Of all the items I prepare regularly, none have had as many requests for recipe and instruction as my roast turkey. It's taken me this long to blog about it because it's one of those things I cook that I just don't have a recipe for...I just kind of "do" it without ever having thought too much about the process in a step-by-step manner.
A few years ago I took a one-evening class designed for the home cook on how to de-bone a turkey. I won't say that the class was a life-changer but I will say that I have been de-boning my turkeys ever since. The method that I was taught ends with 4 pieces of turkey- two breast "roasts" and two dark meat "roasts". Though it takes a little more time at the start, there are advantages to preparing your turkey this way- it roasts much faster (less than half the time of a whole turkey), easy slicing and beautiful presentation, no carcass to deal with at the end of a busy day and no waste. You may think that the process of de-boning a turkey is difficult- trust me, it really isn't that bad! If you think you might like to give this a try, there is a link at the end of this post to my videos (parts 1 and 2), which is an easy-to-follow demonstration on how to de-bone your turkey (a big thank-you to my son for filming and editing). If you are not feeling up to the task this time around, no worries, just carry on with your whole turkey.
For food safety, I do not stuff my birds before cooking. Besides, by the time you are assured that your stuffing has reached a safe temperature the rest of your bird is overcooked. I have found a delicious stuffing recipe that is done in the crockpot- you can find it here.
The "secret" to a moist and flavorful turkey is, in my opinion, brining. I don't get fancy with this process- I use a simple salt-water brine which does the trick nicely without adding other flavors (some brines call for herbs, sugar and spices). To prepare the brine, simply dissolve a cup of salt into enough cold water to cover your turkey. Refrigerate the turkey in the brine overnight. In the morning, remove the turkey from the brine, give it a quick rinse inside and out, pat it dry and place it on a rack in a pan and put the turkey back in the fridge (uncovered) until you are ready to prepare it for the oven. If you plan to de-bone your turkey, do this before brining.
To make it easier, I will split the rest of the instructions for the whole turkey and the de-boned turkey. I will assume that your turkey is 12-14 pounds.
When you are ready to roast your turkey, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Season the inside of your turkey generously with salt and pepper. Season the skin side generously with salt, pepper and paprika and rub all over with a little olive oil. Place your turkey breast side down on a v-rack in an open roasting pan. When you roast your turkey breast-side up, the lean breast cooks faster than the dark meat and can dry out before the rest of the turkey is cooked. By starting the turkey breast side down, the dark meat bastes the white meat as it cooks, keeping it moist. Roast breast side down for 1 1/2 hours, then using a clean towel carefully turn the bird breast-side up (try not to rub the seasoning off!). Continue roasting your turkey until the temperature of the inside of the thigh registers 175 degrees F. The whole process should take about 20 minutes/pound or so. Remove the turkey from the oven and tent loosely with foil. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes before carving.
If possible, roast the turkey neck and wing tips separately in a hot (400 F) oven until very dark with a clove of garlic, a roughly chopped carrot, stick of celery and onion. Place into a pot and add enough water to cover by 1-inch. Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Strain. Add drippings from roasted turkey to this stock and return to a simmer. Make a roux of equal parts melted butter and flour and whisk enough of this into the stock to create the gravy consistency you like. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Note: if you can't roast the neck and wing tips first, just use the drippings from the roasted turkey. Add enough water to make the amount of gravy you need and enough bouillon to give it flavor).
Once your turkey has been de-boned, place the pieces into the brine and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, give the turkey pieces a quick rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Lay the dark meat skin-side down on a cutting board and season the flesh side with salt and pepper. Roll tightly starting at the long side. Tie in 3 places and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Place the breast pieces on the rack (do not season them yet- only season the inside of the rolled pieces). Refrigerate until you are ready to roast.
When you are ready to roast the turkey, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Season the flesh side of the breasts with salt and pepper. Season the skin side of all 4 pieces with salt, pepper and paprika and rub all over with a little olive oil. Roast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Remove from oven, tent and let sit for at least 20 minutes before carving. Enjoy!
As you de-bone the turkey, place the bones in a large roasting pan. Add a couple of coarsely chopped carrots and celery sticks, a chopped onion (skin and all) and a few cloves of garlic. Place this into a hot (400 degree) oven and roast until the bones are very dark (an hour or more).
Remove the roasted bones to a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Strain the stock and set enough aside in a separate pot for the gravy; you can freeze the rest or use it for soup. Make a roux of equal parts melted butter and flour (for 4 cups of gravy I would use about 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup flour). Bring the gravy stock to a boil and whisk in enough roux to create the gravy consistency you like. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
This photo is the whole turkey, de-boned, roasted and sliced. On the left and right sides are the dark meat and the breasts are in the center. The wing tips lay on top.
View my instruction videos here:
How to De-bone a Turkey, Part 1 and
How to De-bone a Turkey, Part 2