Fear not…with a few simple guide lines, even the most culinarily challenged can pull this off.
A tip of the hat to Alton Brown for this approach to roasting a turkey. I got it from him and have had great success with it since. It’s easy and pretty much foolproof.
Place your oven rack in a low-medium position and preheat it to 500F. Yes, 500F.
If you’re using a frozen turkey, get it several days in advance and leave it in your refrigerator to thaw completely. Do not…repeat, do not thaw your bird on the kitchen counter as this increases the likelyhood of food poisoning. Next, take out all the innards and discard them unless you’re planning on making gravy, etc. Wash the bird inside and out in cool water; pat dry.
Season the inside of the bird with salt and pepper. Now is the time to add your aromatics…a big sprig of rosemary, one of fresh thyme. Some like onions and apples, I’m a big fan of fresh oranges – two smallish ones, cut in half and stuffed inside rind and all. If the legs are already tied in some fashion, either with metal or ovengrade plastic, good. If not, use some kitchen twine to tie them together.
Note here on stuffing: make yours in a separate dish, not inside the bird. A stuffed bird will take longer to cook, and the stuffing will usually be soggier than if done separately. It’s also safer from food-borne bacteria cooked outside the bird.
Next, fold the wings under themselves…no more tying needed here. Put your bird on a flat rack in your sheet pan–a pan with low sides but large enough to hold the bird. This gives you better browning than the V-shape rack in a roasting pan.
Next, what Alton calls the “turkey triangle”. This high-heat method of roasting will give you a beautifully browned breast during the first 1/2 hour off cooking. A double thickness of heavy tin foil in the shape of a large triangle about as wide as your turkey. After the first half-hour, you’ll use the triangle to protect the breast. Put a thin coat of canola oil on the surface of the triangle then place over the bird itself, using your hands to shape it to the bird. Then carefully pull off the now-perfectly-shaped triangle and set it aside. By doing it this way, when the time comes, you’ll be able to position the triangle on the bird without burning your hands. Clever, huh?
Give the turkey a thin coating of canola oil all over the skin, then into the oven. Set your timer for 30 minutes and do not open the door. Seriously…do not open the door.
In fact, forget about basting completely. Basting not only does nothing to enhance flavor or moisture, but the constant opening and closely of the oven door will lengthen your cooking time. At the 30 minute mark, place the turkey triangle on the turkey breast and lower the oven temperature to 350.
type thermometer works best for this and you can get one at just about any good gourmet shop.
To properly take the an internal temp reading, you want to insert your thermometer into the deepest part of the breast meat, making certain you’re not hitting bone as this will throw off the reading. For a 14 pound bird this will take about 90 more minutes for a total time of 2 hours. At that temperature, take the turkey out of the oven. Cover it will a large sheet of tin foil and let it rest for at least 20 minutes.
I know…I can hear the cries about “cold turkey…eewwwww” from here. Fact is, the internal temperature will continue to climb about 5-8 degrees and the tin foil cover will keep it at temp. Roasting drives the juices of the meat into the center of the bird. Allowing it to sit before slicing lets those juices return to the outer most part of the turkey. Remember all that Sahara-dry turkey you’ve eaten over the years? Is that the Thanksgiving tradition you want to continue? Didn’t think so.
So now your bird is ready, the oven is hot and all set for those last minute dishes that need attention and you’re good to go. At this point, I usually give the assembled masses a 15-minute warning. Take off your apron, pour yourself a glass of wine and turn the rest of the last minute chores over to others. Success is at hand.
One last thing: about that pop-up timer. Ignore it. Leave it where it is but ignore it. Pop-up timers are set to pop up at 180F. At that point the dark meat will be very well roasted, but the white meat will be…well, dead. Leaving it in the bird until you’re ready to slice keeps all the juices inside the turkey where they belong.
—Kent McDonald is a personal chef who owns KentCooks, in Phoenix, AZ (c) 2008. All rights reserved.