Friday, November 17, 2006

ON FOOD: Turkey 411 - Tutorial


Size Matters: Allow about 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person; 8 to 10 guests will require a 15-pound turkey.

Frozen v.s. Fresh: There is not too much difference in taste. Many fresh birds seem frozen but they are in a semi-solid state at 26° F while a frozen bird is below 0° F. Defrost the turkey in the refrigerator and not in the microwave or at room temperature to avoid bacterial growth. To defrost a frozen bird, 24 hours per every 5 pounds is required. So a 15-pound turkey will take 3 days to defrost.

Stocking Up: Remove the giblets and neck from the bird’s cavity. Keep the gizzard, neck, and heart for the stock. The liver is too strongly flavored to use so reserve for another use. Prepare the stock a few days in advance. Chop 3-pounds of turkey wings and scatter on a baking pan and roast 1-hour at 400° F. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat; add heart, neck, and gizzard. Brown 10 minutes then add a chopped onion, carrot and celery. Cook for 10 minutes then add in cooked wings. Place the roasting pan over two burners, pour in two cups water and bring to a boil. Scrape up all the browned bits with a straight wooden spatula. Pour water and bits into the pot. Add 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, and a handful of fresh parsley. Cover the ingredients with water by 2-inches. Bring to a boil, skimming any foam, lower heat and simmer for 4 hours. Strain and discard solids. With a fat separator remove any fat. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Stuffing: Stuff the turkey just prior to cooking to avoid bacterial growth. Don’t pack the stuffing tightly into the cavities because it will expand. Stuff the neck cavity only with stuffing. This will make it look plump. But place a mirepoix of vegetables and fruits (chopped carrots, celery, onion and apples) inside the body of the cavity to impart a nice flavor but not dry out the bird. The stuffing should reach 160° F, if it does not beforethe bird is cooked, then scoop it out and place in a baking dish and bake until it does.

Basting: If you pour stock into the pan when you put the bird into the oven, it will mix with the drippings and make a delicious basting broth. Remove the tin foil covering the breast and baste the entire turkey every 30 minutes with a bulb baster. Baste quickly so the oven temperature does not lower too much.

Is it Cooked? The turkey’s breast and leg meat is so different that it is as if it comes from two different birds. The breast is cooked when it reaches 170° F while the leg is done when it reaches 180° F. It is important to cover the breast so it doesn’t burn. The bird should be removed from the oven when the thigh reaches 175° F since it will continue to cook while it rests. The only way to tell if it reaches temperature, is to use an instant-read thermometer that is pushed into the thickest part of the thigh but don’t let it touch the bone since it conducts heat.

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