Just learning how to cook a great roast turkey? Roasting the holiday turkey is a right of passage for young cooks, and it is not as hard as it seems. But what about all the space it takes up in the oven when you have many other dishes to make? Cook the turkey ahead of time, then cover it with a sheet of tinfoil and blanket the bird with old towels, and it will keep warm for hours.
Turkey Trivia for the holiday table: Did you know that turkey with cranberry sauce was served on the Titanic? The ship carried 25,000 lbs of poultry and game on board.
How to Cook a Great Roast Turkey
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 14 pound turkey
- 3 tbsp. unsalted butter softened
- 2 tsp. fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, sage) finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. kosher salt
- Fresh organic turkeys yield the best results. At the Edwardian country house, the cook would delegate the job of plucking an estate-raised turkey. The feathers would be passed on for use in feather beds.
Thawing a Frozen Turkey
- If you don’t raise turkeys at your Abbey, or didn’t get your order in at your local butcher, you can still produce a perfectly tasty turkey which has been frozen. Whatever your choice, remember to take note of the weight of the turkey to help you plan the timing of your meal.
- Safely defrosting your turkey does take some preplanning… and room. Keep the turkey in the wrapper: • The safest method is to defrost it in your refrigerator. As a general rule, it takes 5 hours per lb. (11 hours per kg) so you are looking at almost 3 days sitting in your refrigerator in a deep pan. • The next best method for defrosting a turkey is to thaw the bird in ice-cold water, which takes 30 minutes per lb. (65 minutes per kg). Place the turkey breast side down in a tub or sink full of ice-cold water.
Prepare for Roasting
- Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C/Gas 3. Bring out a large heavy roasting pan with roasting rack.
- If this is your first turkey, there is a surprise waiting for you inside the bird’s cavity. Reach inside the bird to remove a package which will contain the neck, giblets, and tail. You can save these to make a broth for Turkey Pan Gravy.
- Rinse the turkey well inside and out and pat it dry thoroughly with paper towels. Be sure to limit what you touch when you are working with raw poultry and thoroughly disinfect all surfaces when you are done.
- Rub the turkey all over with olive oil, which helps the turkey brown evenly. Mix the herbs into the softened butter. Loosen the skin on the breast and carefully rub the butter mixture between the skin and breast. This will help keep the breast meat moist. Sprinkle the turkey with salt to help crisp the skin.
Stuff the Turkey
- When you are ready to put the turkey in the oven, loosely insert the stuffing of your choice in the large cavity and under the loose skin left from the neck. NEVER stuff your turkey in advance to save time later. The build-up of bacteria could easily cause food psioning.
- Tuck the wings under the turkey. While the Edwardians and your mothers might have trussed their turkeys (tied the legs neatly together) it really was only for appearances. Trussing prevents hot air from circulating around the legs, causing the turkey to cook unevenly. So feel free to skip this step.
- Place the turkey, on a V-shaped rack in your roasting pan breast up. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes or so with oil, butter, or pan drippings and rotate the pan occasionally for even browning.
- Continue roasting until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 170°F/75°C, around 3–3½ hours, depending on the size of your turkey and the heat of your oven.
- Transfer the turkey to a carving board or platter, tent it loosely with tin foil and let rest for at least 20 minutes.
Keep your Turkey Warm for Hours
- If you need the oven for other dishes, you can make your turkey earlier in the day, and add thick kitchen towels to your tin foil tent. Your turkey will keep toasting warm for hours.