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Thanksgiving Part One: The Perfect Turkey

Posted on Posted in Culinary Science, Nutrition Information, Recipes

Isn’t it every cook’s quest to be the envy of the family with a perfectly cooked turkey?  But all too often, turkeys turn out dry, pasty, and flavorless.  Well, last year, I was stuck in Boston for Thanksgiving because of my internship schedule, so my boyfriend and I decided to make the entire Thanksgiving meal (and an epic blanket fort), just for ourselves.  Crazy, but totally worth it– we had leftovers for days.  I think some of my apple crisp is still in the freezer…  Stay tuned to future blog posts to find out more about what we made!

I did my research on how to tackle the perfect turkey.  Since turkey has it’s nutritional benefits (it’s a great lean protein and a good source of B vitamins), I didn’t feel too bad splurging on the ways to make it taste like perfection (read: lots of salt).  In the end, I combined a lot of different methods, namely Good Eats and America’s Test Kitchen, to create this beauty.

The absolute perfect turkey | foodsciencenerd.com
The absolute perfect turkey

 

Two weeks before:

  • I started with a frozen turkey breast.  Since there were only two of us, I got the smallest bird I could find at 7 pounds.

3 days before:

  • Put the bird in a bowl large enough to hold the whole bird (or at least most) and put on the bottom shelf of the fridge, covered in saran wrap, to defrost.

One day before:

  • Take the bird out of it’s wrapper.  Fill the bowl with a brine of half water, half chicken (or turkey) broth, and plenty of coarse salt, oregano, and pepper.  Brine in the fridge for 24 hours, covered, flipping once if the whole bird does not fit in the bowl.

  • ALTERNATIVELY, coat the whole bird in kosher salt, above and below the skin.  Let sit, loosely covered for at least 4 hours or until the meat is pink and taught on the surface.  Don’t add salt to the pepper and baking powder in the step below if using this method.  This method is called a dry brine.  It’s all the rage right now because it is much easier, less messy, and produces flawless results.  I’ve switched to dry brining everything and it’s great!

The perfect turkey | foodsciencenerd.com

Day of:

  • Preheat oven to 325.

  • Rinse and dry the turkey thoroughly. Using a knife or toothpick, poke holes in the fat under the skin to self-baste the bird.  Sprinkle the skin with a mixture of 2 tsp baking powder, 4 tsp coarse salt, and 1 tsp fresh ground pepper to dry the skin and flavor the bird.

  • Put the bird in a large roasting pan (I didn’t have a roasting rack, so I made supports out of tin foil. It worked great!).  Roast for 2.5 hours, breast-side-up, covered in a tin foil tent, until a digital thermometer inserted midway through the breast reads 130 F.

  • Take the turkey out of the oven and raise the temperature to 450 F.  Once preheated, roast the turkey, uncovered, for 30 mins until the thermometer reads 162 F.

  • Let the bird rest, covered, for 30 mins before slicing.  See Alton Brown’s guide to slicing a turkey for techniques on how not to make a mess.

The skin was so crispy and flavorful, I couldn’t bear to take it off, despite all the saturated fat I know it contains.  Actually, most of the fat renders out, so there is really nothing to feel bad about!

Could you resist that? Don't think so!
Could you resist that? Don’t think so!

I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I still dream about this turkey.  Can’t wait for next year!

Thanksgiving Part One: The Perfect Turkey

Thanksgiving Part One: The Perfect Turkey

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • Baking powder
  • Olive oil
  • Water and chicken broth for wet brine, optional
  • Other poultry seasonings, optional

Directions

    3 days before:
  1. Put the bird in a bowl large enough to hold the whole bird (or at least most) and put on the bottom shelf of the fridge, covered in saran wrap, to defrost.
  2. One day before:
  3. Take the bird out of it’s wrapper. Fill the bowl with a brine of half water, half chicken (or turkey) broth, and plenty of coarse salt, oregano, and pepper. Brine in the fridge for 24 hours, covered, flipping once if the whole bird does not fit in the bowl.
  4. Alternatively, coat the whole bird in kosher salt, above and below the skin. Let sit, loosely covered for at least 4 hours or until the meat is pink and taught on the surface. Don't add salt to the pepper and baking powder in the step below if using this method.
  5. Day of:
  6. Preheat oven to 325.
  7. Rinse and dry the turkey thoroughly. Using a knife or toothpick, poke holes in the fat under the skin to self-baste the bird. Sprinkle the skin with a mixture of 2 tsp baking powder, 4 tsp coarse salt, and 1 tsp fresh ground pepper to dry the skin and flavor the bird.
  8. Put the bird in a large roasting pan (I didn’t have a roasting rack, so I made supports out of tin foil. It worked great!). Roast for 2.5 hours, breast-side-up, covered in a tin foil tent, until a digital thermometer inserted midway through the breast reads 130 F.
  9. Take the turkey out of the oven and raise the temperature to 450 F. Once preheated, roast the turkey, uncovered, for 30 mins until the thermometer reads 162 F.
  10. Let the bird rest, covered, for 30 mins before slicing. Use this time to make the last-minute sides
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Links:
For the incredible turkey gravy that my boyfriend tackled, check out this post: Thanksgiving Part Two: Super simple, deceptively healthy mashed potatoes

For ideas on sides and drinks to serve with dinner: Thanksgiving Part Three:  Healthy Sides (without sacrificing anything)

For two fantastic desserts that actually have health benefits: Thanksgiving Part Four: Healthy Desserts (still no sacrifices)