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How to cook a turkey that will ROCK your holidays! - Pin Warriors
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How to cook a turkey that will ROCK your holidays!

Around the Pin Warrior household, we’re all about the holidays. And for us, the official start of the holiday season is Thanksgiving!

Being Canadian means we get a stretch of holiday time (and overindulgence…we can admit that) that begins in early October with our annual fall road trip through central Ontario, and really kicks into high gear with Thanksgiving in mid-October. We like to test drive a turkey dinner earlier than that, though, just so we have an opportunity to try out some different things and see what works for us.

This year, we took a page out of Jamie Oliver’s book and went with a traditional butterball turkey (the method, not the brand, although help yourself if they’re on sale!). We did tweak the recipe a little

Here’s the infographic if you just want to take notes:

OK, here’s what you’re going to need:

  • A turkey.
  • About half a pound of butter.
  • Fresh herbs (your choice: we went with rosemary and basil).
  • Olive oil.
  • Fennel.
  • Carrots.
  • Celery.
  • Onions.
  • Garlic.
  • Poultry seasoning.
  • Salt & Pepper.
  • Star anise.
  • Nutmeg.
  • Cinnamon.
  • Bay leaves.
  • A clementine.
  • Some time (and thyme).

In this recipe, we’re not going to get into the stuffing or gravy. This is the basic bird technique that works EVERY TIME. You can get the gravy recipe HERE.

First and foremost, you MUST give your turkey adequate time to thaw. This could be 24 to 48 hours depending on the size of the bird. After that, you’ll need to let it come up to about room temperature. Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous. This will allow the bird to cook evenly throughout without getting dry (which happens when it goes into the oven cold and takes longer to reach safe eating temperature).

Be sure to remove the giblets. These usually come in a bag tucked inside the bird. Don’t forget to check both ends, as sometimes they’re tucked under the flap where the neck was. You’ll need these parts for later. Generally they consist of the heart, kidneys, liver, and the neck. We used to throw them away too, but DON’T!! This is 100% necessary flavouring when it comes to making gravy, so hold onto these guys.

Also be sure to drain any water out of the turkey, and either pat it dry or let it air dry in the sink while you’re getting everything else set up.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F (260 C). This is “screaming hot,” as Jamie Oliver would say. Again, trust us on this one…your bird will be golden and delicious at the end, but it has to start out HOT.

Next, set up your trivet. The trivet is the stuff you put in the bottom of the pan that will keep the turkey elevated, while also roasting away to form the basis of your gravy. This will sound complicated, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. Here’s what you do:

  1. Cut a large onion in half, and trim the ends. Peel it. Now cut each half into quarters and toss it all in the pan.
  2. Pull out about 4-5 cloves of garlic. Don’t peel them, but smash them with the side of your knife and toss them in.
  3. Wash and roughly chop 2 or 3 carrots (no need to peel) and 2 or 3 stalks of celery, and throw them in.
  4. Wash and roughly chop most (or all) of a fennel bulb. In she goes.

It should look like quite a chunky mix right about now. That’s OK, because its purpose is flavour, not design, and it needs to hold the turkey off the bottom of the pan. The juices will drip down and stew all those veggies together, and your gravy will be mindblowing.

Remember those giblets you pulled out earlier? Those go in too. Toss in a couple of star anise and bay leaves, and sprinkle the whole mess over with olive oil, ginger, and a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary. Give it all a toss to mix and set it aside.

Now the fun part. Take some salted butter (if you have unsalted, just add in some salt; no worries). About half a pound will do. Judge this amount based on the size of your bird. Chop up some basil or sage leaves with some fresh rosemary, as fine as you can get it. Add this to the butter. If you like, add in some extra ground sage and thyme (or mixed poultry seasoning), and bit of garlic powder. At this point, we also like to grate in about 1/2 a fresh nutmeg, but that’s your call.

Smoosh that all together to make a flavoured butter. Using a spoon, and your fingers, work the turkey skin away from the breast meat to create a pocket over each breast, being careful not to tear the skin. Into each breast pocket, place half of the flavoured butter, then massage it so it’s spread evenly over the breast.

At this point you might want to stuff the bird. However, we don’t recommend stuffing the main cavity of the turkey, as this will significantly increase your cooking time. Instead, take a handful of your stuffing and tuck it into the neck end, using the flap of skin there to hold it in place.

That’s another Jamie Oliver idea!!

However, what you CAN do is take a clementine and slice it in half, and stuff that up your bird. Also throw in half an onion (cut in two or three big pieces). We also like to throw in any extra garlic cloves, and if you’re feeling really festive a couple of cinnamon sticks. Use a whole sprig of rosemary to pin down the upper skin that you stretched out earlier for the butter.

Place the whole bird in the roasting pan. Coat it lightly with olive oil, and season generously with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning (or just sage, whatever you prefer). An extra grating of nutmeg over the whole shebang is a great finishing move.

Put the bird in the oven, and immediately turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F (about 175 C). See, the oven will cool gradually over the cooking time, so it will still be at 500 when you start, giving the bird a nice crispy outside, melting the butter inside, and getting the show on the road. After a couple of hours, however, the cook will be slower and deeper and yummier.

Cooking time will depend on your bird, but generally it will need about 35 minutes per kilogram, plus 20 minutes at the end (or, roughly 20 minutes per pound). Whereas most turkey recipes suggest basting every 20 minutes, this one usually doesn’t need much help (because of the butter under the skin). But you’re free to baste all you want — couldn’t hurt.

The turkey is cooked when your thermometer in the thigh reads 180 degrees. A matching temp on the thickest part of the breast is a good idea too. If it’s a little under, just give it another 15 minutes. You can also tell, because when you pull the thermometer out the juices will run clear.

When you take the bird out of the oven, it’s not ready to serve yet. This is where the magic happens. Take the bird out of the roasting pan and place it on a serving tray. Cover it with foil, and let it rest for at least two hours. If done correctly, this will allow it to continue cooking a little, and will also allow the meat to hold onto the juices as it cools.

This is the time to get started on your gravy and the rest of the meal. Don’t worry if the turkey cools off a little as it rests. It will warm up once the gravy hits it. And all that stuff in the roasting pan…that’s your gold!

Super important key points: Start the oven hot, then turn it down once the turkey is in. Give yourself enough time (think 35 minutes/kg PLUS 20 minutes PLUS 2 hours of resting time!!). Don’t slice the turkey right away; let it rest for a couple of hours first. Bon appetit!

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