Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Michael Graham Guaranteed Sure-Fire Can't-Miss Perfect Turkey Every Time!

If you’re looking for the recipe for the best turkey you’re ever going to eat—this isn’t it.

That’s Deep Fried Turkey, and it takes special equipment, lots of practice and plenty of fire-retardant clothing. It’s absolutely delicious, however, and if you’re a foodie like me, it’s worth doing.

However, most people will never fry a turkey. Instead, they will find themselves in that uncomfortable position of roasting a turkey for a family member (or worse, in-laws) for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe you’ve never roasted a turkey, or maybe you’ve done it a few times with mixed results. And now, here you are. The pressure’s on. The Mother-In-Law is watching.

It’s showtime.

Here are the three things that will guarantee you don’t spend Thanksgiving in the bedroom crying, while your sister pounds on your locked bedroom door saying “Oh, it’ wasn’t THAT bad…”

RULE NUMBER ONE: Take Your Time. Forget counting pounds and calculating minutes. Most turkeys come with a pop-out thermometer. When it’s done, you’ll know it. So set the oven on low—250 degrees is fine. Low temperature means a more moist bird, and it avoids any parts like the wing or the top of the breast from getting overdone. You’ve got all day. Use it.

RULE NUMBER TWO: Fill The Space. When the turkey’s all clean and washed and ready to go in the over, there’s a huge empty space in the middle. Leave it that way, and there will be a mass of flavorless, hot air in that space, drying out your turkey. Ambitious chefs will stuff it.

DON’T be ambitious.

Instead, be simple. If someone’s making dressing, take the leftover bits of onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, whatever—and toss them into the cavity. You’re not going to eat them so it doesn’t matter what they look like. If not, quarter an onion, or an apple (or maybe both, if you like the flavor!) and fill the cavity with it. The goal here is flavored, moist air to take the place of the flavorless dry stuff. Before you serve your turkey, just scoop it and toss it.

RULE NUMBER THREE: Towel It Down. This is a trick I got from my grandmother in rural South Carolina. For most of her life, she cooked with wood stoves or propane stoves that were unreliable when it came to holding heat. In order to protect the turkey from these fluctuations and guarantee a nice, evenly done bird, women in her era used a trick. They covered the turkey in cloth. Here’s how it works:

Melt a pound of butter in a pot or bowl. Before you put the turkey in the preheated oven, soak a clean cheesecloth or thin hand towel in the butter and then drape the butter-soaked towel over the turkey. It doesn't have to cover the bird entirely, but the more the better.

Baste every 15 minutes. Start by ladling more butter from your bowl onto the top of the towel, keeping it lightly moist. Once you’ve got enough drippings in the bottom of the turkey pan, set the butter aside and baste with drippings.

Keep basting the towel. The towel is doing two things for you. The butter barrier is keeping the turkey moist, and the towel is keeping the heat on the turkey even. No dark spot on the breast of a light-brown turkey. Nice, even and brown—every time!

When the thermometer pops, take the bird out and re-baste the towel one last time to moisten it. Then gently peel it off and toss it. The turkey should look great. If you want it a little more brown, place it back in a hotter oven (350 max) for just a few minutes to brown it. But I’ve never had to do that. It’s always been perfect.

ONE LAST TIP: More Time. Give the turkey 30 minutes to sit before you carve. Don’t let anyone bully you into cutting it up early. You can tent it with aluminum foil to keep it warm, but do the carving as close to serving time as you can.

And as they say at the New Orleans School of Cooking… Laissez le bon temps roullez!