, IMO. Once it’s home, I give it a really good wash with cold water, then I pat it dry with paper towel. Next, I line a baking sheet that will fit in my fridge with a wire rack. I do this so that the bird can release some juices, but doesn’t have to sit in them.
TIP: When you’re salting any meat, put the salt in a bowl on its own so you’re not contaminating the rest of your salt!
I like to add some chopped thyme and rosemary to my brining salt, so I chop those up and put them in my salt bowl. Not a lot, just a small amount. Salt the bird really well, inside and out. Leave no crevice unsalted!
Once it’s salted, place the turkey on your write rack (on your sheet pan) and place it in the fridge, uncovered until the morning of your party! It’s important that it remains uncovered, this will help dry the skin out just enough that it will crisp up like crazy in the oven.
TIP: Most poultry will come with the neck and giblets inside of the cavity when you buy it. I never discard these. Keep them and make some additional stock while the turkey cooks. This is super easy. Add these items to a pot, fill with water and season with salt, a bay leaf and whatever fresh herbs you’re using to season your meat. Let it boil for a few hours and there you have some quick stock! Making this is just an insurance policy in the event you don’t have enough drippings but still want the flavour! Recipe here.
The rule of thumb that I always follow is to calculate 20 minutes of cooking time for every 1 pound of turkey. I cook mine at 325℉, low and slow. So, this year I had a 16 pound turkey and I cooked it for 5 hours and 20 minutes.
Okay, so, it’s turkey morning and we’re getting ready to put the bird in the oven. Let’s get this baby ready. I think it’s pretty important that you use a roasting pan with a proper roasting rack. You can use a wire rack if you have nothing else, but the turkey has to sit above the bottom of the pan or its underside will get soggy.
The first thing I do is prepare all my herbs. Finely chop parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. You know, like Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel! Once I chop them, I set them aside into 3 separate bowls. They’ll be used for the onion mixture in the bottom of the roasting pan, to season the turkey and for the stuffing. I also always reserve some full sprigs of all the herbs to add into the cavity of the turkey.
Rough chop, into quarters, your onions. I usually go about 8-10 onions, but if you have a smaller turkey and a smaller roasting rack, that may be too many. You be the judge. I try to separate the onion layers as much as possible, you don’t need to do this, but they cook better and it allows for some pieces to get nice and crispy. To the onion mixture, I then also add garlic, white wine, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. All of that is to taste, you don’t have to go too crazy. If you don’t want to use white wine, I would suggest using chicken stock as the bare minimum so your onions don’t burn. Give it all a mix with your hands so everything is evenly coated. Then put your roasting rack on top of the onions and you’re ready to add your bird!
Now for the turkey. After it’s done brining, I never wash the salt off. In fact, I usually add more salt. As I did before, I add my salt and my reserved chopped herbs to a bowl and give it a mix. I then salt/herb the turkey all over. I usually add enough herbs that it looks pretty herby. They just add so much flavour! Once you’re done with salting, stuff the cavity of your bird with lemon, a head of garlic (both cut in half), and a bundle of your fresh herbs. You don't want it to be overstuffed though, air should still be able to circulate.
TIP: I'm not going to say never, but you absolutely should not stuff your turkey with stuffing. It's always soggy, it makes the bird cook unevenly and it ensures that you cannot use your carcass for stock. You can make exponentially better stuffing by baking it alone. Recipe here! Say it with me 'I will not stuff my turkey with stuffing'.
After you’ve done all that to your turkey, place it on top of your wire rack and liberally coat the top of your bird in olive oil. Some people do butter, I have in the past, but at this point I've made dozens of turkeys and I have found the most successful way to get a nice crispy golden skin is olive oil. You do you though, honey!
Now this is the trickiest part. You have to tent your bird with tin foil WITHOUT touching the bird. If the tinfoil touches the skin, it will stick to it and pull it right off. You have to be careful with it and it may take a few minutes, but don’t get discouraged, I have faith in you. We’re adding this tent to the bird so that all the steam and flavour gets trapped and the bird basically cooks in all its own steamy flavours.
During the cooking process, you will be tempted to peel back the tin foil and check on your bird, but please do not do this. Keep the tin foil on your turkey until there is 1 hour left of cooking time, then remove the foil. Now is when the magic happens. I like to baste my turkey as soon as the tin foil comes off and baste maybe only 1 more time before it comes out of the oven. Your turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 165℉. If you’re letting your turkey sit for 5 hours, you are safe to take it out at 160℉ because it will continue to cook. Your call though.
So the turkey is now out of the oven and it’s 5 hours before you’re going to be carving it, what do you do? I always transfer my turkey to a cutting board that is laid inside of a sheet pan (this is important, the sheet pan will catch the juices). This way when I'm ready to carve, I don’t need to transfer it to a cutting board, it's already on one. Once it’s on the cutting board, I cover it with tin foil and then I cover the tin foil in about 5-6 layers of towels. You can use bath towels, tea towels, table cloths, whatever you want. Just make sure you’re keeping the heat in. Covering the turkey not only keeps it warm, but it allows the turkey time to redistribute all of the juices back into the meat. You will never have a dry, flavourless turkey again.
TIP: I plan my day so that the turkey comes out of the oven 2-3 hours before guests arrive (almost 5 hours before we eat!!!!!). Rest assured, your turkey will not cool down- that’s a guarantee. I do this so that I can continue making the rest of my sides before the guests arrive and keep them fresher than they would have been had I prepared them before the turkey went in the oven. This also ensures that you have plenty of wiggle room should your turkey take a little longer than anticipated.
Now for the onions and reserved liquid. I always scoop the onions out with a slotted spoon and put them right on to the platter which I will be serving the turkey on later. They act as a wonderful flavourful bed for your sliced turkey and they are SO GOOD. I will cover it in tin foil also, but I almost never re-heat the onions. Maybe because they’re already on their fancy plate? Maybe it’s because I run out of time? Couldn’t tell ya. You can reheat them if you want to, but the turkey will also warm them as you put them on top.
Then strain all of the liquid from the bottom of your roasting pan through a fine mesh sieve and set it aside. You’re going to use it later for both the stuffing and the gravy! How exciting!
Unless the people demand it, I won’t dive into how to carve a turkey- there are a million videos out there. As soon as you do it once, you’ll know how to do it forever! It’s not hard at all, just very hot!
I’ve created a separate post for both stuffing and gravy because both of those can be sides on their own independent of a turkey, you know? A wise friend once told me that and I will never forget it.
Happy Holiday Feasting!!!!