Roasting Turkey Low and Slow

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From a story originally published in 2006 by Liz Johnson

turkey_lowandslow

Because I don’t host Thanksgiving dinner, I usually make my own (small) turkey the weekend after. Over the years, the oven temperature I’ve cooked it with has risen ever so slowly, and nowadays, I do most of my roasting at 400 or 450 degrees. But this year, I am going back to the old ways. Because really – if you brine your turkey, it’s almost impossible to mess it up. (My brine recipe is below. Don’t forget you need to start brining today.)

One reason I plan on cooking my bird low and slow is that I want to cook vegetables for my gravy at the same time, in the same pan. At high heat, the onions would burn before the turkey is ready. Another reason is that I want to reach in the oven and turn my turkey over, and 500 degrees is way too hot for me to do that.

Yes, you read right: Turn my turkey. Over the years, I’ve discovered that starting a turkey (or a chicken, for that matter) out breast down in the oven does a couple of great things. First, it protects the more delicate white meat from being exposed to the heat for as long, so it has less of a chance of drying out. Second, it lets gravity do the work – making the juices run down the turkey and into the breast, also keeping it moist.

After about one third of the cooking time has elapsed, take a pair of tongs and an oven mitt (one of those silicone one works well because you can rinse it afterward) and turn the turkey by inserting the tongs into the cavity and holding the top of the bird with your oven mitt.

Not having the breast pointed up toward the heat source means you might not have the skin as crispy as you might like. That’s where the basting comes in. (See? Maybe grandmother was right.) With about 45 minutes left in cooking, use a basting bulb to suck up some of the broth and juices from the bottom of the pan and let it drip down the breast. It’ll crisp that skin right up.

Who would make this? Traditionalists. And people who like to fill the kitchen with the aroma of a slow-roasted bird.

Why it’s good: Turning the breast upside down for the first part of cooking keeps the meat moist. You’re not risking burning yourself while turning it over.

Tips: Do be careful when turning the turkey. You’ve only got one bird and you don’t want it dropping on the floor. And don’t skip the brining!

Liz's Low-and-Slow Roast Turkey

Liz's Low-and-Slow Roast Turkey

Ingredients

  • For the brine:
  • 2/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  • 5 sprigs sage
  • 2 long stalks rosemary
  • A handful of thyme
  • For the turkey:
  • 1 (8-to-12 pound) pasture-raised turkey, giblets and neck removed from the cavity
  • 2 onions
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 1 leek
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 to 4 sprigs rosemary
  • Olive oil or butter
  • Pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water

Instructions

  1. Combine the salt and sugar in a large bowl. Put the bowl in the sink and fill with two quarts water, whisking vigorously while the water fills the bowl. Keep whisking until all the salt and sugar is dissolved. Squeeze the juice of the lemons and add the spent lemon halves, the sage, rosemary and thyme to the brine. (Fresh herbs are best but dry will do in a pinch.) Stir to combine. If you need more brine, just double the salt-sugar-water mixture. Don't worry about adding more lemons and herbs. Either place the brine and the turkey in a plastic tub with a lid or find a plastic storage bag big enough to hold everything. (There are special brining bags for this purpose. You'll find them near the plastic freezer bags in the grocery. Definitely use two bags to avoid spillage.) Store in the refrigerator for at least 6 and up to 12 hours.
  2. Take the turkey out of the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Let it come to room temperature. (This could take 45 minutes.)
  3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Adjust an oven rack to the bottom third position.
  4. Roughly chop the onions, carrots, celery and leek. Place them in the bottom of a roasting pan. Cut the lemon in half and rub all over the turkey. Put the lemon halves and the rosemary inside the turkey cavity. Tie the turkeys legs together with kitchen twine. Using poultry shears, cut off the wing tips and force the top half of the wing under the bottom and toward the breast. Rub the turkey all over with olive oil or butter and grind fresh pepper over it. Place the turkey breast side down on a V-rack. (Or, if you don't have one, chop the neck into three pieces and lay the turkey on top of that.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and add the two cups of broth to the pan.
  5. Figure out your cook time. It'll be about 20 minutes per pound, but don't count on the time. The bird needs to be cooked to 165 degrees or when the thickest part of the thigh is pieced with a knife the juices run clear. About one-third of the way through the process - about an hour for a bird this size - you'll want to turn the turkey over. Pull the oven rack out halfway. Insert tongs into the cavity and hold the top of the bird with an oven mitt. Flip the bird. Be careful! Slide the rack back and continue cooking.
  6. With about 45 minutes to go, use a baster (or a really big spoon) and baste the turkey breast with pan juices. Repeat at the 30-minute and 15-minute mark. Take the turkey out at 165 degrees. Let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving. Strain the vegetables out and use the drippings for gravy.
  7. (See Robert Horton's Turkey Gravy, above. It's the one I use every year.)
  8. Yield: 8 to 12 servings, with leftovers.
http://food.lohudblogs.com/2014/11/06/roasting-turkey-low-and-slow/

Liz’s Low-and-Slow Roast Turkey

For the brine:

2/3 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup sugar

2 quarts water

2 lemons, cut in half

5 sprigs sage

2 long stalks rosemary

A handful of thyme

For the turkey:

1 (8-to-12 pound) pasture-raised turkey, giblets and neck removed from the cavity

2 onions

4 carrots

4 stalks celery

1 leek

1 lemon

3 to 4 sprigs rosemary

Olive oil or butter

Pepper

2 cups chicken broth or water

Combine the salt and sugar in a large bowl. Put the bowl in the sink and fill with two quarts water, whisking vigorously while the water fills the bowl. Keep whisking until all the salt and sugar is dissolved. Squeeze the juice of the lemons and add the spent lemon halves, the sage, rosemary and thyme to the brine. (Fresh herbs are best but dry will do in a pinch.) Stir to combine. If you need more brine, just double the salt-sugar-water mixture. Don’t worry about adding more lemons and herbs. Either place the brine and the turkey in a plastic tub with a lid or find a plastic storage bag big enough to hold everything. (There are special brining bags for this purpose. You’ll find them near the plastic freezer bags in the grocery. Definitely use two bags to avoid spillage.) Store in the refrigerator for at least 6 and up to 12 hours.

Take the turkey out of the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Let it come to room temperature. (This could take 45 minutes.)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Adjust an oven rack to the bottom third position.

Roughly chop the onions, carrots, celery and leek. Place them in the bottom of a roasting pan. Cut the lemon in half and rub all over the turkey. Put the lemon halves and the rosemary inside the turkey cavity. Tie the turkeys legs together with kitchen twine. Using poultry shears, cut off the wing tips and force the top half of the wing under the bottom and toward the breast. Rub the turkey all over with olive oil or butter and grind fresh pepper over it. Place the turkey breast side down on a V-rack. (Or, if you don’t have one, chop the neck into three pieces and lay the turkey on top of that.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and add the two cups of broth to the pan.

Figure out your cook time. It’ll be about 20 minutes per pound, but don’t count on the time. The bird needs to be cooked to 165 degrees or when the thickest part of the thigh is pieced with a knife the juices run clear. About one-third of the way through the process – about an hour for a bird this size – you’ll want to turn the turkey over. Pull the oven rack out halfway. Insert tongs into the cavity and hold the top of the bird with an oven mitt. Flip the bird. Be careful! Slide the rack back and continue cooking.

With about 45 minutes to go, use a baster (or a really big spoon) and baste the turkey breast with pan juices. Repeat at the 30-minute and 15-minute mark. Take the turkey out at 165 degrees. Let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving. Strain the vegetables out and use the drippings for gravy.

(See Robert Horton’s Turkey Gravy, above. It’s the one I use every year.)

Yield: 8 to 12 servings, with leftovers.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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