Holiday Cooking: 7 Ways to Cook a Turkey
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Looking for a new spin on the traditional turkey? Here, some ideas to inspire you — plus some tips for preparing a lighter feast.
1. The re-assembled turkey
Long cooking times and dried out white meat are issues that plague the popular baking method. The solution: take the bird apart. Disassembling and cooking a turkey in three parts (breast portion and two legs) cuts down on overall cooking time (to as little as two and a half hours) while ensuring that both the white and dark meat are cooked to perfection. This method is also compatible for variations on the traditional roast, such as bacon-wrapped or vegetable, popcorn or fruit-stuffed versions.
Where to find the technique: Julia Child’s cookbook The Way to Cook tackles the stuffing and provides helpful illustrations on how to disassemble and de-bone. With her technique, the legs are removed, partially de-boned and stored in the fridge until the last hour and a half or so of cooking.
What about the final presentation? Skipping the carving ritual and serve the meat on platters or “buffet style” — no one will know the difference. Otherwise, you can use bamboo skewers to put it back together again and garnish with parsley as camouflage.
Barbecue fans, rejoice! You can cook a turkey weighing up to 14 pounds on your barbecue or outdoor grill. You have two options depending on what kind of barbeque you own: You can cook the turkey on a rotisserie or in a roasting pan on a grill. Both methods take approximately two to three hours, and you can stuff the cavity with onions, celery, lemon slices and herbs. (Stuffing has to be cooked separately.)
An added bonus: If you have a family member who loves to grill, you can share the workload.
Fans of this process say it’s the ultimate way to prepare a turkey, and it’s much cheaper to do-it-yourself. You won’t need any fancy recipes — it’s the smoke that gives it the flavour. Instead of a roasting pan, you’ll need a smoker and some hardwood like cherry, apple or mesquite. You’ll also need a sheltered area to shield against the wind and a good meat thermometer.
The process isn’t as fast as other preparation methods — it takes about 40 minutes per pound (that’s eight hours for a 12 pound bird). The turkey is cooked at a low temperature (between 220 degrees F and 240 degrees F) until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. A little hourly attention is needed to replenish the fuel and water (for water smokers), and you’ll want to skip the stuffing altogether for health and gustatory reasons. In the end, the colour and texture will be a little different than your traditional baked turkey.
A word of caution: due to the low heat and required cooking time, keep your turkey a reasonable size (16 pounds or less) to avoid any health risks like cross-contamination.
It sounds fattening, but this Southern cooking tradition doesn’t add as much fat as you think if it’s done properly. Keep the oil at the right temperature and you’ll get a nice crispy skin and tender meat with about two grams of fat added per serving. However, if the temperature of the oil drops below 350 F, more oil seeps into the meat and raises the fat content.
Deep-frying is a quick process that requires as little as three minutes cooking time per pound. However, it can be a dangerous one, especially if there are children and pets around. You’ll be dealing with a lot of hot oil (four or five gallons or 17 litres worth) and a large-sized cooker. Constant supervision is required so you’ll need a dedicated person (and possibly a second set of hands) for the job — someone who isn’t preparing other food, entertaining the guests or drinking.
The right equipment and safety precautions are a must. A frozen, partially thawed or wet turkey can cause an oil overflow and fire. You’ll also need to cook outside, and stay at least 10 feet from anything that can catch fire. Pets and children should be kept well away, even after the turkey is done because the oil remains dangerously hot. Pots can tip over or overflow and catch fire, so keep a fire extinguisher handy.
Never heard the term? Picture a partially deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck that is stuffed with a deboned chicken. And did we mention the layers of stuffing in between? The turducken offers a little something for everyone, and it looks impressive when sliced.
While this dish isn’t difficult to make, it isn’t quick or inexpensive either. Deboning the meat may take a while if you’re not experienced and don’t have the right tools, but a butcher can perform this service for you if you’re willing to pay. You won’t actually be trying to stuff a whole bird into another one — the birds are cut open along the bottom so that they can be laid flat and layered with different types of stuffing. Skewers are used to “sew up” the birds to make the whole concoction look like a turkey on the outside.