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Techniques for Terminating Turkey Troubles

Don't fear the bird! Here is a method of cooking turkey which results in perfection every time.

Recipes for flavoring and marinating turkeys abound; there is no shortage of choices to ponder when determining your final approach to your bird.

Far fewer and less reliable are the techniques discussed for providing a consistently tender and moist bird. Some of the options are downright dangerous.

With the most potential for mayhem, deep frying a turkey is definitely the most dangerous option. That said, not a single doubt exists about why people take on this method once they taste a well executed version. Crispy skin and succulent, tender flesh with the evocative flavors of the South can’t be beat.

But blisters up and down your arms and heart pounding excitement as the bubbling oil rises with each drop of marinade seeping out of your turkey is too much for most of us to take. One slightly less dangerous method is the roll over approach.

While rolling a hot bird is less dangerous than submerging an entire turkey in 375 degree peanut oil, it still does not qualify as an especially safe technique. To follow the rolling bird path start the roasting process with the breast side down.

Half way through the total estimated roasting time, roll the bird over and continue roasting, basting every 15 minutes as the skin browns. For the final thirty minutes and while resting the bird at least twenty minutes after cooking, the breast side is down again.

Watch the videos above for more about how to use this method. 

This method is a vast improvement over the old school roast-in-one-position plan but still be scary for someone who only cooks a few times a year. A few companies wisely make special forks to assist in turning and handling the bird if you want to give this a shot.

The Secrets to a perfect bird 

The secret to presenting perfectly moist breast meat and ethereally tender and juicy dark meat is to separate the two during cooking. Whether you leave the breast on the bone or tie the boneless breasts together, the control you have over the cooking time is the key.

Legs and breasts get tender and juicy at different temperatures and times. Without boring you with all the science, a variety of muscle and connective tissue types require multiple cooking styles to achieve optimal results.

Begin by brining, dry rubbing or using your favorite flavoring approach. which I demonstrated in my first Patch article on Matzo Ball soup. (A great use for the extra turkey stock you have every year!)

Once separated, brown the skin side of the legs and then roast covered at 275 until super tender. Allow to stay warm in the liquid which will accumulate until you are ready to serve. Two to three hours is usually enough time for this but you may go lower and slower if you wish. For a flavor boost, add a split head of garlic, a quartered onion and some sprigs of sage or rosemary.

While the legs are getting tender, brown the skin of the tied breasts. If you choose to not tie the breasts, reduce cooking time by a third or a little more. Place in the 275 degree oven and roast until the breasts read 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. At that point, about an hour to an hour and a half in, depending on the size of your bird, remove the legs from the oven if they are still inside and increase the temperature to 450 degrees. Turn the breasts once or twice to brown the skin evenly over a period of 15-20 minutes.

The internal temperature will be about 150-155 degrees. Remove the breasts from the oven and allow to rest. The internal temperature will equalize with the much hotter exterior as the bird cools and will be fully cooked when it comes time to carve. A little confession: I usually pull the bird closer to 145 because I like a super juicy breast. When you do this, however, your breast will not reach the 165 degrees health experts recommend; more like 160. 

Tear the leg meat off of the bones, taking care to remove the feathery bones in the drumstick. The dark meat will resemble pulled pork. Drizzle with the juices and add any extra juice to the stock or to the gravy. Carve the breasts table-side or in the kitchen as you wish.

Come back to the next Culinary Currents to see what I do with the carcass as I answer the controversial question, “To  stuff or not to stuff?”

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Zoe November 20, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Thanks Derek!

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