Turkey is something that people either hate or love, and finding the right recipe for a turkey is difficult. Every year the cooking magazines like Saveur
, Food and Wine
, and Fine Cooking
(not to mention the dearly departed Gourmet
) post new recipes that promise to be "the one" for the world's greatest Thanksgiving bird. However, Thanksgiving isn't a time to be adventurous. If you don't have a good recipe for a Turkey (or you've never tried making a roast turkey before) then by all means try this one, or perhaps Alton Brown's Excellent Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
. Otherwise, leave well enough alone! People don't want to be surprised by the Turkey at Thanksgiving! You can vary some of the side dishes, or add new appetizers or desserts each year, but please, part of Thanksgiving is about reconnecting to old memories. If your memories of Thanksgiving turkeys past are good -- stick with what works. Otherwise, you could try this...
But first I must divulge exactly why I'm (in effect) dissing one of my culinary heroes by not only not following, but completely disregarding his advice. It all comes down to the bird itself and what you want to get out of it. As described by Harold McGee in his book Keys to Good Cooking
, Thanksgiving turkey recipes fall into two basic camps - the skin camp and the meat camp. If your memories of Thanksgiving yore include everyone standing around the kitchen and eating all of the crispy skin from the turkey and then pretty much disregarding the rest of it -- you fall into the "skin camp". If on the other hand, you're concerned most with appearance and flavor of the bird on plate accompanied by the side dishes, and you want the moistest, most flavorful meat, especially the troublesome white meat, then you fall in the meat camp.
The technique at question is basting. Basting involves either redistributing liquid from the cooking pan itself over the meat, or adding additional liquid and/or fat over the meat during the cooking process. This can be done using a turkey baster, which is most helpful in suctioning out the juices from the pan, but is best done with a pastry brush. If you baste your turkey, then you're adding some flavor to the outermost portions of the meat, but most importantly, you're cooling the meat down and making it cook more slowly
If you baste your turkey, then the breast meat can reach its required temperature more slowly and (most importantly) evenly
-- since the dark meat is always done later than the white meat, then by slowing down the cooking of the white meat, you're attempting to reach the final cooking temperature at the same time, and without overcooking (and thus drying out) the white meat. Another technique that aids in this is cooking the turkey breast-side down for the first half or so of the cooking process. Remember that in the oven that heat is being transferred to your turkey by both radiation from the sides of the oven, and conduction of the hot air in the oven. If the turkey is breast-side down, then during that time, the breast is NOT receiving as much heat from hot air or radiation, since the pan is in the way. So again, it slows down the cooking of the breast. I use both techniques, because I want tender, juicy breast meat, which is what my family likes most of all anyway, but also because I want to add that added tiny bit of flavor that basting can give to the meat, which can otherwise be rather bland.
So what do you give up with basting? Crispy skin. You'll be able to crisp the skin a little bit, but it'll generally be much flabbier than in recipes that attempt to maximize crispiness by tricks like roasting the bird for a short time at the end at a searing 550 degrees, or (the most effective one) by dry-salting the bird and then thoroughly (e.g. overnight) air-drying the skin in the refrigerator before roasting. So, with my turkey, most of the skin on the breast and dark meat is cut off and not served with the meal - to me, that's no big loss -- after all, I can still snag a crispy bit or two from the wings, which in almost any recipe will have some crispy skin attached.
Which leads me to dissing Alton Brown. Alton's wonderful recipe has two steps that make it the epitome of turkey goodness for the crispy skin club. First, he heats the oven to 500 degrees at the beginning, and then roasts the Turkey for the longest time at 350 degrees. The higher temperatures will produce drier (and thus crispier) skin. He also eschews turning the bird over and roasting breast-side down and in fact keeps it untouched for the entire length of the roasting operation. That absolutely maximizes outer crispiness. However, if you followed this technique with a standard, unmodified supermarket bird, then you'd end up with a beautiful looking, mahogany-toned bird that would be about as edible as a piece of plywood (and would taste about the same).
So that's where the second part of Alton's genius comes in. He famously brines his bird for up to 16 hours prior to roasting it. Brining
changes the osmotic pressure
within the cells of the meat and forces water into them. In effect, he's adding extra water (and some salt) before he roasts the bird to counteract the water lost through his high-heat roasting process. So, following his recipe, you'd get a bird that both has crispy skin, and breast meat that's not unreasonably dry.
But there's a side-effect to brining that is my problem with the whole operation. Brining ruins any of the pan juices collected during the roasting of the turkey because it makes them too salty to use for gravy or in dressing
. And to me, that's as big a part of the whole Thanksgiving equation as the bird itself! So instead, I go with the "meat" camp in my recipe, which, without further ado, is presented below. This was originally adopted years ago from a Julee Russo (of the Silver Palate Cookbook
) recipe, but it's since changed much over the years. Marsala Roast Turkey
1 Turkey, 12-14 pounds, completely defrosted, with the giblets and neck removed and reserved.
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
Pepper and Poultry Seasoning to taste
2 cups seeded, cored and sliced Bartlett pears
2 cups seeded, cored and sliced Granny smith apples
2 cups peeled, quartered Vidalia Onion (or other sweet onion)
4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
12 fresh sage leaves
1 cup sweet Marsala wine
1 cup homemade chicken broth
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the broth and wine and put in a bowl, which you then place in the refrigerator.
Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold running water, then pat dry with paper towels. Rub all the turkey cavities thoroughly with salt. Place the pears, apples and herbs in the breast cavity and then truss the cavity closed with metal skewers and butcher's twine. Rub the entire turkey with the oil and then salt liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and poultry seasoning to taste.
Place the turkey BREAST DOWN on a rack in an uncovered roasting pan. Place the turkey in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Roast for a full hour with the breast down, then remove the turkey from the oven and (with the aid of turkey lifters) turn the turkey over so that the breast side is now up and replace onto the rack. Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and set to 165 degrees. Now, before returning to the oven, and every 20 minutes thereafter, baste the turkey using a pastry brush with the wine/broth mixture. If at any point, you've basted off all of the seasoning on the skin, then pepper and season again (don't worry, it won't hurt the pan juices). If you manage to use up all of the wine/broth mixture before the turkey is done, use a turkey baster to suck up some of the pan juices, and use that. When the thermometer goes off, remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest, lightly tented with foil, for 20 minutes. If during roasting, the top of the breast or the wing tips look like they are about to burn, cover them lightly with foil to slow down the cooking in that part of the turkey.
Now, after 20 minutes, un-truss the turkey and remove and discard the fruit, onion and herbs (although press on them to extract any juices and add that to the pan juices before you do!) Remove all of the pan drippings and place in a gravy separator for use in gravy and dressing (See my next recipes!)