Just in time for the holidays…how to prepare the classic Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey.
If you purchase a pre-prepared turkey (pre-basted with a pop-up doneness thingy) you will find little of value in this. But if you have decided to go with a less expensive, less high-tech bird, here is how we used to prepare our holiday turkeys in the “olden days” of the Fifties and Sixties and before…
Large roasting pan (a 13in x9in x3in cake pan will do, provided your turkey will fit in it)
Heavy duty foil (or lid for roasting pan that will fit over turkey)
Meat thermometer (optional)
Trussing instruments (small, thin skewers and kitchen string)
Turkey baster, basting brush, and/or small ladle
Rack for bottom of the toasting pan (or make a stand of foil)
Oven mitts or hot pads
Pair of trivets, same height (optional)
Pliers (to remove skewers)
Close-fitting latex gloves (optional)
Cleaned, plucked and singed turkey with head and feet removed
One recipe of Poultry Stuffing (optional)
½ cup melted butter
¼ lb (1 stick) of butter, sliced into squares ⅛ inch thick (25mm x 25mm x 3mm thick) (optional)
Prepare the turkey
1. Remove centre oven rack and move remaining rack to the bottom-most position
—Preheat oven to 325F (160C)
2. Spray the inside of the roasting pan well with cooking spray and set aside
3. Remove turkey from its packaging
—Remove neck and packet of giblets from the cavity
—Wash turkey inside and out with cold running water, pat dry, and put in prep space, breast-side up.
—(Optional step) Starting at the opening of the cavity, gently lift the skin away from the meat of the turkey, sliding your free hand under the skin up towards the breast and wings. Loosen as much of the skin as possible on both sides of the bird’s breast side, being careful not to tear the skin
—(Optional step) Place the slices of butter between the skin and breast meat of the turkey and smooth the skin into its place over them. This will ensure the breast meat is tender and juicy
Skip to Step 7 if you are not stuffing the turkey
4. Stuff turkey neck cavity
—Turn bird onto the breast (a couple of wadded up kitchen towels on either side of the bird will help stabilize it)
—Unfold the flap of neck skin and spread it out
—Using your hand, scoop up some of the prepared stuffing and compact it slightly in your hand, then press the dressing into the V-shaped opening where the breasts meet.
—Continue adding handfuls of stuffing until the skin has to be stretched to cover and contain it all
—Stretch the skin to cover the stuffing and secure it to the bird’s upper back by pinning it with a small skewer or toothpicks.
5. Stuff the turkey body
—Turn the bird onto its back again
—Using the same technique, scoop dressing from the bowl and put it into the main cavity, packing slightly as you go along
—When the dressing is bulging out of the cavity, it is time to truss the bird
6. Truss the bird
—Insert skewers into the skin on either side of the cavity opening. Use at least 6 skewers for a 18lb (8 kg) or larger bird.
—Using the kitchen string, run it across the skewers in an X pattern as shown in photo, pull snug, and tie in a bow (for easy removal)
—Using skewers, pin the turkey wings to the body of the bird so they don’t come loose and burn during cooking
7. Prepare the pan for roasting
—Place the roasting rack in the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have a roasting rack, tear off a long length of heavy duty foil, roll it in a tight tube, lengthwise, then compact with your hand until you have a “rope” of foil. Shape this “rope” into an oval-shaped coil in the bottom of the pan
—Put the turkey lifter in the pan. If your bird came with a turkey lifter, it will look like four pieces of string with a button connecting them. If your bird did not come with a turkey lifter, make your own by cutting two lengths of kitchen string about 18 inches (46 cms) each; hold them together and make a knot halfway down the length of the pair of strings. Now, spread the turkey lifter over the roasting rack, the button/knot in the centre, the four strings hanging over the sides of the pan in an X configuration
8. Get the turkey in the pan
—Lift the turkey and place it in the pan, breast side up, making sure the turkey lifter strings are all out where you can grab them
—Brush or ladle melted butter all over the skin (this will help it brown)
—If you are using thermometer, place it in the thickest part of the thigh, being careful not to touch bone or the side of the pan
—Tear off a large sheet of foil and spray one side well with cooking spray so the foil won’t stick to the turkey. Tent it loosely over the top of the turkey, making sure not to touch the thermometer
—Place the turkey in the centre of the oven and roast according to the time table below. Allow up to an hour additional (total) if you are above 5000 feet (1500 meters) in altitude. (2.2 lbs = 1 kg)
Stuffed Turkey Unstuffed Turkey
6-8 lbs 3-3.5 hours 2.5 to 3 hours
8-12 lbs 3.5 to 4.5 hours 3 to 4 hours
12 to 16 lbs 4.5 to 5.5 hours 4 to 5 hours
16 to 20 lbs 5.5 to 6 hours 5 to 5.5 hours
20 to 24 lbs 6 to 6.5 hours 5.5 to 6 hours
9. Basting and finishing
—After the first hour, baste the turkey with melted butter and pan juices every hour to keep the meat juicy
—In the last half hour of cooking, remove the foil and discard, and baste well with melted butter and pan juices
—If using a thermometer, look for an internal temperature of 165F (75C) to indicate doneness. If you are not using a thermometer, wiggle the drumstick (grasp the end of the bone with your fingers and wiggle it up and down, back and forth). If it moves easily, the bird is done.
—Remove the turkey from the oven (be sure to have plenty of padding to protect your hands from the heat) and place the pan on the trivets to cool.
—Gather up the four strings of the turkey lifter and lift the bird from the roasting pan and transfer it to the serving platter
—Remove all string and remove skewers. If they are stuck, use the pliers to get them out.
—Allow the bird to rest from 10 to 20 minutes before carving so that the juices aren’t lost
Put a little greenery around the bird…some parsley or sprigs of rosemary…and serve.