Thursday, November 13, 2014

Traditional Holiday Roast Turkey (Simple)

So many people are afraid to attempt cooking a turkey. But really, it is one of the simplest things you can make! It literally is just rubbing some spices and butter over the outside, covering it and putting it in the oven. True, some experienced turkey fans do get fancy with flavors and techniques. I have done that several times myself and it is fun. But most people just want a good, traditionally-seasoned roasted turkey for the holidays. That is the recipe I am sharing here. It is simple, no headache and even people who "don't really cook" can do this recipe. In the end, you will have a delicious roasted bird as the highlight of your table. Below the recipe, I have also added some "gourmet" tips and ideas for you to try, if you want. 

Traditional Holiday Roast Turkey 

NOTE:  This recipe is based on a 15 pound bird, please adjust amounts based on the size of the bird. Roasting chart is down below, for different sizes.

1 raw thawed turkey, about 15-18 lbs
½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened

1 to 2 tsp of salt (depending on size of the bird)
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground rosemary
1 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp poultry seasoning

1 cup turkey or chicken broth/stock
1 roasting pan, large enough to easily hold your turkey and at least 3 inches deep
Aluminum foil for covering the bird (or a tight-fitting lid for roasting pan)

BEFORE COOKING:  Be certain your bird and the roasting pan you have chosen (lid included, if any) will fit properly in your oven, with the oven door shut. Use only one rack, moved to the bottom level, if necessary. First you must thaw the turkey completely. A safe method is to place the bird in the refrigerator for 3 days before you plan to cook it. 5 days, if it is a larger bird. Its best not to thaw it at room temperature or warmer, as this can cause bacteria to grow. 

1.       When you are ready to cook your turkey, preheat your oven to 325 degrees, F. If you will be stuffing your bird, prepare your stuffing now, according to package directions.
2.        Remove turkey from any packaging it came in. Remove all giblets from the bird (neck, heart, liver, etc.).  Be sure to check inside both the chest area and in the neck area, as different companies store giblets in different areas of the bird. Set giblets aside in a bowl. These can be used later for gravy, if you wish. The bird's feet may be held in place by a plastic brace. You can pull the feet out for cleaning and stuffing, then pop them back in before cooking. These foot braces are oven-safe and will not melt. They hold the bird in a better position so it looks nicer. Place raw bird in a clean kitchen sink and thoroughly rinse bird with cold water, inside and out. Pat the inside and outside of the bird as dry as possible with paper towels, or a clean kitchen cloth. Remove from sink and place bird back-side-down in the roasting pan you plan to use for cooking. If it’s a foil pan, place a strong metal baking sheet underneath it for safe moving in and out of the oven, as a foil pan cannot support the weight of a turkey by itself).  
3.       In a small bowl, mix all the spices together and set aside.
4.       Rub the softened butter all over the outside of the bird’s skin, like a coating.
5.       Sprinkle bird evenly all over, with the entire spice mixture. You can rub the spices into the skin with the butter, if you like. Be sure to return the bird to its back-side-down position. If you are going to stuff your bird, you may loosely pack your stuffing (prepared according to package directions) into the chest cavity of the bird. If you previously popped the feet out of the foot braces, put them back in now. You can also tuck the pointy wing tips behind the shoulders of the bird, so they don't poke through the foil.  
6.       Pour broth into the bottom of the roasting pan, to help keep the bird moist during cooking and add extra flavor. 
7.       Cover the bird with either a tight fitting lid for your roasting pan, or with aluminum foil, lightly greased on the side touching the bird, so the skin won’t stick to it. Foil should cover the entire bird, use 2 sheets side by side if needed and pinch them together.   Secure the outer edges of the foil to the outer edges of the roasting pan. Try to leave some space between the foil and the turkey skin.  
8.       Carefully place roasting pan with bird on the bottom rack of your oven and close oven door. Cook bird for the recommended hours by pound (see chart below, based on whether the bird is stuffed or not). Once per hour, you can open the oven to “baste” your bird if you like, although its not necessary. You can use a spoon for this, or a baster.  If you choose to baste, its easier and safer to pull the bottom rack out a bit and lift the foil to do your basting, instead of trying to move the bird over to the counter.  Then simply seal the foil back up, push the rack back in and close the oven door to continue cooking.  

9.       The last 45 minutes, remove the foil from the bird and roast uncovered to help darken the skin.  Pay attention to the pop-up timer, if any. When the red center button pops up on the timer, the bird is done. If there is no timer, stick to the chart.
10.   Clear off a nearby counter or table space to place your bird on (use extra pot holders or a thick towel to protect your counter). Using pot holders for safety, get a very secure grip on the roasting pan/tray. Very carefully lift the bird and pan out of the oven and quickly over to the counter space you have cleared. Let bird rest for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before carving (it does not have to be piping hot, if you are serving it with hot gravy). DO NOT carve the turkey fresh out of the oven. All the juices will drain out of the meat and it will be dry. Letting the bird “rest” for at least 30 minutes allows the juices to settle into the meat and thicken a bit, so they won’t run out. This will keep the meat more juicy. After resting the bird, carve and serve.   

TIP:  Save juice from the bottom of the pan to make gravy. 

Q:  Is there anything I can do to make my turkey more "Gourmet"? 
A:  Yes!   Try some of these ideas:  

Add this to the butter:
Lemon zest
3 cloves minced garlic
Handful fresh chopped parsley

Try some of these tricks for extra flavor:
Salt and pepper the inside the bird too. 
Fill the bird with flavor-- an apple or orange cut in half, placed inside the bird, also leftovers of the zested lemon cut in half, an onion cut in half, bay leaves, a sprig of fresh rosemary, etc.
Try stuffing some of the butter under the skin, this makes the bird extra juicy
Sprinkle olive oil on top of the bird, to stop the butter from burning.

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