The first step in the preparation process is selecting a turkey. Should you choose fresh or frozen? There is no real difference in a fresh or frozen turkey. If you have adequate freezer storage and time to safely thaw the bird, frozen is a good choice. If roasting a turkey is a last minute decision, then fresh is the way to go. Hens are generally considered better than toms because they have less bone mass with more edible portions. However, it is the age of the bird that determines tenderness. Most turkeys on the market are four to six months old. A fryer-roaster is less than sixteen weeks old.
If you choose a frozen turkey, the only safe way to thaw the bird is in the refrigerator. Thaw the turkey in its original wrapper in the refrigerator with a tray underneath the rack to catch any juices that might escape. Allow about 24 hours of defrosting time for every five pounds of turkey—a 20 pound turkey would take about four days to thaw. It is also safe to thaw a turkey by submerging it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. This method requires 30 minutes time per pound of turkey. Never thaw a turkey on the counter at room temperature. The bacteria on the outside of the turkey can multiply rapidly at room temperature. These bacteria may produce toxins that cooking cannot kill.
There are hundreds of ways to prepare a turkey with new ways popping up all the time based on trendy regional ingredients and creative cooking methods. Some are good and some are bad. The greatest challenge for new and experienced cooks alike is to avoid the dreaded “dry turkey,” which is usually in reference to the white meat of the turkey breast. Because the flavor of turkey marries well with a host of ingredients, turkey can be successfully braised, roasted, grilled, fried, boiled, broiled, or barbecued.
The traditional method of roasting a turkey begins with preheating the oven to 325°F. Check the wrapper for the weight to determine the cooking time, usually about 25 minutes per pound. Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity. Wash the turkey inside and out and pat dry. Place the breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan about 2-inches deep. Add about a 1⁄2-cup of water to the pan. Cover the turkey loosely with a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Roast the turkey until a thermometer placed in the innermost portion of the thigh reads 165°F. Remove the foil tent after about 1 1⁄2 hours of cooking time to allow for browning. Brush the skin with vegetable oil to enhance the browning. Allow the turkey to set for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the juices to saturate the meat evenly.
You can safely roast a stuffed turkey if you follow a few tips. First, never stuff the bird early to save preparation time. The stuffing will absorb any liquid and bacteria in the turkey, making it harder for the cooking process to destroy the bacteria. Next, loosely stuff the turkey, using about 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup stuffing per pound of bird. Roast the turkey until not only the bird, but also the stuffing reaches 165°F.
An oven cooking bag also makes is a safe way to cook a turkey. Shake a tablespoon of flour in the bag and insert the turkey. Seal the bag with the tie and cut slits in the bag to prevent the steam from popping the bag. Place in a large roasting pan and bake at 350°F. This method produces a moist-heat cooking environment. Roast the turkey until it reaches 165°F.
Turkey is a nutritious food choice. Turkey is low in fat and high in protein. It is an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. A serving of turkey is a 2 to 3-ounce cooked portion, which is about the size of a deck of new cards. A serving of skinless turkey breast contains 161 calories and 4 grams of fat. A serving of skinless dark meat contains 193 calories and 8 grams of fat.
There are websites available for last minute help with preparing a turkey. One of these is www.butterball.com. They also have a popular tip line available from November 1-December 21st where you can talk to experts if you have a question. Honeysuckle White and Reynolds also offer tip lines and helpful websites.
A perfectly roasted turkey can be the highlight of any Thanksgiving feast. Here’s wishing you a happy Thanksgiving and a successful turkey!
The recipes that follow are all side dishes that complement the Thanksgiving turkey. Enjoy!
Steamed Broccoli with Garlic and Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves chopped garlic
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 pounds broccoli florets
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄2 cup Parmesan cheese
A few flakes, crushed red pepper
Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add garlic and lemon peel and toss, do not allow garlic to brown. Add broccoli and toss to coat with seasonings. Add water and quickly cover with a tightly fitting lid. Cook until broccoli is crisp tender and water has evaporated. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Toss with Parmesan cheese.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 100 calories; 6g total fat; 5mg cholesterol; 150mg sodium; 7g carbohydrate; 3g dietary fiber; 6g protein
Scalloped Potatoes with Two Cheeses
1 1⁄2 cups fat-free milk
1 1⁄2 cups (6 ounces) shredded reduced-fat extra-sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced fat Monterey Jack cheese, divided
1⁄2 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
2 1⁄2 pounds peeled baking potatoes, cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
2 cups sliced onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine milk, 1⁄2 cup cheddar, 1⁄2 cup Monterey Jack, ketchup, Worcestershire, and pepper; set aside.
Arrange half of potatoes and half of onion in the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with half of milk mixture. Repeat layers; top with 1⁄2 cup cheddar, 1⁄2 cup Monterey Jack, and cilantro. Cover and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender and cheese is browned.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 233 calories; 8g total fat; 25mg cholesterol; 377mg sodium; 35g carbohydrate; 2g dietary fiber; 12g protein
Pineapple-Honey Glazed Sweet Potatoes
6 medium sweet potatoes (about 6 ounces each)
1⁄2 cup honey
1⁄2 cup pineapple juice
1⁄2 cup each white sugar and brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon orange zest or lemon zest
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
Select sweet potatoes that are uniform in size for even cooking. Wash. In a Dutch oven, cover sweet potatoes with cold water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until just tender yet firm, about 20 minutes. Drain; refrigerate to cool slightly. Sweet potatoes can be boiled and refrigerated 1 to 2 days in advance.
In same Dutch oven, combine honey, pineapple juice, white and brown sugar, butter, zest, cardamom and ginger. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce to simmer and simmer until reduced slightly, about 15 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 12 servings per recipe; 1/2 cup serving size; 200 calories; 3g total fat; 10mg cholesterol; 45mg sodium; 43g carbohydrate; 2g dietary fiber; 1g protein
For more information contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269. Information for this article was obtained from the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.