Specifically, Citrusy Herb Roasted Turkey. But first, a story…
A long, long time ago, in a cornfield far, far away, two high school friends went to a small liberal arts college and became roommates. Missy, an adorable little Italian-American with a heart of gold, and Kirsten, some other girl. The two romped and frolicked, and enjoyed doing the things that young girls often do when on their own and away from home for the first time. Like midnight milkshake runs, cow tipping, and popcorning people into their dorm rooms in retaliation for another prank. Oh, and they studied a TON. And I’m kidding about the cow tipping part. I think.
Have you ever popcorned someone into a room? It’s when you tape newspaper across a door jam from floor to about 3 inches from the top. (Making a huge pocket.) Then you pop a bunch of popcorn and fill the pocket. When the occupants open the door, the popcorn floods into the room. Hilarious!
Wacky hijinks continued, but eventually the two girls graduated and became real grown-ups. Whether or not they matured is up for debate. Missy now goes by Melissa, and she is as adorable as ever.
Look! She grew up to be a Goddess! OK, not really. She’s a darn fine actor, though. So
Missy Melissa asked me to help her make the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving. In my quest not to be a perfectionist, I get a little nervous throwing around the “p” word. Good turkey? Sure! Tasty turkey? You bet! Perfect turkey? Well, I guess you will have to be the judge of that one.
Remember the scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Beverly DiAngelo’s character spends all day making the “perfect” turkey? The turkey looks stunning right out of the oven. Perfectly browned. Then when they carve it, it bursts open because it is so dry? Yeah. Don’t let that happen to you.
I have made my share of turkeys, and there are 3 things that I have found that make a moist, tasty turkey:
- An oven bag.
- A little citrus with a bunch of fresh herbs.
- Butter. Lots of it.
Only kidding. Roasting a full turkey gives you a lot of turkey. Tons. So unless I am planning to serve turkey to an army, I tend to only roast the turkey breasts. (You can buy the breasts without any of the other parts attached.) That still gives an ample supply of cooked turkey, and we don’t end up eating it for the next 37 days after Thanksgiving.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.
You can follow this recipe using a full-sized turkey instead of just the breasts. I’ll list the ingredient quantities for a full-sized turkey in (parenthesis.)
Citrusy Herb Roasted Turkey
7 pounds whole, bone-in turkey breasts (12-14 pound full-sized turkey)
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened (8 Tbs.)
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh herbs–A mix of rosemary, thyme, and sage is nice. (2 Tbs.)
1 navel orange, washed and quartered (1 orange and 1 lemon)
2 sprigs each: rosemary, thyme, and sage (4 sprigs each)
Hefty pinch of kosher salt (a couple of pinches)
Hefty pinch of black pepper (a couple of pinches)
A large plastic oven bag
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
The turkey takes minimal effort to prepare for the oven. First, we need to prepare the aromatics to stuff in the turkey cavities, next we’ll compose the compound butter, then we’ll throw it all together.
Wash the orange before cutting it into smiles. I mean quarters. Then get the fresh herbs assembled. I like to use sage, rosemary, and thyme for poultry.
Grab a couple of sprigs of each herb, and tie them in a neat little bouquet with butcher’s twine. Butcher’s twine is made from 100% untreated cotton. It won’t burn up in the oven, or release caustic chemicals when heated. Ask for it in the meat department of the grocery store. The herb bouquet will not be eaten, so don’t worry about the woody stems.
We’ll need some of the herbs to make the compound butter, which will be eaten, so strip the leaves off of their stems. To do so, firmly grasp the top of the sprig between your fingers.
Then pinch the sprig with your other fingers, and gently run your fingers down the length of them stem. The leaves will come off in the process. Do this with 2 or 3 sprigs of each herb.
Chop the herbs rather fine. You’ll need about a tablespoon of chopped herbs for every 4 Tbs. of butter.
Add the herbs to the softened butter, and stir them to combine. There! Compound butter.
Rinse the turkey and pat it dry. Check the chest and neck cavities for a giblet bag. If you don’t know what giblets are, I’m not going to be the one to tell you. Suffice it to say that the giblets make delicious gravy and stock. And if you cook ‘em up and give ‘em to the nearest hound dog, you’ll have a best friend for life.
Stuff 3 of the orange quarters and the herb bouquet into the chest cavity. Call them aromatics. Doesn’t that sound lovely? You aren’t going to eat them, but they will steam and infuse the bird will all sorts of flavor during the roasting process.
Stuff the 4th orange quarter into the neck cavity. Fold all of that extra skin over the orange to seal it in. Then try not to creeped out by of all that extra skin. Now get out the secret ingredient:
Oven bags are the secret to a moist, delicious turkey each, and every time. No basting required! Gives you more time to dream about pie. And who doesn’t want more time to dream about pie?
Get out the roasting pan. Make sure the pan as at least a 2 inch lip around it. Open an oven bag in your roasting pan. I read the directions on the back of this particular brand of bag, and it said to put a tablespoon of flour into the bag, and shake it it around to coat the inside of the bag. It said something about keeping the bag from bursting during the cooking process. I am all about preventing things from bursting in the oven.
Put the stuffed turkey in the bag. Lift up the skin over the breasts. See that membrane holding the skin to the breast? That membrane needs to be broken apart to form a pocket. I usually just rub my fingers between the skin and meat, and massage around to break up the membrane. You can get it started with a paring knife, if you like.
See that pocket? That’s going to be a big ol’ pocket of flavor. Truly.
Scoop up about a third of the compound butter, and plop it into the flavor pocket.
Rub the butter around to cover evenly. Then pat the skin back into place. Repeat this process with the other breast pocket, and 1/3 of the compound butter.
Rub the last 1/3 of the compound butter all over the top of the turkey. Don’t be shy! Get in there and make sure that all of the exposed skin is covered. If you bought your standard commercial turkey from the grocery store, it’s probably been shot full of salty broth, to keep it moist. If that’s the case, there is no need to sprinkle salt and pepper over the top. If you bought a natural, unadulterated turkey from a local farm, the sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper.
Pull the bag up around the turkey, and tie it with the nylon tie provided in the package. Tuck the extra part of the bag into the roasting pan, so that the bag in is completely in the pan. It will look kind of like a giant bag of bread. Cut 6 one-half inch slits into the top of the bag so that air can escape during cooking.
That’s it! Put the turkey/bag/roasting pan onto the middle rack of the preheated oven. Roast the turkey for 30 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. My little turkey breasts weighed in at 7 pounds, and so roasted for 3 1/2 hours. No peeking! The oven bag will baste and brown the turkey as it roasts. The turkey is done with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 185-190 degrees F. If you are roasting a whole turkey, you should insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh to get a safe reading.
Cut the oven bag open. Be careful! A lot of steam could escape with that first cut.
These giant pitchfork- looking things are called meat lifters. Meat lifters are an excellent way to lift the turkey out of the roasting pan. If you don’t have meat lifters, you can get two large and sturdy spoons and insert them into the neck and chest cavities to lift the bird. Get the cutting board as close to the roaster as possible before attempting the lift.
Let the meat rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Drool. Use some of the drippings from the oven bag to make gravy if you like. I like to mix equal parts turkey drippings and chicken stock.
Quick gravy: Heat together in a saucepan over medium heat, until boiling. Mix 2 Tbs. cornstarch with 2 Tbs. cold water. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the dripping mixture. Continue heating, stirring constantly, until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.
There ya have it! Carve that bird! Nibble a bit. It’s the carver’s prerogative. Try not to eat all of the turkey while getting it on the serving platter.
Well, I don’t know if I’d call it the perfect turkey, but it’s definitely a darn tasty.
Citrusy Herb Roasted Turkey Breasts
7 pounds whole, bone-in turkey breasts (OR a 12-14 pound whole turkey)
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened (OR 8 Tbs. for whole bird)
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh herbs: a mix of rosemary, thyme, and sage is nice. (OR 2 Tbs. for whole bird)
1 navel orange, washed and quartered (OR 1 orange and 1 lemon for whole)
2 sprigs each: rosemary, thyme, and sage (OR 4 sprigs for whole)
Hefty pinch of kosher salt
Hefty pinch of black pepper
1 large plastic oven bag for turkeys (Reynolds brand work well.)
For Compound Butter:
- Place softened butter and chopped herbs in a small bowl, and stir until thoroughly combined.
- Set herb butter aside.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Put the oven bag in a deep roasting. Add 1 Tbs. of flour to the bag and shake to distribute.
- Rinse turkey breast under cool water. Be sure to check for a bag of giblets in the main cavity and neck cavity first. Remove the giblet bag (if present) before rinsing the turkey. (If the turkey comes with a “pop-up” thermometer, remove it and throw it away. They are not very accurate.)
- Place turkey breast in the oven bag (in the roasting pan). With your hands, gently lift one side of the breast skin, and run your fingers underneath to break the membrane that holds the skin to the breast. (You may need to get it started with a paring knife.) Repeat with the other side. This will create large breast pockets.
- Rub 1/3 of the compound butter under the skin of each breast pocket. Rub the remaining 1/3 of the compound butter over the top of the breast skin.
- Quarter the orange and tie the herb stems with butcher’s twine. Put the herbs and 3 of the orange quarters in the larger cavity of the turkey.
- Put the remaining orange quarter in the smaller neck cavity.
- If you are using a natural, unadulterated fresh turkey, then sprinkle the top with salt and pepper. If you are using a commercially produced turkey from a grocery store, then the turkey is likely injected with broth/seasoning to retain moisture. If the turkey has been injected, skip the extra salt and pepper over the top.
- Close the roasting bag, and tie it with the provided nylon tie. Make sure the bag is completely inside the roasting pan. Cut 6, ½ inch slits in the top of the bag.
10. Bake at 325 degrees for 3-3 ½ hours. (As a general rule, roast turkey in the oven for 30 minutes per pound.) Turkey is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads between 185-190 degrees F.
11. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, and cut open the oven bag with scissors. Remove the turkey from the oven bag, and place it on a cutting board.
12. Allow turkey to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
NOTE: For roasting a whole turkey, use 8 Tbs. softened butter and 2 Tbs. freshly chopped herbs for the compound butter. Add a lemon, sliced in half to the main cavity. Follow the remaining recipe as written, but cook whole turkey at 325 degrees for 30 minutes per pound of turkey.