Holiday Recipe: Simple tips for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey

Millions of Americans have never cooked a turkey. Photo: Mary Moran

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2013 — Turkey is the main course in a traditional Thanksgiving feast, but despite the prevalence there are still millions who have never cooked one.

Of course, a large Thanksgiving turkey does present challenges, like its size and the amount of time it takes to cook it.  But with a little knowledge and some advanced planning, the challenges melt away.


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Buy a turkey that is big enough for everyone.  If you aren’t entirely sure if you will have enough meat from a single bird, buy an extra breast.  You can always cook this one a day ahead and have it at the ready.

For ease turkeys can now be purchased brined, which for those of you who don’t know brining makes a turkey moist and tender. The salt and sugars soak into the turkey and break down the tough muscle and lock in moisture.  If you want to brine your own turkey a simple method is use 1 cup salt, 1 cup sugar and 2 gallons of water (make sure the sugar and salt dissolve). Then add aromatics like oranges, sage, thyme, parsley, garlic, etc to the brine mixture.  It’s up to you what you want to make.

Allow 48 hours for a 14-18 pound turkey to thaw. There is nothing scarier than the idea of trying to cook a frozen turkey. Once the turkey is thawed place it in a sink and remove it from the package. Then open the cavity and remove the neck, heart, kidneys, etc. Rinse the turkey out and place it in a baking dish.

Stuff your bird with carrots, onions, celery, sage, thyme, garlic and an orange.  Make sure you poke a few holes in the orange to releases its juices into the cavity of the bird. Always top the bird with butter, salt and pepper.


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A 16 to 18 pound turkey, which serves about 16 people should cook between three and a half to four hours on 350 degrees.  You want the interior of the turkey to reach the safe temperature of 180 degrees.  Buy a plastic turkey thermometer to insert into the breast of the turkey to ensure you have cooked the bird thoroughly before serving.

Next buy a bag to roast your turkey in. Reynolds makes a great one, plastic, disposable and easy to use. It can be found at most grocery stores in the plastic bag section. bag will leave your turkey moist and delicious.

Remember to keep your surfaces clean when you are dealing with raw poultry. A dirty surface can leach into other foods and cause food borne illnesses. Keep Clorox wipes on hand!

Lastly, think ahead and plan for leftover.  Buy extra containers to store leftovers in and to send guests home with goodies.


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Mary Moran

Upon graduating from the California School of Culinary Arts in 2002, Chef Mary Payne Moran began her professional career shelling crabs at the world-renowned restaurant, Michael's in Santa Monica.  Simultaneously, she launched her own company, Hail Mary’s, founded upon the belief that good food nurtures the soul, and began catering weddings, parties and large corporate events.

In the fall of 2008, Mary began teaching her culinary skills to others.    Currently she can be found at Hollywood School House teaching her after school cooking class, and teaching her popular "Vegetables or Not Here I Come" assembly.

Most recently, Mary has launched another division in her company as well as a chef she is now also a Certified Nutritionist for high profile clients.  She helps her clients discover their healthy way of eating.  Mary has recently been published in the Los Angeles Magazine, & The New Jersey Star Ledger.

Daily she addresses cooking aficionados through her blog - Cooking with Chef Mary as well as her how-to webisodes on You Tube.

Contact Mary Moran

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