Monday, December 29, 2008

Citrus and Herb Turkey

I will confess something...I never made turkey before...EVER...before this Thanksgiving that is. I mean sure I made turkeys at a catering kitchen and I rubbed them down with butter and stuck them in the oven. But I never actually watched cooked it from beginning to end and it certainly wasn't for my loved ones.
This year I decided that I am making Thanksgiving MY holiday! So I researched recipes, most importantly of all...the turkey. Turkey is one of those things that we always did in my family, but it was just some miraculous fluke it sometimes tasted great...but it was never WOW. So I decided to make it WOW! Now I understood what a huge task I was taking on right from the start. Most people in the family aren't even turkey eaters so I would have to overcome their previous notions of dry, icky turkey...

Right around Halloween I started planning my menu and my search for the perfect turkey began. Everything from marinading to salting to deepfrying...I read it all. But nothing really struck me as the perfect turkey. Until one day I saw it...BRINED TURKEY...Alton Brown was my savior! I was watching the food network as usual and there he was with a turkey show!
Brining: Brining makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis. There it was! Science! How can this be wrong! It can't! It's perfectly logical and Alton said it works! So it certainly must!
So finally the right prep method was decided on.

Next came the flavors. I really tried to keep it simple. Lots of citrus and herbs just to enhance the flavors of the turkey. That's it, nothing fancy, I didn't want to cover the flavors just enhance and sweeten them.

Finally, I had to figure out the cooking process. There are SOOOO many different ways to cook a turkey in the oven. But based on all the cooking that I did in professional kitchens there is only one way to go: start high then go low.
What does that mean? Well you want to start out high to get the breast nicely browned and golden. Then you turn it down and let the rest of the turkey cook. This will guarantee a golden, crispy crust and a tender juicy inside.

That was it! Now that all the variables to a perfect turkey were complete, I was ready to cook!

I used Alton Brown's recipe for the actual porportions of salt to water as well as the cooking method. I definitley tweeked the brine recipe as well as the aromatics.

Perfect Citrus Turkey

14 to 16 pound frozen young turkey
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
zest of 2 oranges
zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped tyme
2 tablespoons chopped sage
1 cup orange juice
2 gallons heavily iced water

1.Combine all the ingredients in a large plastic bag, I used a garbage bag.
2.Place the thawed turkey breast side down in brine. I used a pot for this turkey, because it was small enough.
3. Cover the turkey and refrigerate for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining. I used my garage as a storage space since it is so cold out now.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoons chopped tyme
1 tablespoon chopped sage
zest and juice of one orange
zest and juice of one lemon
2 cups of chicken stock

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

1. The next day, remove the turkey out of the brine and rinse it inside and out with water.
2. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and place on a roasting rack on top of a sheet pan or roasting pan.
3.Combine all the ingredients, except the water and brush on the oil and herb mixture. Make sure you get the breastside as well as the underside. Get into all those little nooks and crannies, you want every piece of this turkey to taste wonderful!
4. Fill the cavity with the oranges and lemons that were juiced and zested.

5. Before placing it in the oven, take a piece of foil and measure it on the bird into a little triangle. You want it to just cover the breast. Place the triangle to the side, it will be used a bit later on.
6. Place the turkey onto the lowest rack in the oven and let it roast for 30 minutes and 500 degrees. NO PEEKING! Because it is roasting on such a high temperature, all the juices that fall into your roasting pan may evaporate off and start to burn. During this time you want to add in your chicken stock just a bit at a time, so that your bits don't burn. This can be done throughout the entire cooking process to prevent the bits from burning and leaving perfect pan juices for a gravy.
*One of the easiest way to make an roast perfect is an internal probe thermometer. Especially one that you can set the temperature alarm on. It makes life simple and your roast moist! All you have to do is stick in the thermometer and wait for the alarm to go off!*
7. After the first half hour, take out the turkey and cover the breast with your pre-measured foil.

8. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
9. Set your probe thermometer alarm to 151 degrees F and walk away. (A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting.)
10. Once it's done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for about 15-20 minutes, covered with foil.
11. Carve and serve!
*I always carve my turkey before I serve it to the guests. This actually enables me to make the turkey hours before they get there. That way, I can carve it, stick it into a sheet pan, cover with foil and reheat in the oven right before the guests get there. In case anyone wants to see what my turkey looks like before I cut it, I take pictures for proof! Alton Brown has an awesome video here on how to properly carve a turkey. By carving the breast this way, you get a much moister turkey breast.*

Now, the gravy. The pan drippings from this turkey were really wonderful so the gravy is really simple. Just make a rough with a bit of the fat from the pan drippings and some flour. Slowly pour in some white wine and the turkey juices (no fat). Add in seasoning and some chopped fresh herbs. Heat up when ready to serve and you're done!

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