Turkey 101

Turkey 101

For me, cooking a turkey is as easy as boiling water is for most everyone. That's because in my lifetime, I've literally cooked around 3,000 turkeys-first while in graduate school where I participated in the moisture tests of turkeys in order to determine if the cooking time of a turkey could be lowered, then at the test kitchen in California where I first worked where we developed turkey recipes for newspapers and magazines around the country and actually spear-headed the reduction of those cooking times in my second year there, then development testing of the little pop-out thermometer that most turkeys come with today, and finally for personal use. Some days, I cooked as many as 16 turkeys, half stuffed and half-unstuffed (that took a lot of ovens, but our test kitchen was well equipped). I've also taught classes on turkey cooking and appeared on countless television shows around the country, toting two turkeys along, one unbaked to show how to stuff it and one cooked to demonstrate different kinds of garnishing and sometimes, carving techniques.

Our forefather and patriot Benjamin Franklin was a great fan of turkey. He was quoted, "I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character...The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal (sic) a true original native of America." Since that time, turkey has been dubbed America's favorite bird.

Recently I was figuring how big of a turkey I'll order this year for my family that's coming for the grand Thanksgiving feast. I then decided it was time to give you a turkey primer: Turkey 101. Maybe you'll pick up some pointers for your succulent bird. We elected to do a turkey breast in our recipes this month, but if you go back to November 1999 and November 1997, you'll find the big bird recipes there.

Here's the questions I get on cooking turkeys:

  1. Should I buy a fresh turkey or a frozen turkey? Preference plays a lot here. I prefer fresh, free-range turkeys that are only available at Thanksgiving, simply because I think the flavor's best and worth the rather extravagant extra cost. That doesn't mean I don't buy frozen turkeys when they're on sale. I most always have a turkey in my freezer, marked as to the date it was bought so that I use it promptly and know which turkey to cook first when I have more than one bird on hand.
  2. How big of bird should I buy? I know that a person with diabetes is only going to eat 4 to 6 ounces of cooked turkey at the big meal, but I always plan on 1 pound (raw weight) per adult at the table. That leaves me with plenty of leftovers for sandwiches and salads for the next couple of days which are part of the American Thanksgiving tradition as the family will be staying over. If your house empties out Thanksgiving night, you'll want to purchase more like 1/2 pound per person. Remember that leftovers must be refrigerated promptly (in less than 2 hours) and used within a couple of days. Freeze in proper freezer packaging for longer storage.
  3. If the turkey is frozen, how do I defrost it? I always recommend thawing the turkey in its unopened wrapper, breast side up, on a tray to catch any liquid that accumulates as its defrosting. For every 4 pounds of turkey, allow at least 1 day of thawing. If refrigerator space isn't available or you don't have time before the big day to get it thawed, you can thaw it in its unopened wrapper, breast down, in cold water to cover. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold. This way, the turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. DO NOT allow the turkey to just sit out on the counter. That is not the way to safely thaw the bird.
  4. How do I stuff the turkey? Stuffing the bird is a matter of personal preference and family tradition. Realize that stuffing is going to absorb fat from the bird as it cooks and therefore, if it's been inside the turkey, keep your portion quite small or bake some of the stuffing in a casserole for you and anyone wanting to cut down on fat. If you're going to stuff the bird, make the stuffing just before placing it in the turkey. No stuffing the turkey the night before! You can prepare the ingredients then, cooking the vegetables and/or meats or seafood such as oysters. Use pasteurized egg substitute, not raw eggs if your recipe calls for eggs. Stuff the neck and body cavities of a completely thawed turkey (after removing the giblets, rinsing the turkey thoroughly inside and out, and drying it with paper towels). Allow about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Do not pack the stuffing tightly in the bird.
  5. How do I prepare the turkey for roasting? Stuffed or unstuffed, place the turkey, breast side up, in a large shallow roasting pan on a rack. Brush the turkey lightly with canola oil to prevent the skin from drying and to enhance its golden color when roasted. Place in a preheated 325F (160C) oven. When the turkey is about 2/3 through its cooking time, shield the breast with a loose tent of aluminum foil. Use the roasting schedule below and even if the pop-up timer has popped, check the turkey with an instant reading meat thermometer, deep in the thigh if unstuffed and in the middle of the stuffing if stuffed. The thermometer should read 180F (68C) for unstuffed turkeys and 160F (57C) in the stuffing. When the thigh muscle is pierced deeply, the juices should be clear, not reddish pink.
    Net Weight
    (pounds)
    Unstuffed
    (hours)
    Stuffed
    (hours)
    10 to 183 to 3 1/23 3/4 to 4 1/2
    18 to 223 1/2 to 44 1/2 to 5
    22 to 244 to 4 1/25 to 5 1/2
    24 to 304 1/2 to 55 1/2 to 6 1/4
  6. Is it necessary to baste the turkey? We now know from testing that juices basted over the turkey's skin while it roasts will not make the meat juicier as it actually only penetrates about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch beneath the skin, and most of the juice will run off into the pan. And, opening the oven frequently to baste the turkey will only lengthen the cooking time.
  7. What do I do when it's done? Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer the turkey to a carving platter or board. Set the turkey on a solid, spacious surface. Loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
  8. How do I carve the turkey? First, wash and dry your hands. Make sure your carving knife is sharp and that you have a large fork to hold the turkey still while you work. If the turkey is stuffed, transfer the stuffing in both cavities to a serving bowl. Tackle the leg and wing on one side, discontenting them at their joint with the body. Hold the leg up by the small end and carve slices off the thigh, then the drumstick part of the leg. Cut downwards, trying to get medium thin slices as large as practical. As you carve, work your way around the leg. Place the carved turkey on a serving platter and discard the bones as you go. Separate the wing at its other joint and place on the platter. Next, carve the breast, working from the first slice and angling along the breast bone. Transfer slices to the platter as you carve each part, taking care not to let the slices fall apart. Using your large fork to hold the turkey still, carve small silver dollar-size slices from the rounded area of the breast (about halfway down the bird). Continue to slice larger slices as you proceed downwards, angling the blade of your knife parallel to the ribcage. Leave a little turkey on the carcass if you're planning to make turkey soup. Once the turkey is carved; wrap and refrigerate the carcass immediately, if you're making soup, or discard. I know carving at the table is done in some families, as it used to be in mine, when I was growing up. But frankly, I remember only too well the spilling of turkey and spattering of juice on the linen tablecloth and find it much easier and less hectic to carve it in the kitchen. That doesn't allow for garnishing the turkey, but you can still garnish the serving platter with bunches of colorful grapes, tiny apples called Lady Apples or small Sickle pears.
Still have a question? Call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at 1-800-323-4848. Trained home economists will talk with you one-to-one. Sorry, folks, this service is only available in the United States. Last year they answered questions from 170,000 people during the months of November and December. Turkey is a wonderful low-fat meat-just remember you can't eat the skin as that's where the fat is.

Article Source: http://www.diabetic-lifestyle.com

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