Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Eats Roast Turkey

(I realize this picture makes the turkey look a tad dry, but I assure you, it was anything but!)

Last year, before this blog was born, I decided that I wanted to host a Thanksgiving dinner for our families. I wanted to make a turkey, and a delicious one at that. After days of research, I knew I would be brining my turkey and settled on Alton Brown's recipe from his Food Network show, Good Eats. The turkey was delicious! Very moist and flavorful, and it did not take all day to roast. The recipe is actually quite simple, and easy to adjust if you have a slightly larger or smaller bird.

This year, Josh and I are not hosting Thanksgiving, and we are not responsible for making a turkey. That didn't stop us though! Walmart had frozen turkeys on sale for $0.40/lb (seriously!), so I picked up a small-ish 12 lb bird that we made this past weekend. We had a nice dinner and kept some leftovers in the fridge. We also froze half the turkey for a later time, and I made some stock from the carcass. I'll link to some helpful tips for that at the end of the post.

Before starting, I recommend you head over here and watch this quick video. Alton discusses the magic of the "turkey triangle," why he starts at 500 deg F, that "low and slow" is NOT the way to go, and answers your basic questions about roasting a turkey. There are some other clips that follow, including why he doesn't stuff his bird. If you want to watch the whole Good Eats episode on Thanksgiving, search Alton Brown "Romancing the Bird" on YouTube.
Good Eats Roast Turkey
recipe courtesy Alton Brown

1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock (I used 4 cups homemade and the rest from bouillon cubes)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger (I used about 1 inch ginger root instead)
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil


2 to 3 days before roasting:

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket (I use a Ziploc Big Bag - actually 2, just in case). Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
Approximately 3 hours before dinner (for a ~16 lb bird):

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.
Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. (The dark meat should be closer to 180 deg F.) A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.
1. You need some space to work here, and to avoid the spread of bacteria, clear your counters of other food while the raw turkey is around.

2. I use a Ziploc Big Bag to brine in. Last year, I plugged in our small fridge (from the collage days) to store the turkey in, but I have also heard of others sticking it on some ice in a cooler if your fridge is too full. You should never let it sit at room temperature!

3. To go along with point 2, make sure your brine is chilled before putting your turkey in it.

4. The 500-degree thing will make your kitchen a little smokey. We had to open the oven to cover the breast with aluminum foil after the first 1/2 hour, and it was a little smokey in here for a while after. If its a nice day, plan to open a window. At the very least turn on your vent fan for a while if you have one.

5. When freezing the leftover meat, Alton suggests wrapping the pieces in aluminum foil before placing in a freezer gauge bag. So thats what I did, and the leftovers were delicious.
6. If you want to reuse the carcass to make some stock, break it down a bit and stick it in the fridge overnight. You will be far too busy to do this Thanksgiving night! I basically followed this recipe for the stock, minus the butter, and only using whatever I had around the house (no mushrooms, carrots, or parsley). I freeze the stock in 2 cup portions for later use, turkey stock can easily be substituted in most recipes that call for chicken stock.

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