(MCT) – With Thanksgiving just a day away, it’s time to talk turkey.
Traditionally the showpiece of the holiday meal, turkey tends to intimidate.
Each year, cooks across the country fret about how to cook it. And they shouldn’t.
For some, it has been a year since they last tackled a whole turkey, and they’ve forgotten how to roast it. Others simply crave new flavor twists. And, yes, we know, some even dread the whole fowl process.
We can see why. November food magazine covers and inside pages are loaded with Norman Rockwell-like turkeys — perfectly golden brown birds. Such high expectations put cooks on the spot.
Now, however, is not the time to reinvent turkey, but rather a time to enhance it.
Today we’re offering some simple tried-and-true flavor options for roast turkey with brining, herb butter and seasoning blends.
If it’s your first Thanksgiving as the cook, go for the sure-fire method of brining. We picked up on the brining trend years ago and have never looked back. Naysayers think it’s a chore because it requires you to soak the turkey overnight. But brining creates a juicy, moist and flavorful bird.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, brine the bird and then rub it with an herb butter inside and out (see the steps at right ).
And if you’re up for something different, go all out with a favorite rub or seasoning mixture.
It’s the lure of different flavor combinations, such as the Smoky Seasoning or Mustard Glaze options (see box on Page 2D ), that can put a new twist on your holiday bird.
Don’t want to roast a whole turkey? Roast it in parts — legs, thighs and breasts. Many grocery and specialty stores sell turkey pieces. Roasting them separately, many sources say, means everything cooks evenly.
HOW TO BUTTER THE BIRD
Compound butters are a simple way to add flavor to your holiday turkey. You can make them with a variety of flavor combinations such as fresh herbs, spices, seasonings and aromatics. Softened butter is mixed with the flavorings and then smeared under and on top of the skin. Try using parsley, marjoram, thyme or rosemary, adjusting the amounts to taste. Also include salt and fresh cracked black pepper or your favorite all-purpose seasoning.
Aromatics like chives and garlic do particularly well. Citrus zest will give it a bright flavor, while spices such as a mix of chili powders, cumin, smoked paprika and coriander will punch up the flavor.
Here is a basic recipe for a 15-pound turkey:
Mix together 1 ¼ sticks (10 tablespoons ) softened butter, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest, 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt, 1 ½ tablespoons freshly chopped mixed herbs.
Follow these steps to butter the bird:
Step 1: In a small bowl, mix together all the herb butter ingredients.
Step 2: Make sure turkey is dry. Slightly loosen the skin under the breast at the larger cavity opening. Slide a thin plastic spatula between the skin and the meat. Push it gently to loosen the skin from all over the breast, and some of the legs and thighs.
Step 3: Using the same spatula, take about 4 tablespoons of the butter mixture and place it under the skin on one side of the breast. Slide the spatula out, leaving butter under skin. Repeat with another 4 tablespoons for the other side of the breast. Now press on top of skin to spread the butter all over, as much as you can, underneath.
Step 4: Evenly rub the remaining 2 tablespoons all over the outside of the turkey.
FLAVOR TWISTS FOR YOUR TURKEY
Smoky Seasoning: Mix together 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter; 1 tablespoon of canola oil; 2 tablespoons of your favorite chili powder, such as Ancho; ½ teaspoon of garlic powder; ½ teaspoon of cumin; ½ teaspoon of onion powder; 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika; ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Adjust seasoning as needed. If you want it smokier, add more paprika. If you want it with a little kick, add a hot chili powder.
Rub about ¾ of the mixture under the skin on the breasts, legs and thighs. Rub the remaining over the outside of the turkey.
Mustard Glaze: In a small saucepan, mix ¾ cup of pure maple syrup, ½ cup of dry white wine, 1/3 cup of Dijon-style mustard and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Bring to a simmer. Divide the mixture in half. During the last hour of roasting, brush some of the glaze over the turkey. Brush again after 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve remaining glaze on the side.
For both variations, follow instructions for roasting the turkey in the Roast Turkey with Sage Pan Gravy recipe.
ROAST TURKEY WITH SAGE PAN GRAVY
Serves: 12 / Preparation time: 1 hour
Total time: 3 hours
One (12 to 14 pound) fresh turkey (or frozen, thawed)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 lemon, halved crosswise
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 cups no-salt-added or less-sodium, fat-free chicken stock, divided
2 cups water
3 tablespoons white wine
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Remove giblets and neck from turkey; discard liver. Reserve turkey neck and giblets. Pat turkey dry with paper towels; trim and discard excess fat. Starting at neck cavity, loosen the skin from breast using your fingers at first. Then gently slide a thin plastic spatula under the skin pushing it gently to loosen the skin under the entire breast, legs and thighs.
Combine 2 tablespoons sage, oil, butter, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Rub sage mixture under the loosened skin and over breasts and drumsticks. Squeeze juice from 1 half of lemon over turkey; place remaining lemon half in cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen string. Place reserved giblets, neck, garlic, carrots, celery, onion and bay leaf in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup stock and 2 cups water to pan. Place roasting rack in pan. Arrange turkey, breast side up, on roasting rack.
Bake turkey for 1 hour and 20 minutes, rotating pan every 30 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees (do not remove turkey from oven). Bake turkey an additional 30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh registers 160 to 165 degrees. Remove turkey from pan; place on a cutting board. Let stand for 30 minutes. Carve turkey.
Place a large zip-top plastic bag inside a 4-cup glass measure. Strain pan drippings through a colander into bag; discard solids. Let drippings stand 10 minutes. Seal bag; snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain pan drippings into a medium saucepan, stopping before fat layer reaches the opening. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sage, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper, 1 ½ cups chicken stock and wine to drippings in pan; bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes or until reduced to 2 ½ cups. Combine flour and remaining ½ cup chicken stock in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir flour mixture into stock mixture in pan; bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring gravy constantly. Serve gravy with turkey.
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, November 2012. Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
315 calories (26 percent from fat), 9 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat), 3 grams carbohydrates, 52 grams protein, 349 mg sodium, 172 mg cholesterol, less than 1 gram fiber.