Turkey isn’t the most flavourful bird, but it is an easy option if you need to feed a large group, as at Thanksgiving (which this year is on Thursday) and Christmas. And there are a few ways to make the meat less bland. First, buy a heritage breed. They are more expensive and a little harder to find than the battery-farm type, which are bred primarily for the size of their breasts, but the meat is firmer and more flavourful.
It is essential to salt the bird sufficiently and far enough in advance to let the salt penetrate – allow for at least two days, although three is better. Don’t overcook it – guidelines say that it is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 74 degrees Celsius, but remove it from the oven before then, because the temperature will rise as the bird rests.
If you are also making stuffing (which should be cooked as a side dish, not actually stuffed into the bird), cut up the bread at least a day in advance and let it air-dry at room temperature, so it will absorb more of the flavourful turkey stock.
Dry-brined roast turkey
The bird should be thawed before it is seasoned. You can thaw it quickly by putting it in a large, clean container of cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes (it takes about an hour per kilo).
1 turkey, thawed
Fine sea salt
Cooking oil, for oiling the roasting pan
1 large onion, divided
1 large celery stalk
1 large carrot
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 Remove the neck and innards from the cavity of the turkey and refrigerate them until needed. Check the weight of the bird (it will be listed on the label) and multiply by .01 – this is the amount of salt you will need. Weigh out the salt (it looks like a lot), then sprinkle it over the bird and into the cavity, using more on the meaty portions (breast and legs/thighs) and less on the bony portions. Wrap it securely (I use a new plastic bin liner) and refrigerate for at least two days, giving it a quarter turn every eight hours or so.
2 About four to five hours (depending on the size of the turkey) before you want to serve the meal, preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Remove the turkey from the fridge and take off the wrapping. Tilt the turkey over the sink to drain the liquid from the cavity. Dry the bird inside and out with paper towels. Cut the onion in half and remove and discard the peel. Put half the onion in the cavity of the bird, then place the bird breast-side down in a lightly oiled roasting pan. Put the other half of the onion in a separate pan and add the celery stalk and carrot (each cut into several pieces), the garlic cloves and the turkey innards and neck (taken out of their packaging).
3 Place the pans with the bird and the innards/neck in the oven and cook at 220 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 180 degrees and cook for 20 minutes. Remove both pans from the oven. Using dry kitchen towels to protect your hands, carefully turn the turkey over so the breast side is up. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone. Put the pan with the turkey back in the oven and cook at 180 degrees until the meat thermometer registers 70 degrees. (If the breast skin is not browned enough, turn the heat to 200 degrees for the last 20 or so minutes of cooking.)
4 While the bird finishes cooking, put the cooked innards/neck, celery, carrot, half onion and garlic cloves into a saucepan and add two litres of water. Bring to a boil, then cover the pan with a lid, turn the heat to low and simmer for an hour. Strain the stock through a colander placed over a bowl. Use some of this stock to make the stuffing.
5 When the turkey is cooked, move the bird to a large cutting board and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. Pour the liquid in the turkey roasting pan into a measuring cup. The fat will rise to the surface. Spoon off as much fat as possible and put it into a bowl. Pour the cooking juices into the bowl holding the turkey stock and use this for the gravy.
Bread stuffing with Chinese wind-dried meats
This East-meets-West stuffing is delicious. It is my mother’s bread stuffing recipe, but while she uses bacon, I make it with Chinese sausage (laap cheung) and liver sausage (yuen cheung) – a suggestion by food stylist Nellie Ming Lee.
There is no need to use expensive bread for this – I buy the cheap sliced sandwich bread with the crusts cut off.
Start to prepare the stuffing while the turkey is cooking. Bake the stuffing while the turkey is resting.
420 grams bread (about 18 thin slices of sandwich bread)
300 grams Chinese sausage (a mix of laap cheung and yuen cheung), chilled
1 onion, about 200 grams
1 large celery stalk
About 500ml turkey stock
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Cut the bread into 8mm squares, put them on a large tray and leave at room temperature for at least a day, occasionally mixing the pieces so they dry evenly.
2 Quarter the sausages lengthwise, then cut into 5mm pieces. Dice the onion and celery.
3 Put the sausage pieces into a large wok (or skillet) and place it over a high flame. Cook until they start to sizzle, then turn the heat to medium. Stir occasionally until the sausage is fully cooked, then remove the pieces from the wok. Put the onion into the wok (no need to wash it) and cook over a medium flame for several minutes, then add the celery. Sprinkle lightly with salt and cook for about three minutes, stirring often. Add the sausage back to the wok.
4 Add the bread to the wok (if it doesn’t all fit, do this in two batches). Stir frequently while slowly adding some of the turkey stock – you need just enough so the bread is moist but not sopping wet. When all the bread has been moistened with the turkey stock, season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture into a deep baking dish – the stuffing should be about 3cm deep. Bake at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the surface is crusty and lightly browned.
60 grams turkey fat (if there isn’t enough, make up the difference with unsalted butter)
60 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
About one litre turkey stock
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Put the fat in a skillet placed over a medium flame and when it is hot, add the flour. Whisk until smooth, then cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute.
2 Ladle the turkey stock about 100ml at a time into the skillet, whisking constantly to smooth out any lumps. When the mixture is smooth and bubbling, whisk in more stock. Add stock until the gravy reaches the consistency you like, then add salt and pepper to taste.