Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The turkey: 14.85 lb Honey Suckle White Brand – Less than 12% retained juices
Technique: dual temperature roasting, 450ºF and 325ºF with cheesecloth cover for breast

General: Place the frozen turkey into a dish large enough to hold it and any liquid that might leek out of the wrapping in the bottom of a refrigerator. Allow 1 full day of thawing for every 4 lbs of turkey. However; in the interest of full disclosure I have never been able to fully thaw a turkey under refrigeration. I use this technique to do most of the job, and then finish it off in water the day before I plan to cook and serve it. Early the day before I plan to cook the turkey I place it, still in it’s wrapper, inside a 5 gallon pickle bucket that I’ve placed inside the bathtub. The bucket makes it easy to move the turkey – water and all – if I need to, and placing it in the tub makes it easy to dump and refill when needed. I use lukewarm but not hot water and let it stand for two to four hours, changing the water at least twice during the process. A rule of thumb for this method is 30 minutes per pound, starting from a completely frozen bird. I only recommend this shortened version for finishing off the thawing process. Once completed, remove plastic wrapping from bird, and pull the neck and giblet packet the cavity. I then rinse the bird and place it back in the baking dish. I place the giblets in a separate bowl and place both back in the refrigerator overnight.   

One last general note: Remove any meat from refrigeration before cooking. For a fifteen pound turkey I recommend one full hour on the counter to come to room temperature, and up to one and half hours, but no longer.  

You’ll need:
3 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2 small apples - quartered
2 small onions - quartered 

- roasting tray with wire rack
- 14 inch rectangle of cheese cloth three layers thick
- basting brush
- cotton twine 

Leave the bird uncovered in the refrigerator for one full day (24hrs) to allow the skin to dry. * 

Twelve hours before roasting, seasoned the bird heavily with salt and pepper, rubbing it into the skin and cavity of the bird. Place the bird back in the refrigerator to cure, uncovered. (This is half of the 24hr drying time.)  

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.  

Place the apples and onions into the cavity of the bird leaving enough room for air to circulate within. Truss the bird with the twine and fold the wings behind the bird’s backbone. This will protect the wing tips from becoming dry and burnt.   

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and allow it to cool slightly. Soak the cheese cloth in the butter and drape over the breast of the turkey. Baste the legs and thighs with some of the remaining butter leaving some to baste the whole bird with later. 

Place the room temperature turkey in the oven and roast at the high temperature for 30 minutes. You will hear some sizzling and even popping, do not give into the temptation to drop the temperature, or open the oven door. This is a searing stage.  

After the initial 30 minutes, pour 1 cup of water into the roasting tray to prevent any drippings from scorching, and use this opportunity to baste the skin with half of the remaining butter.  

Turn the oven down to 325ºF, and leave to roast for one to one and half hours before checking again. 

At the 1 ½ to 2 hour mark, carefully remove the cheesecloth and baste the breast and legs with the remaining butter.  

Roast for an additional 30 minutes and begin to check the breast and thighs with an instant read thermometer. You are looking for an internal temperature 165ºF in the breast and 180ºF in the thigh. If at any point the top of the breast or leg/thigh joint begins to look too dark or dry, carefully cover with tinfoil and continue roasting.  

Plan for three hours total roasting time, but do not be surprised or dismayed if your bird is done early, or takes longer. Depending on your oven and the weight of your bird, times will vary, it’s the temperature you are looking for here.   

When done, cover the bird with aluminum foil and set aside to rest for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour. If you need to keep your bird warm for up to two hours, cover with tinfoil and then insulate with triple layer – folded – of a thick bath towel.  

*Food Safety Note: Tell everyone in the household that there is raw uncovered meat in the refrigerator, and clean the area thoroughly with an antibacterial agent to avoid possible cross contamination. If small hands are a worry, cover the bird with a tent of aluminum foil leaving plenty of space for air circulation and poke holes in the tinfoil to allow for any moisture to evaporate.  

Tasting notes:  This technique did render a crispy browned skin, and meat that was evenly cooked and well seasoned throughout. The apples and onions did, very subtly, add to the flavor of the meat, particularly the breast, but their chief function was to provide moisture during roasting which they did admirably.  The cheesecloth did protect the breast while the whole bird cooked but I found it most helpful as a grid that held butter and basting liquids on the breast long enough to seep into the flesh. Often liquids run of the hot skin of a bird before they can do the breast meat any good. Definitely worth repeating.  

One caveat; the cheese cloth was a bit fiddly to remove from the hot flesh of the bird, and I would caution anyone about leaving it on too long for fear it would weld itself to the skin on the breast permanently. I have asbestos hands, but some might want to use latex or some other glove to protect your fingertips from the worst of the heat. Tongs proved to be virtually useless in this endeavor and could cause more damage to the skin than you want.

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