The Art of the Perfect Bird
Over the years I have mastered the art of roasting birds and one issue seems to perplex most cooks. Keeping poultry moist when roasting. This problem is compounded by the fact that white meat cooks faster and dries out quicker than dark meat. Try these additional tips to solve all your poultry problems.
A great tip for cooking larger birds (over 14 pounds) is to poach the backbone (dark meat side) of the birds in a shallow pan filled with 1 inch of boiling stock for 10 minutes before stuffing and roasting. This will give the meat that takes the longest to cook a head start. Also, rubbing your bird with just a smidge of butter will encourage even browning. Basting is a no-no. Basting dries out your bird by putting oven temperature melted fats (200 hotter than your average turkeys internal temperature during cooking) on the parts of the bird you are trying your hardest not to overcook.
Start by sourcing a great bird, I like the Bourbon Reds because they have the best flavor and largest breast meat of the heritage birds. Brine it, stuff it and roast according to the recipe below and you will have a Thanksgiving for the ages.
Thanksgiving Turkey, Stuffing & Gravy
For the turkey:
- 14 pounds fresh heritage turkey
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 stick softened butter
- 2 tablespoons paprika
For the gravy:
- 1 large Spanish (yellow) onion, diced
- 3 cups rich turkey or chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons Flour
- 3 tablespoons sweet butter
For the stuffing:
- 8 cups cubed, dry seasoned bread cubes (bagged stuffing cubes from the supermarket are perfectly OK)
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced sage leaves
- 1 pound fresh chesnuts, in the shell
- turkey liver and gizzard from the bird, minced fine
- 3 oz. fresh chicken livers, minced
- 1 cup minced celery
- 1 cup minced Spanish (yellow) onion
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 2 tablespoon minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Two Days Before…Brine Your Bird
Place your turkey in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover the bird.
Remove bird and reserve to a platter for a moment. Dissolve the sugar and salt into the water by gently stirring. Return bird to the large pot. Refrigerate for 12-16 hours.
One Day Before
Remove bird from the brine and place on a roasting rack fitted into a roasting pan to catch any drips. Allow bird to dry for 24 hours in your refrigerator uncovered. This will tighten the skin for extra crispy-ness and color.
The Day Of
Remove bird from refrigerator and let rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
While that is going on, place an X mark with a paring knife across the tops of the chestnuts and roast at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until cooked through.
Peel and reserve meats, slicing them into quarters as best you can. Discard the rotten ones.
Place the diced onion for the gravy into the bottom of the roasting pan along with the turkey neck, so that the drippings will land on the onions. Set aside.
Combine the bread cubes, chestnuts and all the other stuffing ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Stuff turkey front and back. Place any extra of stuffing in a suitable oven-to-table casserole dish and set aside.
Rub turkey with the soft butter and sprinkle lightly with the paprika. Tie or skewer legs together.
Place the racked turkey in a 325-degree oven, breast side down and roast for 16 minutes per pound.
Check that the thigh meat has reached a temperature of 160 degrees. To do this, insert a food thermometer into the meatiest part of the thigh and take the temperature. DO NOT TOUCH THE BONE WHEN DOING THIS. Repeat this process with the deepest part of the stuffed breast. It should be over 145 degrees for food safety.
When turkey is done place it onto a carving board and tent with aluminum foil. Put the board in a warm spot in your kitchen and let the turkey rest. Place the baking dish with the spare stuffing into the oven and turn the temperature up to 375. Cover the stuffing loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 35-40 minutes while your turkey rests, you make the gravy and carve your bird.
Strain the contents of the roasting pan into a large work bowl, discarding the solids in the strainer. Skim off all the fat, leaving behind the turkey juices and drippings, etc.
Place the roasting pan on a stove top burner, place over medium heat and add your stock and bring to a strong simmer. Scraping back and forth, remove the roasty-toasty bits that stuck to the pan. Add the contents of the work bowl to drippings. You want this liquid to reduce to roughly 2 and ½ cups.
Now place the flour and butter in a 1-quart sauce pan and combine, cooking for several minutes over medium heat to make a cooked roux.
Add the fortified stock, in thirds, that has been simmering in your roasting pan. Continue simmering until thickened to gravy consistency, and season with the salt and pepper.
Carve your bird and place on a platter. Pour any juices you accumulate during carving into the gravy pan.
Serve both of the stuffings at the table, passing gravy to those that want some.