“Turkey is impossible. There’s no way to make it taste good.”
You know a meat is maligned when a professional talks that way. But that was the pronouncement last year from a local chef my husband and I were chatting up.
“You should just serve side dishes.”
No offense to the pro, but I disagree.
Yes, I’ve made my share of Thanksgiving turkeys that taste more like sawdust than poultry. But not since I stumbled across a turkey recipe from Chef Tom Colicchio a few years ago. Using his roasting technique and a few other tips I’ve gleaned along the way, the Thanksgiving gods have blessed me with juicy roasted turkey — white meat included.
(Maybe I should pass the secrets on to our local chef!)
1. Choose the right bird: For us that means organic. We order our turkeys from Rumbleway Farm in Cecil County, MD. Before we moved to the DC area, we ordered them from specialty food shops like Balducci’s. Regardless of where you get your turkey, look for a free-ranging, minimally processed bird. It’ll taste better. And aim for a 14- to 16-pounder. Larger turkeys take longer to roast, meaning there’s more time for them to dry out. I’ve cooked an 18-pound bird before, but if I need more meat, I opt to cook two smaller turkeys.
2. Warm that baby up: Never put a cold bird in your oven. You’ll get crisper skin and more even cooking if it’s at room temperature. Pull it out of the refrigerator and let it sit for an hour before laying hands on it.
3. Season it well: Colicchio recommends a compound butter that I used to adhere to religiously. Nowadays, I’m a bit more freewheeling: I mix a stick of softened butter with minced garlic, lemon zest, an assortment of fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Then, following Colicchio’s lead, I rub the butter under the turkey’s skin, on top of the bird and inside its cavity. For an extra flavor bonus, I always slice some Les Moulins Mahjoub natural preserved lemons and slip them under the skin. Then I stuff the cavity with chopped lemons, onions and garlic and drizzle everything with the preserved lemon liquid.
4. Blast it with heat: This is the part of Colicchio’s recipe that I follow religiously. Adhere to this technique, and the Thanksgiving gods will reward you with juicy, moist meat — whether you’re roasting the rarest heritage breed or a good ol’ Butterball.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan, and roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
- Without opening the oven door, turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Roast an additional 30 minutes.
- Pour 1 cup of chicken broth over the bird and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Roast an additional 30 minutes.
- Pour another cup of broth over the bird, add another tablespoon of butter, and baste with the turkey drippings. Cover the turkey loosely with foil, and roast an additional 1 hour and 45 minutes, adding broth and butter and basting every 45 minutes.
- Start checking the turkey with an instant-read thermometer after three hours. When the meat registers 165 degrees, it’s done. (Test the thigh and the breast for doneness.) Remove it from the oven and cover loosely with foil.
5. Let it rest: Let that pretty bird sit for at least 45 minutes. If you cut into it before then, you’ll watch its juices flow all over your carving board, and your guests will eat sawdust-dry poultry. Besides, the resting period is a Thanksgiving gift … it gives you an empty oven to fill with all those side dishes.
Speaking of sides, our Thanksgiving is taking a decidedly Middle Eastern turn. Riffing on the preserved lemons, I’m planning to play up new flavors and ingredients this year: A salad featuring pomegranates; a side dish of roasted beets and carrots dressed in cumin-spiked vinaigrette; yeast bread folded over fennel seeds and grapes.
It’s something completely different. (And I’m not so menu-bored!)