Southern Roast Turkey

There is none finer to grace the table than Turkey Hen, or Dinde as the Creoles say.

There are so many variations of turkey preparation, from the Creole Daube method, to having it stuffed with breading or with other foul as in turdunken, opting to cook it spathcocked, stewed, braised, grilled, smoked, deep-fried, in a brown paper bag, even the extra efforts of scalding, brining, injecting it with marinade . . . we could be here all day!

 Nothing beats a perfectly roasted turkey.

The Bird
I was taught it is best to purchase a fresh hen when possible, the younger the better as the meat will be tender and delicate. Choose one between 12 and 18 pounds. If you’re serving a lot of folks, buy two hens instead of one big 24-28 pounder as the cooking time will be less for the two as oppose to the larger one and as said, the meat more tender. If choosing a live one from farmer Brown, choose the fattest one and be sure to ask the age, between 16 to 20 weeks I am told. Tom turkeys, or gobblers, are best for stewing as the meat is tough and the fiber of the meat too strong for roasting (unless a young Tom, 12-16 pounds). When choosing the hen, look at the breast. It should be broad, as wide as the width of the bird itself, really flat and meaty. Notice the smoothness and color of the overall skin. It should be sufficiently elastic in feel and white in color, not leathery or yellow.

The Prep
To achieve a most perfect, moist and tender roast turkey, it is essential a few rules of cookery are followed. While many believe coating the bird with salt is vital for the meat fibers to retain the natural juices, there are just as many who believe salt and acid together are needed. A slow roast cooking technique must be followed properly in order for the outside surface area to brown without burning while the inside meat temperature rise during same timing without overcooking. Big brand turkey processors will tell you to cook in a constant 325 F degree oven. I tend to like the Joy of Cooking method of starting in a hot oven, then slow roasting in at cooler temperature. I also use the cheesecloth application over the breast meat to avoid burning. Many years ago, southern cooks roasted using this same method placing a piece of tightly woven linen, normally from a flour sack, over foul and in some regions, folks chose a loose muslin cloth to do the same thing. It is important that when using any type of woven material, the cloth must be constantly moisten. This keeps the white meat of the breast moist and prevents it from over browning while the succulent dark meat has time to cook to proper temperature. And, this basting every 30 minutes or so is what makes this method of roast achieve such a delectable, flavorful and moist turkey.

The Recipe

Southern Roast Turkey

1 -14 to 18 pound turkey hen, fresh or frozen

2 celery sticks, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 garlic toes, chopped
1 tart, sweet apple like Stayman Winesap or Ginger Gold, chopped
1 sectioned satsuma or tangerine, seeds removed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary

Herb Butter Rub
2 sticks butter
1/4 cup orange or lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
2 teaspoons ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried margoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt

Kosher salt and black pepper
Layer of cheese cloth to cover top of breast area
Olive oil to moisten cheesecloth

If you’ve bought a frozen bird, allow about 6 hours per pound in the refrigerator to thaw before beginning.

Adjust the racks in oven to accommodate your roasting pan which should position on lowest tier. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Rinse the turkey inside and out and pat dry, inside and out. Place turkey in a large baking pan breast side up. Carefully loosen skin from the breast, thigh and drumstick areas with your fingers. Place 1 1/2 tablespoons of rub under each breast area and about 1 teaspoon in each thigh and drumstick area. Massage skin to evenly distribute the rub around the meat. Brush about 2 tablespoons of rub around the cavity area. Lightly sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper inside cavity. Fill the cavity with the vegetable and fruit stuffing. Truss the legs together sealing the cavity and use toothpicks or lacers to seal the excess skin over the neck area. Tuck the wings under the back. Place on a wire V-rack and into a large roaster. Rub or brush remaining butter rub all over the turkey. Lightly sprinkle kosher salt and pepper over turkey. Add about 2 cups of chicken stock or water to completely cover bottom of pan.

Place roasting pan in oven on in middle of oven or on lowest rack and immediately reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Cook for 1 hour basting after 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover the breast with the oil moisten cheesecloth. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh area, away from bone.

Use a baster and moisten the cloth with pan drippings. Return to oven and continue to cook basting every 30 minutes until the internal temperature of thigh meat reaches 175 degrees F. You can quick test the breast, it should register around 160 degrees F.

Add more liquid to the pan if needed. Do not allow the drippings to evaporate as this is not only your birds moistening solution, it should be used to make one heck of pan gravy.

For birds up to 6 pounds cook 20 minutes per pound. Over 6 pounds, cook 15 minutes per pound. I normally add another 5 minutes if not using a meat thermometer.

When done, remove cheesecloth and let rest slightly tented with foil for about 30 minutes while you continue preparing the giblet gravy.


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