I really want to host Thanksgiving this year but the cooking of the turkey inspires great fear in me. My mom suggested trying a trial run to alleviate the pressure and so I did just that.
The one I made was the smallest I could find, 11 pounds, a fresh (not frozen) one from Whole Foods. I've made 5 or 6 pound chickens before so it didn't look that daunting once out of the package.
I chose a combination of a family friend's recipe and a little bit of a Martha Stewart recipe. I went stuffingless for my practice run, so after removing the neck and liver etc. from inside, I rubbed peppercorns and coarse salt in the cavity, and I put in some rosemary, thyme, and sage. I rubbed the outside with salt, pepper, and paprika, and then soaked cheesecloth in OJ and butter, and draped that over the breast and part of the legs.
Cooking was pretty uneventful. I cooked it at 350, basting every 30 minutes. I took the cheesecloth off at 90 minutes and and took the turkey out after a little less than 2 hours when the thigh registered about 160 degrees. Then I covered it with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes while I made the gravy.
The skin wasn't crispy enough. I guess I left the cheesecloth on too long. I could see when it reached temperature the skin probably wasn't crispy enough but I had to make a game time decision about undercooked skin versus overcooked chicken. I guess next time I would take off the cheesecloth earlier and if I saw it getting too well done put some foil over the breast. COuld I have stuck it under the broiler a minute or is that risky?
The breast meat was really, really good. Very moist and really tasty, which I was pleasantly surprised about, after reading a lot about overcooked, dried out breast meat. But I really didn't like the drumstick. I realized I don't think I have ever actually eaten a turkey drumstick so I don't have anything to compare it to. It was flavorful, but dry and kind of sad looking and tasted overcooked, which I don't understand since the breast meat was so perfectly cooked, and usually isn't the other way around with under/overcooking? Maybe I just don't like drumsticks. The thighs and wings were great.
In retrospect, the cheesecloth didn't really cover the drumsticks so much, so maybe that's why they tasted dried out?
My gravy tasted fine with store bought chicken stock, but I am planning on making turkey stock with the dregs of this one. Is it worth it?
Anyway, for someone like me so terrified of cooking a turkey, it's not a cheap experiment, but it definitely bolstered my confidence and I think I'm ready to take on a slightly bigger bird on the big day. Any other tips for a novice turkey maker?
Oh, and because I'm a novice, I hope you won't laugh at me about my big faux pas: I was so annoyed that they didn't include the giblets, muttering and cursing about it, and I felt so so stupid when I found them...... AFTER we had eaten the turkey........... attached to the non-neck side of the turkey in a bag, that, thankfully, was made of some heat-proof paper type substance that can withstand heat... OOPS!