Cooking Turkey, Simplified Step-by-Step Tutorial
By: Wajida Pinnock
When I first heard that I was going to be cooking turkey for our test kitchen feature this month, I was really excited. It’s usually a struggle finding good halal turkey at butcher shops but now, just in time for the long weekend and Eid-Ul-Adha, you can buy Mina Halal’s Grade A whole halal frozen turkey and prepare a wonderful celebratory dinner for your family. I did so this past weekend for my extended family and the effort was well worth it. We were comatose (the good kind) in a matter of minutes. I prepared an international/fusion menu for 10 people:
The main features were traditional:
- Stuffed Turkey
- Gingered Orange Cranberry Sauce
You can easily make gravy by using halal bouillon cubes and adding the drippings from the foil tray once the turkey is out of the oven. You can make your own or buy boxed stuffing and prepare it with any additional ingredients you choose.
Though the sides were from different cuisines, they worked well together:
- Matar Pulao (Peas & Rice) – Pakistani
- Chilli Garlic Green Beans – Hakka Chinese
- Greek Salad – Mediterranean
- Corn Bread – Southern Comfort
- Vichy Carrots (Glazed Carrots) – France
- Potatoes with Herbs de Provence, Italian spices & Olive Oil – Italy/France
- Yams (brought over by my cousin)
The desserts were a typical array of treats that our family enjoys; such as:
- Pumpkin pie
- Apple pie
- Red velvet cheese cake
- Thanksgiving themed Chocolate/vanilla mixed cake
Sounds good right? You can choose whatever sides or desserts you want and it could be themed if you like, but the fact is, the turkey is the main feature. People are afraid to cook it because it seems like a daunting task, especially in trying to keep the turkey juicy and well salted right through. When something cooks for hours in the oven, you have to wonder how it’ll retain any moisture by the time it’s cooked through to the middle. The truth is, if done right, turkey is thoroughly satisfying as the main feature of a grand meal and is a beautiful centrepiece. And this is why; I have done the work for you, with guidance from my in laws who have been cooking turkey for years, to tell you exactly how you should be cooking turkey this year.
Most people thaw the bird in the fridge for a couple of days or for faster results, in cold water. They then add a dry rub or immerse the turkey in brine for flavour. What I recommend is combining the thawing process with marinade for a longer time for best results. Thawing & cooking times depend on the size of the turkey and you can find approximate timings online to suit your needs. Please remember to adjust seasoning and timings based on the size of your turkey. I used a 4.25 kg turkey which only takes 5 to 6 hours to thaw regularly in cool water and 3.5 hours to cook.
Here is what I did:
- Take a large cooler or tub, wash it out thoroughly and add the ingredients of your choice; such as, whole all spice/pimento, salt to taste (since this is a brine, I used about 1 cup of salt), all purpose seasoning, halal chicken bouillon cubes crumbled, onion diced roughly, minced garlic, soya sauce, crushed all spice/peppercorns, fresh sage, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, diced scotch bonnet peppers, diced scallions, and lime to cut the rawness. You really can put whatever flavours you want; this is what I used.
- Add enough room temperature/slightly cool water that’ll allow the turkey to be submerged and taste the water. It needs to be well seasoned and quite salted. Remove the frozen turkey from its packaging and place it whole into the prepared brine
- Cover the cooler and 3 hours later use a skewer to poke holes into the turkey as much as you can. Flip the turkey over and repeat. Cover the cooler once again
- 3 hours later, you repeat the process, except now if you feel the water needs some ice cubes to last through the last hours, add them
- About 7 to 8 hours later, take the turkey out of the brine and let sit so that the brine drips out
- Use a large foil tray and professional grade thick foil. Make sure to spray some cooking spray on the foil as it will cover the turkey and prevent the turkey from sticking to the foil. (Otherwise when you pull the foil to look at the turkey when it is in the oven, it will peel some of the turkey right off)
- Transfer the turkey to the foil tray and check the cavity for a pouch of giblets, neck etc. In this case, there was none. If there would have been one, you can choose to throw it out, make a gravy using it, or cook it beside the turkey on the foil tray (just remember it cooks faster so take it out when done)
- Place an apple if you wish at the opening of the cavity. I didn’t stuff the cavity as most people do as it makes the stuffing overly soggy and doesn’t let the turkey cook well right through. Place your hand in between the skin and the meat in the breast area of the turkey so it lifts and separates, and add some butter and sage on each side of the breasts. Pull the skin back over and hold in place with 2 toothpicks
- The stuffing goes in the neck area (make sure it is cold stuffing), so once stuffed, pull the skin back over to close it and stitch a couple of tacks on there with a large needle and thick thread/twine
- Next, the slippery bit, tying up the turkey. The wings must be tied close to the turkey or they spread right out while cooking and the legs need to be tied as well. However you decide to do it doesn’t really matter — just get it tied up!
- Rub a little all purpose seasoning and soya sauce on the surface of the turkey for color and shine. You know those ridiculously perfect turkeys you see in pictures? They are either doctored pictures or a serious glaze has been used. Go for a more natural color and shine for your turkey.
- Cover with the foil you had sprayed cooking oil on, make 4 holes in the foil and it’s ready to go into the oven at 350 degrees on convection. Now if you had noticed any ice at all in the cavity when you were checking the turkey and adding the apple, leave the turkey out for a bit. Alternatively, if you are not cooking your turkey immediately, you can refrigerate it until it is ready to go into the oven
- Cooking time depends on the size of the turkey of course. Since this was a 4.25 kg turkey, I baked it for 3 hours and 25 minutes. After it’s been in the oven for an hour, you have to poke the turkey with a skewer to get juices out for basting, and if you do not see enough juice, add ½ a cup of hot water and half an hour later, baste it. So, essentially, poke holes in the turkey and baste it at least 4 times during the cooking process. You will not get a nicely browned turkey otherwise. Last 50 minutes or more in the oven the turkey cooks uncovered
- Once the turkey is done, and you can test this with a skewer or meat thermometre, you should let it rest for at least 15 minutes before removing the stitches/toothpicks. Do not slice/cut it immediately or the juices run right out. Use this time to prep the serving platter for the turkey
It seems like a difficult process but it is not at all, it just requires time. But remember, you can prepare everything else for your meal during that time. You can use the 3+ hours that your turkey is in the oven to make your sides and accompaniments, so that when the turkey is ready, you can set the table while it cools down. It is important to keep a variety of types of sides so that you don’t need the oven for anything else. I did the potatoes on the barbecue for example, and reheated the apple and pumpkin pies in the 15-20 minutes that the turkey was resting.
Décor is a huge part of entertaining for any event of course so make sure your table is set from the night before along with any fall elements you like to use; such as, mini pumpkins, leaves collected from your street, and various fall trinkets. When everything is planned out, it all comes together for a beautiful meal and you won’t be stressed out at the last minute. We all sat down for a wonderful dinner and everything was gone within 15 minutes! The consensus around the table was that the turkey was the juiciest they had ever had and was well salted through to the bones. So try out Mina Halal’s Grade A halal turkey using the method I have suggested and have a wonderful blessed Eid and Thanksgiving long weekend.
Photo Credits: Wajida Pinnock
Wajida has worked in corporate sales and marketing in media, hospitality, and other industries for many years and now owns and runs Kitchen Cultures with her partner Afshan. They feature their own tried and tested halal and fusion recipes, gluten free recipes, vegan recipes, and more on their website. You’ll also find tips and advice ranging from managing your kitchen to the benefits and uses of certain foods. They also offer custom catering packages, edible packaged giveaways, and individual orders based on your needs.