Honey brown, crisp skin with meat that’s tender and juicy.
That’s a cook’s goal for the holiday bird.
At Thanksgiving, a myriad of turkey techniques and methods are suggested.
There’s the roasted turkey. Grilled or fried turkey. Turkey in a bag.
Turkey with the back cut out and flattened – it cooks in half the time.
But in the Free Press Test Kitchen, we are set in our ways. Our recommended method is brining (wet or dry) and roasting or grilling. Brining gets the juices flowing, and we know it works.
We also like grilling (on a kettle-style grill) because it frees up much-needed oven space.
Brining recipes increasingly use different liquids and seasonings other than the basic salt water solution or plain salt. Wet brines can include fruit juices, ciders, beer and wine and can be seasoned with sugars (white or brown), aromatics, herbs and spices. Dry brines can include other seasonings and herb s along with the salt.
Our turkey recipe today uses orange juice in the brine.
Basic guidelines for cooking turkey
Here are food safety tips from the Free Press Test Kitchen and the USDA:
n Thaw the turkey if frozen. If you haven’t yet taken it out of the freezer, do it today. Thaw it in its orginal package on a tray. Allow almost 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. A 12- to 16-pound turkey will take 3 to 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
n If you forgot to thaw your turkey in advance, place it in a sink in its orginal wrapper and fill with cold water. Change water every 30 minutes. A 12- to 16-pound turkey will take 6 to 8 hours.
n The USDA does not recommend rinsing or washing your turkey first, which is a step in many recipes. The splashing water can contaminate other nearby foods and utensils.
n Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered the safe cooking temperature for the overall turkey to 165 degrees.
n Invest in an instant-read thermometer. Make sure the thermometer you have is working properly.
To roast your turkey, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the turkey in a shallow roasting pan. Below are the USDA’s recommended roasting times for a stuffed or unstuffed turkey.
Orange Juice Brined Turkey
Serves: 10 to 12
Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus overnight brining) Total time: 3 hours
4 cups orange juice
3 quarts water
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup sugar
Herb sprigs (rosemary, thyme, parsley), optional
1 fresh or frozen turkey (12 to 15 pounds), thawed
4 to 6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
To brine the turkey, start with a large, clean bucket. Make room for the bucket in your refrigerator – adjusting shelves if necessary.
Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey, and reserve them for another use.
In the large bucket, stir together the orange juice, water, salt and sugar. Continue stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add herb sprigs, if using. Place the turkey in the brine, breast side down. Add more water if the turkey isn’t completely submerged in the liquid. Place the bucket in the refrigerator for at least 10 to 12 hours or overnight.
Two hours before you plan to roast it, remove the turkey from brine and discard the brine. Rinse the turkey well, inside and out, under cold water for several minutes. Place the turkey on a tray and pat it dry well with paper towels. Let it sit out for 1 hour so the skin dries further, which helps crisp the skin.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a V-rack in a roasting pan.
Add about 2 cups of the chicken broth. Place the turkey breast side up on the rack. Brush the turkey with the vegetable oil or rub with softened butter. Season the turkey with salt and pepper or favorite seasoning.
Place it in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Baste the turkey with the pan juices, and add more chicken broth to the pan if needed. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue roasting another 2 to 2.5 hours, basting with the pan juices every 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
If the breast seems to be browning too quickly, cover it with foil.
Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer it to a platter. Cover it with foil and let it rest at least 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
Basic Pan Gravy
Makes: About 6 cups; about 1/3 cup per serving
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Pan drippings from the turkey
4 to 6 cups turkey stock or broth or chicken broth, heated
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup Madeira or dry sherry, or 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, optional
Pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a heatproof glass bowl or fat separator.
Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, then skim off and reserve the fat that rises to the top – you should have about ¾ cup fat. If not, add melted butter to equal ¾ cup.
Add enough heated turkey stock to the skimmed pan drippings to make 6 cups total. Place the roasting pan over low heat on two burners of the stove and add the skimmed fat. Whisk in the flour, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the pan drippings mixture and M adeira or dry sherry, or balsamic vinegar.
Cook, whisking often, until the gravy has thickened and is lump-free, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a gravy boat and serve.
Variation: For a wild mushroom gravy, soak 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms in 1 cup hot water until rehydrated. Strain, reserving the liquid. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.
Sauté 8 ounces cremini mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter until soft. Add the porcini and sauté 5 minutes more. Add the mushrooms to the gravy and add some of the mushroom soaking liquid in place of the turkey stock.
Adapted from “Thanksgiving 101” by Rick Rodgers (Broadway, $15). Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
102 calories (80 percent from fat), 9 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat), 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 120 mg sodium, 10 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.
Make-ahead Turkey Gravy
Makes: About 8 cups / Preparation time: 10 minutes / Total time: 3 hours (not all active time)
Make this gravy up to 3 days in advance. You also can enhance it with pan drippings from your roast turkey.
4 turkey wings (about 3 to 4 pounds)
2 medium sweet onions, peeled, cut up
1 cup water
8 cups less-sodium, fat-free chicken broth, divided
1 large chopped carrot
½ teaspoon dried thyme, optional
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a roasting pan, place the turkey wings; scatter onions on top. Roast 1 1/4 hours or until wings are golden brown.
Put wings and onions in a large stock pot. Add water to roasting pan; stir to scrape up any brown bits on bottom and add all to the pot. Add 6 cups broth (refrigerate remaining 2 cups), the carrot and thyme if desired.
Simmer, uncovered, 1 ½ hours.
Remove the wings and cool.
Remove and discard skin, reserve meat for another ruse. Strain broth into fat separator or into a bowl. Let sit 10 minutes until fat rises to the top. Pour defatted broth into a saucepan.
Whisk flour into remaining 2 cups broth until well blended and smooth. Bring broth in saucepan to a gentle boil. Whisk in flour mixture and cook 5 minutes to thicken gravy and cook out the raw flour taste. Stir in butter and season with pepper.
Cook’s note: Freeze the gravy up to 1 month. Thaw and reheat. You can add fat-skimmed drippings from a freshly roasted turkey.
Adapted from several recipes. Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 1/4 cup serving. 26 calories (34 percent from fat), 1 gram fat (1 gram sat. fat), 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 258 mg sodium, 2 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.
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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): TURKEY-BRINING