Roast tur­key 101

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FOOD & DINING - Anna Thomas Bates

Present your guests with a golden, juicy Thanks­giv­ing bird by fol­low­ing these sim­ple tips.

Se­lect­ing the bird: Today’s stores carry more than the fa­mous frozen But­ter­ball. You may find fresh birds from lo­cal farms or even her­itage breeds.

For frozen tur­keys, the safest way to thaw them is in the re­frig­er­a­tor. You will need at least 24 hours for ev­ery 4 to 5 pounds, so plan for at least 5 days for a 16- to 20-pound bird. If you get in a pickle, you can thaw a frozen bird, wrapped, in cold wa­ter (use a large ves­sel like a cooler.) You must change the wa­ter ev­ery 30 min­utes and plan on 30 min­utes per pound.

Prep­ping the bird: For best re­sults, spend a lit­tle ex­tra time brin­ing the bird, us­ing ei­ther a wet brine or dry rub method. The salt be­gins dis­solv­ing pro­teins and adds fla­vor, re­sult­ing in a more ten­der, de­li­cious bird. Wet brine by soak­ing the bird in a 5% to 8% salt so­lu­tion overnight and then pat­ting it dry (Al­ton Brown has great in­struc­tions for this pro­ce­dure on food­net­

Some peo­ple claim that wet brin­ing re­sults in less true tur­key fla­vor and have turned to dry-brin­ing. (It is also much eas­ier.) The fol­low­ing method is from Russ Par­sons of the LA Times, in­spired by Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café in Cal­i­for­nia:

Use 1 ta­ble­spoon kosher salt for ev­ery 5 pounds of tur­key. Salt ev­ery bit of that tur­key (it is ok if it is still frozen or par­tially so) — front, back, sides and in­side the cav­ity. Seal in a plas­tic bag and let sit 1 to 3 days in the re­frig­er­a­tor, flip­ping and rub­bing the salt around in the bag if you can.

The night be­fore cook­ing, re­move tur­key from the bag and let sit un­cov­ered in the fridge. Just be­fore cook­ing, let it sit at room tem­per­a­ture for about an hour (do not rinse the bird). Pat dry and baste with butter be­fore cook­ing.

What about stuff­ing? Don’t do it. By the time you get ev­ery­thing you put in the cav­ity cooked to a safe tem­per­a­ture, your tur­key will be over­done. A cut onion, half a le­mon or a few sprigs of rose­mary is OK.

In­stead, cook your dress­ing in a sep­a­rate dish. Af­ter the tur­key comes out of the oven, gather some drip­pings and driz­zle them over the pre­pared dress­ing and bake it while the tur­key rests.

Cook­ing: Start the oven at 425 de­grees. Start breast side down and cook 30 min­utes. Then re­move from the oven and care­fully flip the bird, us­ing kitchen tow­els to pro­tect your hands. Re­duce oven tem­per­a­ture to 325 de­grees.

If you have a corded oven ther­mome­ter, you can place in the thick­est part of the thigh (not touch­ing the bone) and mon­i­tor the tem­per­a­ture with­out open­ing the oven; your tur­key will cook faster and turn out bet­ter. Cook un­til the thigh tem­per­a­ture is 165 de­grees. But watch closely — an un­brined bird cooks faster, and so does a her­itage breed or pas­tured bird.

Rest­ing: Loosely tent the bird with foil and let rest at least 30 min­utes, but up to 60. This lets the juices re­dis­tribute while giv­ing the cook time to make gravy and fin­ish the sides. Carve and serve.

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