I apologize. My first post about slow roasting a turkey was a little vague. I WAS JUST SO EXCITED THAT IT’S THANKSGIVING! I am controlling my excitement now. Here is a step-by-step description of how I plan to get my turkey from the store to the table. Lots of what I (now) know comes from trial and error, and even more of what I know comes from my wonderful uncle, Daniel, who may just be the master of the turkey, and was kind enough to share his turkey tips with me. Thanks, Daniel!
1. Don’t be too intimidated. Roasting a turkey isn’t easy, but it is doable. Take a deep breath. Prepare WELL in advance so you know how long each thing will take. We can do this together.
2. If you buy a frozen turkey, it will probably take at least two days in the fridge to thaw. This means that by Monday morning at the latest your turkey should be in the FRIDGE not the freezer. This will give it time to defrost by Wednesday when you want to start brining.
3. On Wednesday evening, start brining the turkey. You will want either a brine bag, or a giant stock pot to do this. Brine bags are inexpensive to buy, but sometimes you will need two sets of hands when filling the brine bag.
- If using a brine bag, place the brine bag inside a large dish and fold the edges over to keep the bag open.
- Put turkey in brine bag. Save the giblets and neck for later, which you will not brine, but will roast with the rest of the bird to help make good gravy.
- Add the following to the turkey (if using a brine bag, all the liquids may not fit, so play it by ear) (these ingredients are taken from the Martha Stewart website, BTW):
7 quarts (28 cups) water
1 1/2 cups coarse salt
6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1 bottle dry Riesling
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch fresh thyme
- I brine outside of the fridge on Wednesday night (and so does Uncle Daniel). This allows the turkey to come to room temperature, which means it cooks more evenly. Martha Stewart brines in the fridge. You can decide, but just know that no one has gotten sick from my (or Daniel’s) turkey yet (knock on wood).
4. In the morning, preheat the oven to 220F. To slow roast, it often takes about 20-25 minutes of cooking time for each 1lb of turkey. This means a 20 lb turkey can take about 7-8 hours. So figure out when you need to start roasting, but always allow buffer time – better to have more roasting time than to not have enough time.
- For example: If I am cooking a 16 lb turkey and want to have dinner at 5pm, when do I put in the turkey?
- The turkey needs to rest for 25-30 minutes before eating, so it should come out at 4:30pm.
- It will need to roast for 6:45 hours, because it’s 16lbs, allowing 25 minutes per pound.
- Working backwards, my turkey should be in the oven around 9:00am (allowing about 30 minutes of buffer time).
5. Put turkey into pan WITHOUT stuffing. When slow roasting, the bird must be empty. Rub the turkey down with a mixture of the following: 1/2 cup melted butter or olive oil, 1/3 cup coarse sea salt, 2 tablespoons ground pepper, 2-3 gloves crushed garlic. Put half of a quartered onion (2 quarters of an onion) and a clove of garlic inside the cavity. Rub the mixture under the skin – especially getting the butter under the skin too. Butter under the skin is a really good thing.
6. Cut a slit in each breast, towards the outside of the breast. Stuff the slit with a clove of garlic and fresh herbs (think sage, rosemary, thyme or whatever fresh savory herbs you have on hand). This will help flavor the meat. To help visual, I do the slit horizontally, coming in from near the arm pit, close to the plane of the ribs. You want it to be about 2 or 3 inches deep.
7. Make sure turkey is BREAST SIDE DOWN in the pan. The oven is hotter towards the top, so we don’t want to dry out the meat by cooking it breast side up. It keeps the breast juicier. Bonus: you don’t have to bind the legs when it’s breast side down.
8. Put giblets and neck in bottom of pan. If you like, you can put a halved onion in the bottom of the pan too for extra flavor.
9. Put pan in hot oven. Baste every one or two hours.
10. Check the temperature. Insert the thermometer into thickest part of the breast, making sure not to touch the bone. When the breast is 145F, flip the bird and continue roasting. At 220F, the skin doesn’t get crispy. If you like crispy skin, once the breast is about 155F turn the oven up to 400F to brown the skin for 10 minutes.
11. Take turkey out of oven when breast is 155F (and browned). Some prefer to remove when breast reaches 160F, but that is risking drying out temperatures, if you ask Daniel. (“When the bird is in that long, even the dark meat gets done.”) Either way, the legs should be “loose” when pulled on. Give the leg a wiggle and see how it feels. Should feel loose.
12. Remove turkey from pan and let rest on serving platter/carving plate for 25 minutes before carving. The temperature will stabilize. Pour the pan juices into a medium-ish stockpot, in which you will make the gravy.
13. While the turkey is resting, deglaze the pan. If you used an actual metal pan (as opposed to a disposable pan), you can put the pan right over the stove top. I like to use a little white wine for deglazing. Pour all the deglazed goodness into the gravy pot.
14. Put the gravy pot on low heat. While it’s heating, in a small bowl mix about 2 heaping tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of pan juices to form a paste. Slowly add more juices until the flour mixture is smooth and about the consistency of molasses. Then mix the flour mixture into the pan juices. NOTE: Do not add flour directly to the pan juices. This will create lumps. Stir the gravy over low heat until it thickens. Add turkey or chicken stock to make it go further (I like having a LOT of gravy). If it gets too watery, you can cook it more and/or mix more gravy with another spoonful of flour, then add the flour mixture back into the pan. Season gravy with salt and pepper as needed. Some people strain the gravy, but I don’t. I don’t know how Daniel does his gravy…
15. Carve turkey. Serve with lots of gravy (and all the other fixings. Duh!).
16. Pat yourself on the back. You did it!