If you are having turkey this December 25th, you have likely already established one of the following:
a) how to roast a turkey
b) that someone else is making the turkey
In case you’re at all afraid to roast a turkey, let me tell you, it’s no big deal. I get it, the pressure is huge! It’s the centerpiece of many a Christmas feast and you don’t want to mess it up. There are multiple ways to do it (roasting, BBQing, even deep frying) and multiple treatments to give it (smoking it, brining it, injecting it with flavours). Whatever you choose to do, it will be fine. It’s Christmas, and even if the bird is dry (that’s what gravy is for) or it takes too long to cook (all the more time to drink eggnog), all things being equal, it will all work out. I promise.
I’m not cooking a turkey until Saturday, but I found an old email I had sent to a first time turkey roaster a few years back and I thought it was funny and explained the very basics of dealing with a cold, heavy, raw bird and making it a bronzed, unctuous thing of beauty. Read on for my original instructions, and remember: it’s not as hard as you think.
Here is how I do a turkey, which is how every turkey has been done in my family for as long as I can possibly remember. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
First thing: If he’s frozen, defrost him.
You can do this is the fridge if you allow for 24 hours per 5 lbs that he weighs, or in cold fresh water in the sink or bathtub and then it’s about an hour and 15 for each 1 pound. Whether you are defrosting or not, make sure you are accurately aware of his weight, as all cooking goes by mins. /pound.
If he’s fresh, just go onto the wash and rinse cycle as follows:
1) Take him out of his plastic raincoat and sit him up in your (very clean) sink with his gaping body cavity glaring at you.
2) Reach in (be brave) and pull out his little bag of innards and neck
3) Flush the inside and outside with running cold water (your hands will be murderously cold but he has to be cleaned because that plastic baggy he came in is a bacteria breeding ground as he comes out of freezing.)
4) Then pat him dry with paper towels, being sure to get into his arm pits and where the thigh joins the body.
If you are stuffing the turkey, read on. If you are NOT stuffing him, skip to step 7.
5) While he’s sitting pretty like that, you’ll want to stuff him. I find it easiest to stuff the turkey when someone else does it but trust me, it IS manageable, you just have to pretend you’re a doctor and you have no inclination to get squeamish what so ever. My secret is to take your bag of potatoes and set it into the sink to sort of brace the bird so he stays upright and doesn’t go skidding around. That way he sits up tall and stable and you can pack him full of delicious soon to be yummy soft stuffing.
6) You must remember with the stuffing not to go too tight! If you wad it in there it won’t cook and will be all cold and poisonous. (Christmas is a time for family but not for a visit from Uncle Sal Monella) My mom always said it this way: with a turkey you don’t want to think of packing a suitcase, think of it more like a basket of laundry: Keep it full, but loose. It should never be crammed in and less is always better, since any leftovers can be done in a dish.
7) Now, take His Majesty and put him in your roasting pan. But first: the Breast Dilemma. Here is what I think: IT DOESN’T MATTER. Breast up makes him prettier and more like a turkey on a Christmas card, breast down means some breast skin will inevitably stick to the pan. Either way can be juicy and succulent. It’s up to you. You are the cook. You choose.
8) Grease him up like a Floridian grandmother with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
9) Put him into the oven with the rack at its lowest position, leaving the temp at 375 for the first 25 mins, this gets rid of the micro beasties and really gets him going. At the 25 min. mark take it down to 325.
10) Aim for about15-20 mins per lb. (stuffed) but that’s if he was at a perfect fridge temperature going in and your oven was perfectly even and hot. Allow for a few hours at least and check him regularly after the 3 hour mark. The juices should run clear, not pink and if you grab his leg and shake it should be trying to slip from the socket at the hip joint.
11) Once you have achieved proper done-ness, pull him out, admire him for a moment and cover him in foil. He can stay like that for a good hour or more while you do potatoes, gravy etc. and its always easier to get the stuffing out when you are partially through carving it because then you get greater access to the cavity and it’s not as hot.
And that is really all there is to it! Merry Christmas!