Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reheated Leftovers: Don't be chicken Cook the Turkey

In the spirit of Thanksgiving we are serving up some leftovers this week, check out our post from last year that breaks down the turkey cooking process, but first some interesting turkey facts:
  • Americans will eat roughly 40 million turkeys this month
  • Almost 100% will be artificially inseminated
  • Modern turkeys have been bred for large breasts
  • The industry standard "Broad breasted white" breed's breast are too big to have avian intercourse
  • Male turkeys need to be 'processed' by a team of workers once a week for 5-6 months 
  • Heritage turkeys, which procreate naturally, cost about $150-$200
  • So,it cost about 3 times as much if you want a truly happy bird on your table this Thanksgiving

Don't worry if your turkey isn't pretty, it gets carved up anyways
Most people our age have never cooked a turkey. But young people have begun utilizing holidays like Canadian Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving to have a large dinner with close friends prior to the mandatory trek home for the official Turkey Day. That means that all across America, thousands of 20-somethings are manning up and cooking their first turkey. Granted, there can be some pressure on the turkey cooker since it is the focal part of the meal and everyone will be comparing your bird to the one their grandmom makes. However, I've cooked 3 turkeys (pretty rediculous for a 26 year old guy, 1 was even in college) and have come to realize that cooking the turkey is probably the easiest thing you'll have to do on Friendsgiving. Getting a turkey on the table is a fairly simple process that can be broken down in 7 simple steps: buying, thawing, prepping, cooking, resting, cutting, and of course eating.

Buying the Bird - Unless you are a farmer or Martha Stewart, you will be buying a frozen turkey. When it comes to meat, all brands are pretty much the same (when was the last time you knew what company made your ground beef?) for this reason look for the cheapest turkey available. The key to buying a turkey is to find the right sized bird. A good rule of thumb is about 1-1.5 lbs per guest.

Thawing the Bird - The last thing you want to do is wake up on turkey day with a rock solid bird, unless you are looking to have a sitcom-esque Thanksgiving day disaster. Remember when DJ Tanner cooked a frozen turkey on Full House. Thaw your turkey for 3 days in the fridge an make sure to put him on a baking sheet so you don't get turkey juice everywhere because sometimes the bird is has ice in its cavity.

Prepping the Bird - People on the FoodNetwork love brining their turkeys. This is all well and good, but a simple preparation is all you need, plus most people I know don't have a container big enough to soak a 16 pound turkey. First you want to remove the giblets an neck from the cavity. You don't want to be the person to cook the turkey with the giblets still in the turkey, that could be embarrassing. The giblets and neck can be used later in the gravy or stuffing. Next separate the skin from the breast then rub some melted butter and put a couple sprigs of rosemary in there. Salt and pepper the outside and inside of the turkey and lather it up with melted butter. Put the bird in a roasting pan breast side up, tuck in its wings and you are good to go.

On stuffing... I have cooked both stuffed and unstuffed turkeys. When I stuffed the turkey, it messed up my cooking time and the stuffing came out soggy so I had to cook it some more by itself. When cooking stuffing in the bird you can run into safety issues if the stuffing doesn't get hot enought to kill any potential salmonella. I reccommend cooking the stuffing separately.

Ritchie and I having fun with the turkey neck during Canadian Thanksgiving '09

Cooking the Bird - If you want to have your local fire company join you for Thanksgiving dinner then I recommend that you deepfry your bird. If you don't want to burn the house down then I suggest cooking the turkey in the oven. Cook the turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, this will seal the bird to help keep it juicy. Reduce the heat to 350 and cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. This will take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. The little pop up thermometers that come in the turkeys are nice indicators, but it is best to take your birds temperature with a quality thermometer. Baste the turkey with its drippings every 20 minutes or so. A turkey baster is a must, there is nothing is more frustrating than trying to baste with a soup spoon.

Resting the Bird - This often under appreciated step can make or break your turkey. It is essential to let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. While cooking the muscle proteins contract forcing  the liquid that is between the proteins towards the center of the bird. As the turkey cools, the proteins will relax and allow the the displaced liquid to redistribute to their original location. If you carve the turkey too soon, the outer meat will be dry and the un-redistributed juices will flow out of the turkey and onto your cutting board.

Carving the Bird - This is by far the hardest part of preparing a turkey. There are several schools of thought on how to carve a turkey, but you will figure out your own system as you go along. My only recommendation is to use a sharp knife, a dull knife will require a lot more pressure to cut and will squeeze out those juices that you so patiently waited for. Also, there is no shame in using your hands while carving the turkey, those big carving forks are only used in the movies.

Eating the Bird - Now it finally time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  The good thing about cooking a turkey is that no matter how good or bad a job you did, your guests will say its delicious because you manned up and cooked the bird. If they dont say its delicious then I recommend that you don't invite them next year. Happy Friendsgiving.

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