Turkey, if over cooked is nothing more than a vehicle for gravy. Contrary to popular belief, birds are not good for roasting whole as the temperature for breast meat and leg meat vary greatly. Meaning by the time our thighs are done, our breasts are dry.
For the ultimate turkey we must:
• Use more butter than you feel comfortable with. The Turkey sacrificed its health for you, won’t you do the same for the Turkey?
• Plan, plan, plan. A 5.5-6kg turkey will require 3 to 4 hours in the oven where as a 3.5-4 kg turkey will only need 2 hours and 45 mins (that is if you intend to leave it whole as you roast it). You will also need 3 days to prepare the turkey for the oven.
• Source a high-quality bird. Think organic, free-range and natural. Plump breasts and no bruises.
• Brine the bird in an 8% salt to water solution. Cold of course, we don’t want Christmas day food poisoning. To do so place the Turkey in a container that will allow it to fit submerged below water. For every 100mls of water, use 8g of salt and a pinch of sugar (the sugar is important for crispness, do not leave it out!). Bring the water and salt to a boil with lemon peel, thyme, cinnamon, garlic, and star anise. Allow to cool completely. Pour over the bird and top with ice. Place in the fridge and allow to brine for 12 hours.
• Dry the skin! Regardless of if you’re a baster or not, we have to dry the skin to allow maximum rendering and crispness. Remove the bird from the brine and place on a tray in the fridge for at least 24 hours, breast side up!
• Simply, turkeys aren’t great for roasting whole. The legs must reach a higher core temperature than the breasts, thus your breasts will be dry by the time the legs are cooked. You must choose if you want the bird to be presented whole with dry breasts or cleverly dressed and succulent?! Consider cooking the turkey until the breasts are a couple of degrees below the desired temperature and then take the turkey from the oven, remove the legs and return them to the oven to finish.
• Roasting your turkey! Okay as we said, the breast and legs cook at a different rate. Preheat the oven to 230C. Rub butter between the breast skin and breasts. Oil and lightly salt the skin. Allow the bird to come all the way to room temp. Place the bird in a tray with a trivet.
• Use a trivet to allow even airflow around your bird, a pan full of vegetables will only add more steam to the oven, lowering your temperature and hindering your chances of crisp-ish skin.
• Roast for 30 minutes at 230C then lower the oven temp to 175C. DO NOT open the door at this point. Cook for at least another 30 mins. Check the temp of the breasts with a probe thermometer. A digital one will serve you best here as it reads quickly. The government recommends 74C, however I recommend that from 65C you start checking to see if the juices run clear.
• Once you have clear running juices from a little hole poked in by the thermometer, remove the crown from the legs by slicing through the skin, under the breast bone and through the spine. Leaving you with the turkey crown of “buff” and then the legs. Return the legs to the oven and repeat until the juices run clear trick. Now the legs have been removed from the breast you will expect them to cook much faster.
• To serve the bird, split the legs apart into thighs and drumsticks, place the thighs and drumsticks on a serving tray and pop the hot turkey crown atop. If the breasts cool down too much, flash them into the oven till hot again.
• Pull the breasts out just before the juices are completely clear. Use your judgment here. And cover with foil to keep warm. When testing, push the skewer all the way to the bone to test the juices. Otherwise, 74 degrees will guarantee done-ness but may be dry.
• Times here are a guide. Turkeys range in size. The initial hotter temp is to colour your skin. So, look for browned skin before turning down the temperature. • Avoid trying to squeeze a giant turkey in a small oven. Even if it fits, you need really good air flow to cook the bird well. Otherwise, you will end up steaming the skin. Soggy.
• Good Luck.