Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite holiday! First of all, I love to cook. Second of all, I love to eat. This holiday was made for me! I love the sight of a big bountiful buffet. The smells are great, too. Pumpkin and cinnamon and nutmeg, oh my! But, my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey! My son (aka pickiest eater ever) will not eat most Thanksgiving foods, but he's a turkey junkie! So, I must make turkey and make it good!
People have a tendency to freak out about cooking a turkey! Maybe because it's so easy to mess up. You don't thaw it out properly, or you over cook it and it's too dry, or it's just plain bland. I am no turkey expert, but I have figured out how to make a delicious, flavorful bird that my family loves. Here are some of my tips.
The first thing you have to do is make sure you thaw the turkey properly. Give yourself several days. Put the turkey on a platter in the fridge. Do not thaw it on the counter! Depending on the size of the bird, it should thaw in 3 to 4 days in the fridge. If you don't have the time for proper thawing, buy a fresh bird that hasn't been frozen.
If, after thawing several days in the fridge, you find yourself on Thanksgiving Day and the turkey still feels a bit frozen, I have a tip. Get yourself a clean (new) 5 gallon bucket from the hardware store. Put the turkey in the bucket (still wrapped in the original packaging) and slowly run cold water over it. Let it sit in the cold water for about half an hour. This should finish the thawing process. But, don't try this if it's completely frozen solid!
The next thing you need to do is make sure you remove the neck and giblets. I've made this mistake before! I left the bag of giblets in the turkey when I cooked it. Ugh! Anyway, make sure you remove everything that the store stuffed inside the cavity of the bird. Sometimes, they even put a packet of gravy in there. I don't like to use that. Throw it away. I'll give you a very easy recipe for homemade turkey gravy. So much better!
Now that you've removed everything you don't need, it's time to start seasoning. I know this is a no-brainer but I'm going to remind you to wash your hands thoroughly. I am a freak about salmonella!
But before I talk about seasoning, let me mention that I use an oven bag to cook my turkey. I know that is heresy to some people, but I find it cuts the cook time so much and really keeps the turkey from drying out. The skin still comes out crispy. I love them. I use Hefty brand because they open from the top and are self-venting. Easy to use! Here's what they look like:
Get a large roasting pan and put the oven bag into it. Open it up and add 1 Tablespoon of flour to the bag. Shake it up to coat the entire bag with flour. Set it aside until the turkey is ready to go in it.
I like to keep seasoning simple. I like to enhance, but not overpower the taste of the turkey. I have a Cajun injector needle. You can get these in many supermarkets or online. I have the Tony Chachere's brand. Here's what it looks like:
It's basically a giant syringe and needle used to inject a marinade into the turkey (or you can use it for chicken or roasts, etc.) The first time I bought it, I used the marinade that came with it. It's good and you can use that if you want. But, I decided to start making my own. Once you have the injector, you can make up any flavor marinade you want. I made my own creole butter. Super simple.
CREOLE BUTTER MARINADE
Melt some margarine (real butter tastes better, but can burn). Add in all seasonings to taste. That's it. You can make as much or as little as you want. Just make sure it tastes good to you. Simple.
Then, you just inject this Creole Butter into all parts of the turkey. I make sure to do a little more into the white meat, to keep it moist. It's easier to get the marinade into the injector if you pour it into a narrow glass. This just makes it easier to suck it up into the injector needle.
After you inject the turkey, rub any remaining marinade all over the bird. Then, salt and pepper the turkey inside and out. Put it inside the oven bag and seal it up. Tuck the corners of the oven bag into the pan so they don't stick out.
Bake times can be found on the information inside the box of oven bags. It all depends on the size of the turkey. I cooked one the other day (as a reward for my son) and a pre-thanksgiving warm-up. It was almost 9 lbs and it took about two hours. Most birds come with a pop-up timer. Make sure you put the turkey in the oven with the timer facing the window of your oven, so you can see it.
Once the turkey is done, take it out of the oven and set it somewhere to rest. But, carefully cut open the bag right away (don't let the steam burn you!). I find it can get soggy if you leave it closed while resting.
There will be lots of juice in the bottom of the bag. Take out about a cup of this. It's like liquid gold! So flavorful! And you'll need it for the gravy.
2 TBS real butter
2 TBS flour
1 cup reserved juice from turkey
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper
In a saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour. Keep whisking and cooking flour for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in a little ground thyme and sage (not too much, you can always add but you can't take away). Add in turkey juice, whisking constantly. Add in chicken broth, whisking constantly. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened. Taste it and see if you need to add more seasoning. That's it. Serve over turkey or mashed potatoes or both!
I wanted to take a picture of this grand, beautiful turkey that I made, but my son got a hold of the turkey before I could snap a photo. So, I went ahead and carved it. But, here is a pic of it on the plate. My husband says this pic looks like an ugly TV dinner. Oh well! I promise it came out beautiful. Plus, hungry kids are more important than pretty pictures (don't you think?)
So, I hope I've helped to take a little anxiety out of making a Thanksgiving turkey. Remember, it doesn't have to look perfect, as long as it tastes good. Besides, Thanksgiving is about being together with family and friends giving thanks for all of your blessings. That's all that really matters. That and sweet potato pie, of course.