Talking Turkey

Chef Mick Rosacci

So youre cooking the Thanksgiving feast this year Good for you! Dont let that big old turkey intimidate you; you are going to do just fine. Get ready family, this is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever!A moist Thanksgiving turkey with decadent dressing and rich gravy is well within your reach. This week Ive got tips and recipes to help you through all the most important aspects of your meal.There is something here for everyone from beginners to experts. Read on and get ready for the best Thanksgiving feast ever!Chef Michael Angelo Mick Rosacci is a gourmet food and wine consultant in his familys business, Tonys Meats & Specialty Foods, in Littleton. Follow him on a weekly journey through the seasons and reasons of cuisine, one taste at a time. E-mail: BrineSeasoning a turkey from the inside out, brining is a great way to increase the flavor and golden brown finish of your turkey.One fresh turkey, 10-16 pounds 2 cups kosher salt1 1/4 cups brown sugar4 bay leaves5 cloves garlic, crushed18 peppercorns6 sprigs fresh thyme2 thumbs ginger, slicedThe day before cooking your turkey, bring 2 quarts of water to boil, add salt and sugar and spices and stir to dissolve, then allow to cool on stovetop. Pour into a plastic bag lined 5-gallon bucket, adding 2 gallons of ice water. Place bucket of brine in refrigerator, iced cooler, or in garage below 40 degrees (but not freezing). Submerge turkey into cold brine, adding more water if needed. Leave in brine overnight to 24 hours. Rinse, pat dry, season lightly and roast as directed.Thanksgiving Roast TurkeyEstimate your turkeys roasting time; allow 15 minutes per pound, adding 30 minutes for resting and about one hour if you plan to stuff your turkey. Subtract total time from your desired supper time to get your start time. One hour before its time to start cooking, remove turkey from brine, rinse, drain, pat dry and continue.Coarsely chop enough onion, carrots and celery to cover the bottom of your roasting pan (potatoes, winter squash and other root veggies can also be used save the veggie ends and trimmings for your stock). Toss veggies with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Scatter veggies to cover the bottom of your roasting pan this will help protect pan from scorching and enhance gravy. Place turkey on a roasting rack in your pan. If you dont have a rack, use whole carrots and split onions to lift your bird off the bottom of your pan. Add one cup of water to pan.For the best results, do not stuff turkey; rather, roast your dressing on the side and serve drizzled with homemade turkey stock. Not stuffing allows the turkey to cook more evenly, which translates into a moister bird and greatly reduces bacterial concerns. If you want to stuff your turkey, stuff lightly with hot dressing immediately before roasting (using hot dressing helps speed and balance cooking for a safer, more evenly cooked turkey.)Rub turkey with oil and season inside and out with salt and pepper or your favorite blend. Note: Be stingy with salt, it tends to collect in the bottom of your roasting pan, which can make your gravy salty. Position rack in center of oven and set to 325 degrees. Place turkey in the middle of oven and close door.Roast uncovered, basting regularly with a sauce made of one part butter to three parts stock. This not only enhances color, it helps keep the roasting pan from scorching so keep an eye on your pan. If breast is browning too much, tent loosely with foil near the end of cooking time.As your turkey nears its estimated cooking time, start taking temperature readings in the deepest part of the thigh. Your turkey is fully cooked when the temperature in the thigh is 180 degrees and the stuffing (if used) is 165 degrees. Remove turkey from oven, draining drippings from the body cavity into your roasting pan, and transfer bird to a serving platter. Cover well with aluminum foil and also a kitchen towel and rest for 20-40 minutes before carving. Resting allows carryover cooking to settle juices naturally, making for a juicier bird. Chefs Note: A perfectly cooked turkey has meat with a slightly pink hue and juices that run clear.Homemade Turkey StockHomemade turkey stock is so simple, and nothing else you can do adds so much magic to your turkey, dressing and gravy!1 stick butterTurkey neck, tail and giblets3-4 cups celery, carrots and onions, rough chop (trimmings are fine)5 each fresh thyme and parsley sprigs2 bay leaves6 whole cloves12 peppercorns1/2 tsp. saltMelt butter in a large stock pot. Add the turkey neck, tail, heart and chopped gizzard (no liver) cook to brown. Add veggies, stirring and sauting to loosen brown bits in pan. Add 16 cups water and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil and reduce to medium. Simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by about two-thirds and the taste is rich, about 3 hours. Do not over salt! Strain into a measuring cup, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard solids and skim fats. Yields approximately 4 cups.Chefs Note: Great homemade stock is the key to great gravy and amazing drizzled over sliced turkey and dressing before serving you can never have enough! You can increase your stock by seeking out an extra turkey neck, extra giblets, or even raw chicken bones.Classic Turkey GravyWith the turkey resting, its time to make the gravy. This is also a good time to invite any volunteers to help put the final touches on your side dishes, put the pies in the oven, set the table and do a little cleanup.Pan drippings from roasted turkeyMadeira wine (or dry white wine)low-sodium turkey or chicken stockMilk and flour slurryStrain pan drippings into a measuring cup or bowl, pressing on veggies to release all of the drippings; when fats rise, remove them with a bulb baster. Place turkey roasting pan directly over two burners with a medium flame. Immediately add a glass of wine (not cooking wine), simmer and loosen brown bits from the pan with a spatula. Strain wine and pan drippings into a saucepan, adding your defatted drippings and some of your homemade stock, to taste (usually about 2 cups depending on stock and drippings). Bring to a simmer.Allow 1 to 1.5 TBS flour for every cup of liquid. Whisk flour into 1 cup of cold milk until smooth. Whisk 1/2-cup hot stock into milk slurry, and then slowly whisk slurry into simmering stock. Bring to a boil to thicken and reduce to a simmer, stirring regularly. Taste, adjust, and simmer, reducing to taste. Serve hot.

Choose a Fresh Turkey: Chilling turkeys below 26 degrees causes damage at a cellular level, leading to excessive moisture loss when thawed.Natural Turkeys: Minimally processed, which means they contain no artificial ingredients.Basted or Self-Basting Turkeys: A basted turkey has its weight increased by 12-15 percent with a solution of water, fats, chemicals and flavorings. Basting is a way for producers to increase profits, flavor, and make up for moisture lost to freezing and thawing.Hen or Tom Turkeys: Hen turkeys are female birds with a processed weight from 8-16 pounds. Tom turkeys are males, usually weighing from 18 to 32 pounds. Hen and tom turkeys are equal in quality, both offering a high ratio of white to dark meat.Free Range Turkeys: This labeling/marketing term has nothing to do with quality or taste. To add the words Free Range to the label, a grower must open part of their turkey house to a common yard for a matter of minutes per day. While only a few birds venture out, they all can be labeled as Free Range. Most producers avoid this because of the negative effects of increased stress, disease, insects and temperature on the entire flock. Many in the industry consider this marketing term deceptive and even laughable.Organic Turkeys: This labeling and marketing term has nothing to do with quality, taste, tenderness or juiciness. The regulations governing organic labeling are concerned with items such as feed certification, genetic engineering and the use of ionizing radiation. Chef Mick Rosacci

1. One week before: Create your complete menu as well as a cooking time line then troubleshoot it. Is your menu realistic? Do you have enough pots, pans and serving vessels? Can you make some dishes in advance? Can some of the side dishes or desserts be delegated to helpful guests? Adjust your menu as needed and dont try to do too much!2. Thanksgiving Week: Pick up your fresh turkey (or thaw your frozen turkey, allowing up to five days for a large bird). If you dont have room in the refrigerator, use an ice chest. Test your meat thermometer for accuracy, or buy one!3. Focus on the Basics: Dont get too fancy keep in mind that preparing a great turkey, tasty dressing, rich gravy and a couple of well-prepared side dishes is your top priority. Forgetting these basics is at the heart of most disappointing meals.4. Never Ever : Never roast your turkey in a slow oven or overnight. Never stuff your turkey hours or a day in advance. Never allow your cooked bird to contact a surface contaminated by raw poultry. Never trust a pop-up thermometer. Never leave a quick-read thermometer in a bird while it roasts.5. Relax and Get Over It: While we all want everything to be perfect, things rarely are. Relax and enjoy your time in the kitchen, your meal, and your guests; youll be better off for it! Chef Mick Rosacc

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