The Many Ways to Cook a Turkey

I find turkey to be so underrated.  Prepared correctly, this bird is delicious and will continue to satiate your  family for weeks to come.  This year we got a 20lb turkey for $9.40.  Can’t beat that for a deal!!!

It has been a whole year since our last turkey so I had to look up some instructions online.  The first task is to properly thaw the frozen bird.  Butterball suggests that you thaw it in the refrigerator, breast up in the sealed package and allow 1 day per 4 lbs of turkey.  So I left the turkey in the refrigerator for 5 days.

The next step is to clean the bird.  I placed it in the sink and removed the gizzard and neck package stuffed inside.  YES!  THERE IS A PACKAGE STUFFED INSIDE!!!  WHO THOUGHT THAT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA?  I discovered that on my first turkey, many years ago when I actually cooked and served a whole turkey only to find the package inside during carving in full company.  🙁

After the bird is properly cleaned, the next step is to season it.  I prepared an herb rub in the food processor with 4 garlic cloves, 5 tbs fresh rosemary, 3 tbs thyme, 5 tbs olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  That smelled heavenly!  If you are going to cook the turkey the traditional way (breast up) you can loosen the skin over the breast and thighs and season the meat underneath.  The difficulty in cooking a turkey is that the breast will cook faster than the rest of the bird so you can cover the breast with a cheese cloth or tent it with foil.

Cooking times from the USDA:
8 to 12 lbs: 2 3/4 to 3 hrs
12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 3/4 hrs
14 to 18 lbs: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
18 to 20 lbs: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
20 to 24 lbs: 4 1/2 to 5 hrs

As an experiment, I cooked the bird breast down, uncovered  at 350 degrees for 4 hours.  I rubbed the herb paste all over the turkey and lined the bottom of the roasting pan with 1 large sliced onions and 3 carrots.  Once the turkey is done cooking, remove the roasting pan from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes or so.  This will allow the juices to redistribute themselves back into the meat, keeping the turkey moist.

I used this time to reheat the green bean casserole and jalapeno corn bread stuffing I made ahead of time (recipes to follow in future postings).  Once the turkey was cool enough to be removed from the roasting pan, I drained the drippings, caramelized onions and carrots into a sauce pan and blended it with an immersion blender.  Then I added 4 tbs of flour and simmered it into this delicious gravy.

Needless to say, the turkey came out amazing.  It tasted like a turkey braised on its own drippings, incredibly moist, flavorful and succulent.  The only down side to this approach is that you will no longer have the beautiful skin over the breast for that ‘wow’ affect.  However, I am sure everyone will quickly get over that once they try the turkey.  This is the best turkey I have ever had.

Last year’s experiment was a turducken.  As if a turkey was not enough protein for a single meal, a turducken stuffs a TUrkey with a DUCk which is stuffed with a chicKEN and layered with stuffing.  Get it?

That was the first (and probably the last) time we ever had a turducken.  It was quite delicious but too laborious.  De-boning all three birds and assembling them took all day.

After the meal is done, we traditionally make turkey soup with the remaining carcass in a large pot with onions, carrots and celery.  Fill the pot with water and let it simmer all night if possible.  You can add some additional leftover turkey if you like it a little more chunky.  The next morning, pick the bones out and save the soup for future use.

For dinner that night, I added a can of corn, bok choi and brown rice to the turkey soup.  Both the corn and the bok choi added a nice crunch to the soup.  How delicious is that?  Bok choi, aka Chinese cabbage, is an Asian vegetable in the Brassica rapa family, related to the western cabbage and of the same subspecies as turnip.  It is low in calories and contains a high amount of vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium.

After all is said and done, we still had two 1-gal ziplock bags of turkey meat and 2 quarts of soup left.  There are so many things you can make with these leftovers.  As I lay in bed at night I dream of my next dishes — turkey posole, turkey mole, turkey pot pie, turkey panini…

Can’t wait to get those going!  Yum!!!  What are some of your turkey traditions?

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