Turkey is one of those things that kind of gives a queasy stomach to the newbie cook or even the decent, once-in-a-while cook, simply because of its size. Additionally, it is not something you can cook "on the fly" nor can it be cooked "fast" - also because of its size.
I am not a big fan of Turkey. I am not wild about white meat on the chicken and Turkey is mostly if not all "white" meat. It is also much "drier" than chicken. All that being said, Turkey is a favorite of many and certainly does have its pluses when you are planning to serve many people. On the night of the Seder, when we do not eat roast meat, it is very common to find Turkey being served (or chicken). I go for Turkey when I am formally serving a large group of people and I am not making meat.
Because Turkey is usually large it must be cooked in a slow manner, on a constant heat (at least until the near end of the cooking process) and it requires time and an oven that can hold the Turkey you are cooking. Don't underestimate this last statement. I have had more than one emergency phone call asking me if my oven could be borrowed to make a Turkey as the person overestimated the size of their oven and bought a Turkey too big to cook normally in their home oven.
Additionally, if you are like me and hate throwing out food, buy a Turkey that will be mostly eaten. This is one of the products that I always seem to never get right, and no matter how many people there are, and how much they eat, there always seems to be leftovers - which of course can be used to make Turkey sandwiches.
In the end you need patience here. Not a lot of skill but patience.
The following is for Fresh Turkey (I try to never buy frozen Turkey as I really do not like the taste) but it is up to you. The Turkey in the picture was 7.2 Kilo which is approximately 15 pounds (1 Kilo = 2.2 Pounds).
Utensils you will need:
- An oven large enough to hold the Turkey you are making which means enough room on the sides so the pan does not touch any side of the oven and thus the Turkey can cook evenly.
- A large basting pan - or large aluminum foil pan (On Passover I use an Aluminum Foil Pan and double it - in other words one pan inside the other.)
- A large serving fork and knife to turn the Turkey over.
- Turkey (of course)
- 5-6 Sweet Potatoes (called "Batata" in Hebrew, based upon its real name see Wikipedia) And though they are called Yams in the US - Sweet Potatoes and Yams are really not the same, see the article at Home Cooking for more info
- 6-8 Potatoes (No need to peel)
- 3 Onions - Chopped fine or grated
- 1 Whole Garlic (or Garlic SALT not powder - 2 Tablespoons). If you are using a fresh garlic cut it up and peel each clove. Keep 3-4 whole cloves and grate the rest up with the onions.
- 1/4 - 1/2 Jar Of Honey (approximately 6 Tablespoons)
- Fresh Oregano Approx. 2 Tablespoons of crushed leaves - You can use prepared spice from a bottle as well.
- Fresh Basil Approx. 2 Tablespoons of crushed leaves - You can use prepared spice from a bottle as well.
- Some parsley but for dressing up the Turkey not cooking with it
- Olive Oil - Really good olive oil - Extra Virgin if you can afford it (I know I always use Olive Oil and some may balk at this. But read this article on the health benefits and there are hundreds such articles available on the Internet.)
- The supermarket has many different "chicken" or "turkey" or "chicken grill" spices in bottles or jars. These are easy to make and actually usually use Turmeric as a base. But it is simply easier to buy one of these and keep it in stock in your spice rack. I happen to buy my spices at a store in the Machaneh Yehuda Shuk (Marketplace). I have found that their spices are always fresh, affordable and their chicken and meat spices are incredibly tasty on the palette. Of course you can always use a combination of Turmeric, garlic, dried tomatoes etc. But unless you are really into spices then I would suggest picking up a couple of different "chicken grill" spices and trying them out on the chicken and turkey and deciding which one you like best.
***Before we begin the pictures of the turkey were taken on the Eve of Passover when I was really rushed. I did not have time when the pictures were taken to lay out the turkey as it was served. This is critical. The Eve of Passover when one prepares for the Seder is kind of squeezed for minutes or seconds. So please be a bit kind when taking in the pictures.
(Actually this is fairly simple)
- The Turkey should be completely defrosted (if you bought frozen) and fresh or defrosted placed in room temperature for around 30 minutes. (That sounds easy, but when you have a dog like Rainbow, my Golden Retriever - make sure that Turkey is high enough so they don't get to it. Rainbow is really incredibly trained, but placing meat like that within reach of a dog - well that is really tempting the fates!)
- Now put that Turkey in the cooking pan and WASH YOUR HANDS FIRST! That is right. YOU! Wash your hands. (Sheesh... the things you have to remind people to do sometimes!)
- First thing we want to sprinkle very sparingly but evenly the olive oil around the turkey. You do not need to cover it with olive oil! But just enough so it covers most of the sides.
- Next take that 3-4 whole cloves and place them inside the turkey cavity.
- Now sprinkle the "chicken" or "turkey" spice all over. Don't be stingy. (And if you are using plain Turmeric than sprinkle easy and sparingly. Not a lot cause it does tend to give a bitter taste.)
- Mix the grated onion and garlic together and spread over the turkey.
- Now pour the honey over it. Above is for those who use honey sparingly. I always use more as honey is a wonderful cooking agent and I love it.
- Now on top of the honey put the Basil and Oregano leaves.
- Now wash off the Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes take a knife and cut a slit lengthwise in each one. Around 1/4 of the depth. (This helps them to cook evenly with the turkey)
- NOW put that Turkey aside and walk away for at least one hour. LET THE SPICES MAKE THEIR WAY INTO THE MEAT BEFORE YOU BEGIN TO COOK IT.
- Around 20 minutes before putting that Turkey in the oven, start the oven and preheat it to approximately 200 degrees Celsius (380-390 degrees Fahrenheit) .
- When you waited long enough, cover the turkey with the top of the pan or with aluminum foil and put the Turkey in the oven. Turn down the oven to 190 degrees Celsius or 370 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Let it cook like that for 60-70 minutes and do not open the oven door. Sheesh! The turkey will not run away!
- Put on your oven gloves take out that Turkey and turn it over. (Try not to splatter yourself like I always do!) While doing so look at the side that was cooked. You may not see much cooking yet. Beware if it is cooked already or almost, your oven is too high or you left it in too long. So compensate during the next phase.
- Let the "uncooked side" now cook at the same temperature for 60-70 minutes. Remember to keep it covered!
- Oven Gloves again. Take it out. Remove the foil. LOOK AT IT! Because from now on you are on your own! There should be juices in the bottom of the pan. From the turkey, honey, olive oil and spices. The potatoes should be near done, but don't worry. Leave them with the Turkey.
- Turn it over. Sprinkle some more "chicken or turkey" spice liberally. Cover it. Put it back in the oven for 20 minutes and turn the oven up to 200-225 degrees Celsius (390-420 Fahrenheit.)
- Take it out roll it over sprinkle the spice and again for the next side.
- After this second phase is done (40 minutes 20 on each side) you should be ready to remove the aluminum foil.
- Back in the oven for 10 minutes on each side. NO MORE.
- Now here is a trick which you will see works from the picture below (where you will see more well done parts on one side). Do NOT try this unless you really know your oven well. The caveat is you really have to know your oven. Every oven has a "hot spot". I don't care how well it is ventilated during cooking. There is always one spot which is hotter than the rest. So if some people like their turkey well done and others don't place the uncovered Turkey and only the part you want more "well-done" under the hot spot for 5-7 minutes.
Turkey When Done
Now when you lay out the Turkey all pretty place the parsley around it and on top of it. Pour the juice from the pan into a separate bowl right before you serve. And pass it around the table. This turkey "sauce" is delicious.
Now for the stuffing if you are really adventurous.
- One Mixing bowl - 1//4 filled with water
We are going to introduce a new spice here - Chimichurri. Which when made (not in the dry form which you can get in a spice jar) looks like the picture to your right. If you don't have it or can't get it either in dried form or as above do not sweat it. Leave it out!
- One Fresh bread or One Challah all cut up into pieces without the crust. Not sandwich slices but pieces. (I use Challah)
- Olive oil
- Garlic spice (2 Teaspoons)
- Onion spice (2 Teaspoons)
- Turmeric (2 Teaspoons)
- Basil (2 Teaspoons)
- Oregano (2 Teaspoons)
- White Pepper (1 Teaspoon)
- Salt to taste
- Chimichurri if you can get it (1 Tablespoon of either the prepared, dried Chimichurri or one Tablespoon of the prepared kind.)
- 3 Eggs
- Put the bread pieces (tear them up) in the mixing bowl with water and let them soak for around 5 minutes.
- Drain out the water.
- Put the eggs in. (Crack them first!!!!)
- Mix together.
- In any order you want just put in all the spices and mix them well with the bread.
- Use as much olive oil as you feel comfortable with.
- When you have a batter of bread and spices, put this in the cavity of the Turkey. Fill it up as much as you can.
- Now begin cooking the turkey according to the instructions above.
No, folks. This is not simple. This is not for a hasty meal. And remember the instructions above are for a BIG turkey. Cooking time should be adjusted for smaller turkeys. That is critical to point out. The stuffing is also great, but not necessary. If you make Turkey, potatoes and stuffing - make sure you have invited a battalion of very hungry soldiers over to eat! Use your sense of smell and your eyes while cooking and basting the Turkey.