Somehow, while inventing electricity, bifocals and planting the seeds of revolution, Ben Frnaklin discovered the turkey. Believing the eagle to be a bird of "bad moral character," he strongly suggested that the noble turkey be the national symbol. That was one argument he didn't win.
Even though his fellow bird-committee members thought the turkey to be a truly Ameircan specimen its habits were too embarrassing. Turkeys lay their eggs standing up - splat! - and have been observed attempting to mate with inanimate objects.
But the turkeys has done its bit to show that Franklin was a man of vision. It has prospered and become the national symbol for at least one day a year, while the bald eagle ended up on the endangered species list.
Unlike the eagle, the once benighted turkey has evolved with the times. Now it can baste itself and it's grown a tiny little button timer on its breast that pops up to say when it's cooked.
Since the turkey has made it so easy for us, why is it that every Thanksgiving the nervous cook syndrome sets in? Just think of the turkey as a large chicken (or think of yourself as a tiny cook) and things should go quite smoothly.
Start with a vague idea of how many people will be eating the bird. Allow 3/4 to 1 pound per serving for turkeys less than 12 pounds. Don't worry whether to buy a tom or a hen (some butchers charge more for a hen); they are equally tender or tough. You also have a choice of either a fresh or frozen model, but be prepared to pay about 25 to 35 cents more per pount for fresh.
Remove the bag on innards and wash fresh turkeys inside and out. Pat dry and allow the bird to come to room temperature before being stuffed and cooked. (Don't stuff the turkey until shortly before it goes into the oven. The cavity of the bird is a place where bacteria thrive at room temperature. (For the same reason, if there is any left, take the stuffing out of the turkey before refrigerating it.)
Frozen, unstuffed turkeys should be washed, inside and out (after removing the bag of innards and returning it to the refrigerator) and brought to room temperature. Any of three methods can be used:
Thaw the bird in its wrapper on a tray in the refrigerator, allowing 24 to 48 hours for turkeys under 12 pounds; 48 to 72 hours if between 12 and 20 pounds. Monster turkeys over 20 pounds take up to four days to thaw, so plan ahead.
A faster method is to partially thaw the turkey at room temperature, then finish the process in the refrigerator.For a bird under 12 pounds, leave out for 6 hours then return it to the refrigerator for another 12 hours. For turkeys 12 to 18 pounds, leave out 8 hours and return to the refrigerator for another 12 hours. Turkeys over 20 pounds should be left out 10 hours and put back in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
The third way is to keep the turkey in its wrapper and thaw completely at room temperature, stored in a cool place. For turkeys less than 12 pounds, thawing will take approximately 12 hours. For larger birds, it could take up to 20 hours.
Never thaw a turkey by soaking in cold water or by running cold water over it.
The worst part is now over.
Pat the bird dry with paper towels, then rub it inside and out with salt and pepper and pack the cavity loosely with stuffing. Extra stuffing can be cooked separately in a buttered baking dish. Allow about an hour.
Sew up the cavity opening or skewer it closed and truss the turkey if you are ambitious. Rub the skin with melted butter, shortening or oil.If you want the turkey to look like the magazine pictures - all golden and smooth - soak a piece of cheese cloth in 1/2 cup melted butter and place over the bird's breast.
Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow pan and roast (uncovered) following the timetable. Easte at 20 minute intervals. Do not add water to the pan, as it will become steam and cause the meat to be soggy. A tent of alluminum foil may be placed over the bird, or just over the breast and drumsticks, to prevent scorched skin. If your turkey was born without a timer, a meat thermometer placed in the thigh but not touching the bone is reccommended for larger birds.
When done, remove from oven and discard cheesecloth. Cover loosely with foil and allow the bird to rest for 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to set.
Meanwhile, pour off most of the fat from the roasting pan. Add flour, cook and stir until brown, then add broth, sherry or wine and scrape up bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. Simmer gravy, taste and season as desired. If you prefer, omit flour and thicken at this point with arrowroot or corn-starch softened in cold water. Strain gravy into a sauceboat.
To carve the turkey, removed drumstick and thigh to be cut separately. Thigh meat should be sliced parallel to the bone. For the breast, place knife as close to the wing as possible, keeping it parallel. Make a deep cut into the breast to the bone. This is called "the base cut." Begin to slice just above this. Each new slice should begin higher up than the last and end at the base cut.
Now, isn't that a smart looking turkey? But did you remember a spoon for the stuffing?
TIMING THE BIRD
TThis timetable gives approximate total cooking times for roasting a turkey. Place a tent of aluminum foil over bird loosely when it begins to turn golden.
TIMETABLE FOR ROASTING TURKEY
Internal temperature 185 degrees(TABLE) Ready-to-Cook Weight(COLUMN)Approximate Cooking Time 6 to 8 pounds(COLUMN)3 to 3 1/2 hours 8 to 12 pounds(COLUMN)3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours 12 to 16 pounds(COLUMN)4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours 20 to 26 pounds(COLUMN)6 1/2 to 7 hours(END TABLE)
The timetable is based on chilled or completely thawed turkeys at a temperature of about 40 degrees and placed in a preheated 325-degree oven. For unstuffed turkeys, reduce roasting time by 5 minutes per pound.
If a thermometer is not used, test for doneness about 30 minutes before timetable indicates. Move drumstick up and down. When done, the joint should give readily - or break. Another way is to press the drumstick meat between your fingers. The meat should be very soft.
When the turkey is done, remove from the oven and allow to stand about 20 minutes for easier carving.
COOKING TURKEY IN FOIL
Prepare as directed for the roast turkey. To wrap, place turkey breast side up in the middle of a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. For larger birds, join two widths of foil.
Brush with melted butter, shortening or oil and place small pieces of foil over the edges of legs, tail and wing tips to prevent puncture. Bring long edges of foil up over the breast of turkey and overlap three inches. Close ends, folding foil so drippings will not run out. Wrap loosely. Do not seal airthight.
Place turkey, breast up, in open shallow roasting pan in oven preheated to 450 degrees.