Green Turkey

4 Dec

I know, there are thousands of recipes for roast turkey available in books and on-line, what makes mine so special? Nothing, except that it’s green. And if you make gravy from the pan drippings, you get green gravy! It’s delicious. The coating and basting, as well as the quick temperature change at the beginning, helps to keep it dry so that both the white and dark meat cook fully without the white meat drying out. My wife, the American, loves it so much she insists that I cook the Thanksgiving turkey each year.

This recipe also avoids having to turn the turkey over, which can be dangerous. Apparently more cooking fires are started in the USA at Thanksgiving than at any other time of year.

It also belongs in the “recipes of love” section because I make it for a celebration that our family has adopted – thanksgiving. Although we live in Australia and it’s not a holiday there, and it’s generally thought of as a specifically American celebration (though it started in the UK, slightly earlier in the year), we have adopted it as a secular ritual centred around gratitude. Every year we invite a number of our closest friends to our house to feast, and engage in a ritual where each person says at least one thing from the previous year, or in their life currently, for which they are grateful. And there’s plenty of fare for the vegetarians. But here, just the turkey recipe. And you can make it for Christmas, or any other damn time you please.

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You will need:

– one turkey, any size, thawed (see below)

– two large brown onions, two carrots, 4 ribs celery

– one metric shitload fresh mixed green herbs (see below)

– half a cup of butter, half a cup (or a bit more) of olive oil

– a roasting pan, with or without a rack, large enough to hold the turkey (duh)

– a (turkey) baster. This is very important.

– optionally (but recommended) a meat thermometer

Start with a turkey of any size. I usually go for something around the 6-7kg (13-16 lbs) mark. Make sure that it is completely thawed. If you buy your turkey from a butcher, they will thaw it for you, just make sure you order it well in advance as it takes 3 or so days to thaw. If you buy a frozen turkey, thaw it IN THE FRIDGE. Allow 3 days for this. It will keep thawed in the fridge for another few days, so it’s better to start 4 days ahead just to be sure it’s fully thawed.

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You’ll want to start preparing the turkey six hours or so before you want to eat. It needs to come to room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about an hour and a half (an hour if it’s really hot) before you want to put it in the oven. Remove the giblets and neck. Some people use these to flavour the gravy but you’ll find that’s not needed. I usually try to feed them to my dog who won’t have anything to do with them.

Take a fistful of each of at least four kinds of fresh green herb. In my opinion, oregano, thyme and basil are a must. Then add some subset (or all) of marjoram, sage, rosemary, and any other pungent green herb you like. DO NOT USE DRIED HERBS! I tend to stay away from parsley and coriander for this recipe. Chop them as fine as you possibly can – a mezzaluna or chinese cleaver will give a good result. You basically want to get the fresh herbs as close to a wettish powder as you can.

Then mix these with half a cup of just-melted butter (not hot) and half a cup of extra virgin olive oil. It should form a thick green paste. You may need to add a tiny bit more oil, but don’t let it get runny. Let the mixture sit for ten minutes.

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This would be a good time to pre-heat the oven, to 260°C (500°F) – yes, that’s really hot. Prepare a pan in which to roast the turkey. Ideally the pan will have a slightly raised rack at the bottom so that the turkey isn’t sitting in the bottom of the pan. But if not, don’t worry, I’ll tell you what to do about that in a minute.

Roughly chop the onions, carrots (peeled) and celery. By roughly I mean into bits about the size of the end joint of your thumb. Don’t chop your thumb. Stuff the chopped vegetables into the cavity of the turkey. If your roasting pan doesn’t have a rack, scatter some of these vegetables on the bottom of the pan for the turkey to sit on, and stuff the rest inside the bird. Sit the bird in the pan (on the rack or bed of vegetables), breast up. Cover the tips of the wings in alumin(i)um foil.

Now comes the fun part. Coat the outside of the turkey in the herb paste. You want to try to coat it as evenly as possible. Don’t worry too much about the underside, but get as much of the bird as you can.

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Place the turkey in the pre-heated oven, and immediately reduce the heat to 175°C (350°F). Putting it in a very hot oven allows the skin to crisp and seals the outside of the bird – a key step in preventing the drying out. Basting is going to give us the rest of the insurance against drying out. Many recipes call for covering the bird in foil and cooking without basting, uncovering for the last half hour or so to brown the bird. Some turkeys are marketing as “no baste” – don’t believe them. I have two reasons for preferring to do it this way. First of all, I like a recipe that involves my regular input. Secondly, roasting is a dry heat process. When you cover the bird with foil you are not roasting it, you are steaming/stewing it – and in my opinion that doesn’t taste as good.

After half an hour, baste the turkey for the first time. There might not be much liquid in the bottom of the pan at this point – don’t worry, this will increase as time goes on, and it’s ok if you’re not able to baste it properly until an hour or so into the roasting. I have found that a mini-baster does a better job than a full-size one, because there’s more room to manouevre inside the oven, and I have a tendency to burn myself on hot ovens. With a mini-baster there’s no need to endanger yourself or your house by pulling the rack out of the oven. The idea with basting is to coat as much of the bird (top and sides) with the pan juices as you can.

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After this, you want to baste the turkey every twenty minutes, more or less. About once an hour, turn the pan around 180 degrees. This will even out any uneven temperature in your oven, and will also ensure more even basting overall (since you often can’t see the side of the bird that’s at the back of the oven). For the last half hour of cooking, I like to baste the turkey every ten minutes, but that’s probably overkill.

OK, so the nerve-racking question is always “When is it done?” With this method, a turkey of 6.5kg (15 lbs) will take about 4 hours from when it goes in. The best way to be sure is to test the temperature with a meat thermometer. You stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, but not so far that it touches the bone. When the turkey is done, the thermometer will register 75°C (165°F). At this point, take the turkey out of the oven and let it sit in the pan for twenty minutes (during this time the internal temperature will continue to rise for about ten minutes). Don’t skip the sitting – during this time the juices that have risen to the surface, just under the skin, will retreat back into the bird, ensuring moistness and cookedness throughout, and making it easier to carve.

There are several other methods for testing whether a turkey is cooked, each of which is slightly flawed. To take each in turn:

– the turkey is cooked when the juices run clear if the turkey is pricked, and not pink. The problem with this is that for some turkeys, especially organic ones, the juices will continue to run slightly pink even once the turkey is cooked. For most turkeys today, though, you get the opposite problem, which is that the juices run clear before the dark meat is cooked all the way to the bone.

– the turkey is cooked when the thigh bone jiggles easily (loosely) in the socket. This actually means the turkey is slightly overcooked. You risk dryness – which shouldn’t be as much of a problem if you’ve followed the basting procedure, but it is still possible to get dry breast meat, which is no fun.

– many turkeys today come with a little sensor that pops up when the turkey is allegedly cooked. In my experience, these things pop up about half an hour too early. I suspect this comes from my method of putting the turkey in a super-hot oven at first. If you’re cooking one of these, when the sensor pops up, you may want to just lower the temperature to 160°C (325°F) and cook for another half hour, basting every ten minutes.

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While the turkey is sitting, make some gravy, if you like. This is a super-easy pan-dripping gravy. You probably have about twice as much liquid as you need in the bottom of your roasting pan. Skim off the fat that’s risen to the top, and pour the rest (bits of vegetable and all) into a heavy skillet. Let this come to a simmer over a medium heat, then stir in a few tablespoons of some starch (flour, cornstarch, potato starch) that has been dissolved (more or less) in cold water. Stir constantly while the gravy cooks and thickens. You may need to add more starch as you go, but the gravy will get thicker as it cooks.

Another option for the gravy (I’ll admit it’s a bit fiddly for me), is to take some of the vegetables out of the bird and liquefy them in a blender, then add that to the gravy while it’s cooking. I would not otherwise recommend eating the vegetables, unless you cook them a bit more outside the bird first – just to be 100% certain they aren’t harbouring any bacteria from the bird.

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Don’t ask me how to carve a turkey. I’m useless at it.

Serve with whatever side dishes you like – traditional ones involve stuffing, sweet potatoes (no, you don’t have to use marshmallows, the yams are sweet enough!), and cranberry sauce. At our 2013 celebration, we had pumpkin (known as squash in the USA unless you’re making a jack-o-lantern or pie), stove-top stuffing, mashed potato, sweet corn, and two cranberry condiments (a cooked sauce and a raw relish) both made from fresh cranberries, followed by pumpkin and blueberry pies.

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