If you are cooking a turkey for the first time this holiday season—don’t worry. You just have to plan ahead a bit, especially if you buy a frozen bird. It will take at least 2 days to thaw in the refrigerator for a medium sized turkey---even more if you get a large one. Just make sure you take a look at the number of pounds you are buying and refer to the chart on the package. It will tell you how many hours per pound it will take to thaw it out. Do not be tempted to rush the process by leaving it out on the counter or in a pan of water. Those days are gone, no matter what you grandmother may tell you. It has to thaw in the refrigerator and my experience has been that it always takes longer than the chart says. That’s the main reason I usually buy a fresh turkey. They are just a bit more expensive but to me it is worth not having to worry about the thawing out process.
For several years I didn’t try to cook a turkey on my own, but then I realized that it’s not hard---you just have to decide on a method. The main thing to remember is to not throw away the packaging until you have looked at the chart for thawing out the turkey and the chart for cooking the turkey. Both of these are based on how much your turkey weighs. Another important thing to remember is to remove the packet of giblets and the neck packet before cooking. The giblets (the heart, liver and gizzard) are usually in a paper pouch that has been placed in the larger cavity of the turkey. The neck is usually in a paper pouch that is placed in the smaller cavity in the neck area. I use the liver, gizzard and neck to make giblet gravy but I throw the heart away.
For the actually cooking of the turkey my Mother uses layers of heavy duty aluminum foil to wrap the turkey and then places it in a roasting pan.
Her turkey is delicious but I have had great results cooking it in an oven roasting bag. They are easy to use and you just have to remember to follow the directions for the roasting bags. Following are the instructions for cooking a turkey using an oven roasting bag.
Turkey of your choice (fresh or a thawed (previously frozen) turkey
Olive oil or Olive oil PAM
Oven roasting bag
*Place your oven racks in their lowest position (you may have to remove an oven rack).
*Turn the oven to 350 degrees.
*Spray a large roasting pan with PAM.
*Place an oven roasting bag into the roasting pan—open it up and put 2-3 T. of flour into the bag. Close up the bag and give it a shake to distribute the flour.
*Open the bag back up and fold back the opening to make the opening as big as possible.
*Take note of the weight of the turkey you are using and refer to the chart to determine the length of the cooking time.
*Prepare a work area to place the turkey on. I usually spread some parchment paper on the counter and then place the turkey on the parchment paper,.
*Remove the giblet packet.
*Remove the neck packet.
*Place the giblets that you will be using into water to boil if you are making gravy. Otherwise you can throw them away.
*Salt the inside cavities and all sides of the turkey if you wish.
*Spray the top surface of the turkey with PAM (I use olive oil PAM).
*Place the turkey into the oven roasting bag—breast side up. This is an awkward maneuver—you may want someone to steady the pan and hold the bag open while you lift the bird and shove it in. Sometimes this is a bit like putting on pantyhose. It’s not for the faint of heart.
*Close the bag using the oven- safe twisty tie that comes with the bag.
*Cut 6 slits on the top area of the bag according to the directions on the bag packet.
*Put the roasting pan into the oven for the suggested time.
*At the end of the roasting time, if you want to test for doneness---take the roasting pan out of the oven and cut a sample from the deepest part of the breast and/or the thigh—closest to the bone and taste. The juices should be clear and there shouldn’t be any pink.
*Return to oven to cook longer or if it’s done, let the turkey rest on the counter for 15 minutes before carving.
I usually carve in the kitchen and then arrange on a serving platter with a bit of pan drippings drizzled over to prevent dryness. If I’m serving a big crowd and have a lot of dishes to cook in the oven, I cook the turkey the day before, slice it and then reheat it in the microwave for the actual meal. Just make sure you spoon some broth over the slices to keep them moist.
Turkey liver, gizzard and neck
4 cups (or more) of chicken broth (homemade or from cartons)
3 boiled eggs, chopped
Chicken bouillon crystals
Cold milk (whole or 2%)
*Boil turkey gizzard and neck and in enough water to cover.
The livers don’t take as long to cook and can become a bit bitter if cooked too long, so just add them about 30 minutes after the gizzard and the neck have been cooking. Then cook until all meat is done.
*When cooked, remove all meat and chop finely. Throw water away.
*Place the chicken broth in a large pot (use more broth if you wish)
*Place the chopped meat in the broth (you may also add a bit of chopped, cooked turkey to the broth if you wish).
*Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
*In a small bowl, whisk together a cup of cold milk and 1/3 c. of flour until all lumps have disappeared. This is a thickening agent for the gravy. Add the flour mixture to the gravy and stir constantly until it is combined with the gravy.
*Allow gravy to simmer for at least 20 minutes. If you want thicker gravy, you can add more flour which has been mixed into cold milk.
*Add salt and black pepper to taste.
*Add chopped boiled eggs
*Add Chicken bouillon crystals if you want to introduce a deeper taste, however please remember that this has a high salt content and I find that the taste of the crystals is a bit artificial, so I don’t use them very often.
*Serve the gravy over turkey, rice or dressing.