food

Roast turkey

Roast Thanksgiving turkey

Recently, I hit pause on being a pescatarian to roast turkey for my good friends. It was a daunting prospect. Having very little experience with poultry — and knowing that the turkey is one of the most challenging birds to bake, given its tendency for dryness — I worried it would either be (a) dangerous to eat, or (b) dry and tasteless.

I know I fear failure. Whether it’s culinary or anything else, I want to do everything perfectly.

I’m in my final class for my gender, sexuality, and women’s studies (GSWS) major. Being this close to finishing my degree is both tantalizing and terrifying, but I’m not over the hill yet. This class is a cross between history and gender studies. That’s because the gender studies department is teeny-tiny, and GSWS classes are offered but occasionally; it was the only 400-level GSWS course available. Ready or not, I dove face-first into studying ancient societies.

Now I’m worried about passing this class at all. It’s midway through the semester — too late for me to drop the class — and it turns out history is a difficult field. I have spent most of my time in post-secondary studying philosophy, English, communication, and gender studies. I dipped into some anthropology and history along the way, but haven’t wandered into those weeds much. I’m now struggling to keep up with readings on property, law, and women’s statuses in these ancient societies.

The logical part of me recognizes that this is a good challenge for me. The less logical part of me is simply frustrated at being out of my depth.

But I got through roasting a turkey unscathed, despite my fears of failure. I’m taking that as encouragement, as an indication that I can maybe, possibly pass this class unscathed too.

HOW TO COOK TURKEY

Step one: No Butterball, frozen grocery store turkey for you. Go to a butcher, and look for local turkeys — preferably a bird that’s older. Opt for turkeys that were ethically raised, and fed things turkeys are naturally inclined to eat. Basically, chat with your butcher. They’ll probably be able to tell you about where they got their birds. Some Vancouver-based options I was eyeing include Pete’s Meat, Beefway Meats, Vancouver Butcher, and Urban Digs Farm. I ended up going with Columbus Meats, based on my dad’s recommendation. Getting a turkey from a butcher might be more expensive, but it’s worth the splurge. (And my 13lb turkey was only $44!)

Step two: Ya gotta brine your turkey! Y’all, I had never cooked a turkey before, and mine still turned out juicy and delicious. It is worth the added effort, and requires very little work. Remove the giblets and the neck from your turkey, wearing plastic gloves for handling the raw poultry. Put your turkey in a cooler, and fill with enough cold water that the turkey is full submerged. Add ice, so your turkey stays nice ‘n’ cool while it’s brining away. Toss in two pounds of sea salt, and two cups of brown sugar. Now just let the turkey sit for four to six hours, depending on the size of your bird. My 13-pounder was in there for about five hours. When the brine time is up, take the turkey out, rinse it well in cold water, and let it sit in the fridge uncovered to drain overnight. (And be sure to thoroughly wash that cooler and sink before using again!)

Step three: OK, so your turkey has been brined, rinsed, and drained overnight. You’re ready to start cooking! You’ll want to allot at least four and a half hours for cooking (again, depending on the size of the bird), so count back from when you want to serve. I started at 2 p.m.

First, preheat your oven to 400 F. Take a roasting pan, and grease it. Put your bird in the pan, and stuff it with whatever you want to add flavour. I went with an onion, quartered, and sage leaves. Next year, I’m thinking about trying a cinnamon and orange combination. Melt some butter, and pour/rub it onto the turkey, being sure to get in little nooks and crannies — this will help the skin to get nice and crispy brown. Crack some fresh pepper on top. Pour two cups of water into the roasting pan.

Pop the bird in the oven, and set a timer for one hour. After one hour, turn the temperature down to 250 F, without opening the oven door or touching the bird. Set your timer for two hours. When that timer goes off, take out your turkey — it’s time to flip. Basically, do this by any means necessary. It’s going to be a slightly messy process, but I used an oven mitt and a large serving fork. Once it’s flipped, pour another two cups into the pan and baste the turkey thoroughly. Jack the oven back up to 400 F, but don’t put the bird back in it — you’ve got some work to do on the bird while it’s still out. I also rubbed some more butter on it, and laid some sage across its wings and thighs. Now you’re ready to pop the turkey back in the oven. This time, though, you’ll be checking on and basting the turkey every 15–20 minutes. When they turkey’s ready, it should read 165 F in the breast and 170 F in the thigh.

Step four: Is your turkey fully cooked and golden brown? Perfect! Leave the turkey in the roasting pan, and cover it with tin foil and a pile of towels. Set your timer for 30 minutes. Once that timer’s up, you are ready to dig in.

As far as carving the turkey, I’m no expert, but these pros are! Get your tips and tricks below:


Header image by tuchodi, via Flickr

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