Turkey Ramblings

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We normally didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in our household. If we ever did, we had never usually dealt with cooking the turkey as nobody had wanted the hustle and bustle that came along with it. We just usually had bought rotisserie chicken as a substitute for turkey (Lol). Much cheaper and we didn’t have to deal with a bunch of leftovers. (Trust me, it had made sense to us before!). Last year, however, one of my siblings had received a free turkey from the company she’s working at.  Well, we had no choice but to face the ordeal of cooking it. It was about 15-18 pounds, if I’m not mistaken. I was appointed to cook it as I was the one off that day. I had found myself excited, instead of exasperated, to finally try my hands on cooking turkey. I was anxious, of course, but at the same time, thrilled to finally overcome this turkey dilemma in our house.

So, I had gone online and read a lot of recipes and commentaries. Watched a lot of videos and forced my right on our family TV to watch a lot of Food Network shows to see how they cook their turkey and on how to make gravy, etc. I had bought a thermometer (it was a very cheap thermometer), shopped all the ingredients that I needed, and prepped my turkey. I was prepared when Thanksgiving Day came. I was thinking I could do this, and my turkey would out turned perfectly!

Or so I had thought.

It had looked so easy in the videos and recipes, but my turkey-cooking journey wasn’t very smooth sailing. First off, I had burned the turkey breast, at least the top of it. The recipe I had states to cook turkey at 450 degrees F for about 1 hour or so, just so it could brown before turning it down to a low temperature, 375 degrees F. Mine had browned very quickly. Or should I say, burnt very quickly.

My solution? Flip the whole bird over. It had taken a lot of muscle work, I tell you. At this time, I was getting anxious to have a “perfect turkey”. I had lowered the temperature to 350 degrees F, covered it loosely with foil, and prayed for the best.

Few hours later, the turkey did look good. It had a nice brown color, and the kitchen had smelled so good. I had used my handy-dandy extremely cheap digital thermometer to check the temperature, but it had broken down on me (at this critical moment!). So now, I had no way to check whether this big lump of bird was cooked all the way through or not. I had let it sit in the oven for a few more minutes, just to be sure, crossing my fingers that it’s fully cooked.

Now, for the gravy! I had used the drippings from the turkey to make the gravy. It assuredly didn’t turn out very well as well. I had slathered herbed butter on my turkey and I probably had used too much herbs. The gravy, according to my sister, had a very strong “herb-y” taste, and she didn’t like it one bit! At that time, it was too late for me to do anything about it, so I had to serve it like that.

By dinner time, I was exhausted and anxious. I just had wanted to get this over with. When it’s time to cut the turkey on the dinner table, I never thought I would be mortified in this life. The turkey was raw inside! It had looked perfectly browned outside, but it wasn’t cooked all the way through! I felt dejected and frustrated for wasting all those time and effort to cook the turkey on Thanksgiving, and had ended up not being successful on that matter!

Yes, there ends my ramblings with regards to my failed attempt on serving turkey on Thanksgiving ’16. May it completely rest in peace in my memories forever. After that dinner, I had cut all the turkey and cooked all the pieces back in the oven. It had ended up being dry and tasteless, especially with the gravy being “not-a-gravy” in the end.

A year after that, another Thanksgiving, another turkey challenge. To be honest, I had wanted to back down from cooking another turkey this year. But then again, I thought why not try it one more time? And so I did! I took the turkey challenge once more this year. This time, unlike last year, I didn’t prepare ahead. All the ingredients were bought right on the day I was scheduled to cook the turkey (we celebrated our Thanksgiving dinner Friday, instead of Thursday this year). I did a very quick brine on the turkey. The turkey brine recipe I used was loosely based from Pioneer Woman’s. I tweaked some changes into it, though. The turkey we received said in the package that it was already pre-brined, so I didn’t want to go crazy over salt in here. Here’s what I did:

Turkey Brine

  • 2 cups of apple cider
  • 1 cup of sparkling apple juice
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tbsp rosemary leaves
  • 2 tbsp thyme leaves
  • 2 lemons, peeled and juiced
  • cold water

I boiled everything together. Once boiled, I poured the brining mixture into a large stock pot and added cold water. I don’t have a quantity for cold water. I just added enough cold water until I knew there’s enough to cover the whole turkey. Once the brine had cooled, I gently placed the turkey in the pot. If the turkey was not fully submerged in the brine, I added more cold water, but not too much!

I didn’t have time to brine it overnight. I only had the chance to brine it for about 3 hours or so, as I brined it on the same day I was cooking the turkey. I was even hesitant to brine it, as it said that it was already pre-brined. But I thought, since I had about 4 hours to kill before cooking it, I might as well do a quick brine.

After brining, I washed it with cold water to remove the salt and sugar outside of the turkey. If not, it would end up with a salty taste on the skin and the sugar would burn the turkey very quickly (nope, I didn’t want that to happen again!). After it showered in cold water, I placed it on a huge cutting board and patted it really dry with paper towel. I let it sit for a while to come to room temperature.

Turkey Rub

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 teaspoons rosemary
  • 4 teaspoons thyme
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt

At the same time, I was preparing the herbed butter rub for the turkey. I had 3/4 cup of butter sitting on room temperature for a while now. I chopped about 4 teaspoons of each rosemary and thyme leaves, zested 1 lemon, and minced about 4 cloves of garlic. I added all of it into a bowl and stirred everything with 1/2 cup of softened butter.

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Herbed butter before the butter

I smeared the herb butter rub under the skin of the turkey breasts. Then melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter and brushed it all over the turkey and seasoned minimally with freshly cracked pepper, paprika and garlic salt.

On the roasting pan, I placed sliced orange and lemons, garlic, quartered onions, celery, two sprigs each of thyme and rosemary and thickly chopped carrots. I added in about 1/4 cup of chicken broth.

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The elements on the roasting pan.

The turkey was then placed on the rack of the roasting pan.

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I covered the whole pan with foil completely and baked it at 325 degrees F for about an hour or 1.5 hour. Then increased the temperature to 350 degrees F and let it bake at that temperature for about 2-3 hours. For the last hour, I took the foil off, brushed the turkey with about 1/4 cup of melted butter, and baked it at 375 degrees F so that it could brown evenly. Using a good quality thermometer (I learned this very well from previous experience!), I checked the temperature of the bird. I checked on multiple areas and everything was at 165 degrees F. Whew! Not to mention that the turkey pop-up timer popped as well. I had stupidly removed the turkey pop-up timer the year before, because I had thought to rely on the thermometer. So much for my cheap thermometer confidence, huh!

I turned off the oven, and put the turkey back inside the still-warmed oven. I let it sit there for a while until few minutes before dinner, so that it could still be warm when I served it. Well, frankly, I put it back there just in case some parts of the turkey were still raw, then it would have the chance to continue cooking. My mindset was that it’s better to serve dry turkey than a raw turkey. Yes, I know, that raw turkey trauma kept rallying on my mind. I even left the pop-up timer on the turkey just so my family would be assured that this time, this time, I served them a cooked turkey.

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As for the gravy this year, I didn’t wait until the turkey was done to make the gravy. I decided to make the gravy without the turkey drippings as I didn’t want the “herb-y” taste. I used plain old chicken broth with reduced sodium to make the gravy. Here’s what I did:

Homemade Gravy

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 32 oz of chicken broth, reduced sodium
  • 1 cube of chicken bouillon, crushed
  • ground pepper, to taste
  • pinch of paprika
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

I melted the butter on a pan over medium heat, added the flour and whisked for about 7-10 minutes until the flour was cooked and browned a little bit. Chicken broth was added to the pan while continuously whisking until the desired consistency was achieved. I wanted the gravy to be able coat the back of the spoon. It took me about 12 minutes or so. I taste-tested the gravy as I went along. When it needed more salt, I started adding about 1/2 cube of crushed chicken bouillon. When it needed more, then I added the rest. Once done, I stirred in ground pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper to the gravy.

I prefer to use chicken bouillon over salt as it provides a chicken flavor at the same time. The reason I used reduced sodium chicken broth was so that I could control the saltiness of the gravy. I didn’t want to start with salty gravy and moved from there as it’s more difficult to adjust the flavor if that’s the case. So, in other words, I used chicken bouillon cubes as a substitute for salt in this recipe.

The gravy was delicious!! Well, I under-cooked the flour a little bit as I could still taste it when the gravy was done. I cooked it for only about 4-5 minutes before adding the broth, which was a mistake on my part. But other than that, it tasted really good and matched really well with my turkey! Instead of cranberries, we used lingonberry jam. We usually have a jar inside the fridge that we use whenever we eat Swedish meatballs. It’s a perfect partner with the gravy, I tell you!

The turkey this year? Well, it was perfectly seasoned, moist and cooked superbly! I am extremely proud of myself, if I may so myself! Hence, one of the reasons why I’m posting this in this blog. So, I could remember all the steps I did when I cooked this turkey in case I have to do it again next year. The turkey challenge is now considered done!

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