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It's Thyme for Turkey

There is one thing that has confused me over the years and that is how the thought of cooking a turkey seems to evoke fear in otherwise confident home cooks.

Maybe it is not the actual turkey that creates the fear but the shear volume of other foods vying for the oven at the exact same time as the turkey. Or, it could be the fact that many people will be eating this turkey that you rarely, if ever, take the opportunity to cook at other times during the year. And of course it could be about the unfortunately common “pass the gravy this turkey is as dry as the Sahara desert” issue which, if I am to be frightened by a turkey, is the issue that scares me the most.

Thanksgiving cooks unite: You are not alone in this holiday turkey-cooking stress, in fact the Butterball® Turkey Talk-Line answers hundreds of thousands of turkey-related calls each season (1-800-Butterball or talkline@butterball.com).

Here are some suggestions to get you on your way to a delicious stress-free turkey.

• How big a turkey will you need? Estimate one pound per person. If you need a really large turkey, you could consider purchasing two smaller turkeys and cooking them side-by-side. They will thaw and cook more quickly, plus you will have less fighting over the drum sticks if you have four versus two.

• Fresh or frozen? This is a personal preference. My preference is frozen. (I can buy it ahead and avoid the crowds—thus reducing grocery-related stress.)

• Thawing the frozen bird. Plan to thaw your turkey over several days. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator in the original packaging on a rimmed pan (to catch any juices). Thawing time is about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.

• If the turkey is still frozen on Thanksgiving: Say hello to the cold water bath method. Water is a much better conductor of heat than air in the refrigerator, so this is a faster way to thaw. Simply fill a large bucket or the kitchen sink with cool water and plunge the bird in, in the original wrapper, breast-side down. If the turkey has been defrosting in the refrigerator for several days, a mere half hour may do the trick.

• Avoiding the dreaded dry turkey breast. Lighter breast meat cooks faster than the dark meat. You can brine your turkey (some people swear by this method), you can cook your turkey in pieces versus whole or you can use my all-time favorite way to cook a whole turkey (or a whole chicken for that matter). It cuts the cooking time in half and yields moist and delicious turkey.

Turkey in Minutes

This method comes from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.
Note: Best when used to roast a turkey of weighing 12 pounds or less.

1 (12-pound) turkey
2 onions, quartered
4 stalks celery cut in thirds
2 lemons, quartered
½ cup dry white wine
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons roughly chopped sage
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey and then cut out the backbone. (Place your turkey breast-side down and run your knife along both sides of the backbone or cut the backbone out using kitchen shears.) Flatten the bird out a bit by pressing firmly on the breastbone.

Scatter the onions, celery and lemons on the bottom of a roasting pan and place the bird breast-side up on top of the vegetables. Pour in the wine.

Strip the leaves from the thyme sprigs and place in a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Pulse until mixed. Gently rub this herb mixture under the skin of the turkey (on the breast, thighs/legs). Spread any remaining rub over the turkey.

Place the turkey on top of the vegetables and roast for 45 minutes or until done. Check on it after 30 minutes to assess the browning. If browning too fast, reduce heat to 400 degrees. Cook until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to assure proper cooking temperature. Once the turkey is done, remove from the oven and place foil over it to keep the heat in. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes. (This allows the juices to re-distribute in the meat so that when you slice it the juices stay in the meat and do not end up on the cutting board.) Drizzle a some pan juices over the sliced meat and enjoy.

Yield: 12 servings (Serving size: 4 ounce)
Nutrition Breakdown: Calories 250, Fat 9g (3g saturated, 3g monounsaturated), Cholesterol 120mg, Sodium 320mg, Carbohydrate 0g, Protein 33g, Phosphorus 340mg, Potassium 524mg.
Percent Daily Value: 2% Vitamin A, 0% Vitamin C, 15% Iron,
2% Calcium
Carbohydrate Choices: 0 Carbohydrates
Diabetes Exchange Value: 4 Lean meats.

Kim’s Note: The nutrient analysis assumes you don’t consume the skin. Sage, thyme and rosemary can be purchased packaged together in the fresh herb section of most grocery stores. It is sometimes packaged as “poultry blend.”

Kim Beavers is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator for University Health Care System. She lives in North Augusta with her husband and two children and she  is the co-host of the culinary nutrition segment Eating Well with Kim, which airs at noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday on WRDW. To join the recipe club or view recipes, visit www.universityhealth.org/ewwk. You can also watch the segments at www.wrdw.com/ewwk.

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