Deep-fried, roasted and basted, cooked in a bag or baked or grilled, there are many ways to cook your holiday bird. Brines, glazes, sauces, marinades and rubs are the key to flavor. Fruity or spicy, boozy or braised, sweet and tangy, there are many ways to get creative preparing turkey. While I love a traditional roast turkey, I am drawn to try something new this year. So, I began doing what I do best, asking questions and talking to folks about how they prepare their turkey.
On a recent hike with my daughter, she mentioned a client who bathed her bird in milk and cognac. It’s on my list to give it a whirl. Brining the turkey in milk would ensure moist, tender meat — that along with aromatics and cognac will give this turkey a truly snappy flavor.
What exactly is brining? Brining is like a marinade; you do it before cooking. Brining allows more moisture to be released so the turkey will absorb extra moisture. There are two types of brines: wet and dry.
Wet brine | A basic wet brine is a mixture of water and salt. Wet brines can be prepared with mayonnaise, buttermilk or an herbed salt bath; adding spices and herbs or fruit to a wet brine is all fair game creatively. Once the brine is prepared, place the turkey in a roasting bag to soak in the refrigerator for a few hours — up to 18 hours before cooking.
Dry brine | A dry brine is rubbing salt, seasonings and/or sugar onto the meat and skin and letting the meat rest in the refrigerator before cooking. Think chili, blackened rub, poultry seasoning or herbed rub. With a dry brine, slather the turkey with butter, oil or truffle butter; add garlic and herbs. Another method is to rub the butter or oil under the skin. Some folks inject the bird under the skin with herbs, olive oil and vinegar marinade before roasting or deep frying. Get your turkey drunk by pouring a can of beer or glass of wine into the cavity and basting with the juices. There are so many flavor profiles to bring to the table.
Bird in a bag
There are several ways to cook a turkey. Bird in a bag is a favorite; it’s simple, easy and virtually foolproof. Rub the turkey with butter or oil and seasoned herbs and place in a bag and roast according to the packaging. This method provides a moist and succulent and flavorful turkey and all the juices stay in the bag making clean up easy.
Deep-fried turkey is a delicious — and dangerous — endeavor. Every year fire departments are called out to put out house fires across the country on Thanksgiving. Do not put a frozen turkey in a pot of hot oil. Buy a specific turkey fryer and perform this operation outside.
For folks who want a space-saving method, sheet pan turkey is the rage this year. Cut the turkey into pieces and lay out on a shallow baking sheet. Season it, glaze it and bake it. It saves room in the oven for other sides and still offers all the flavor and crispiness of a whole roasted bird.
For lovers of Instant Pot (I have three; the latest model has a sous vide setting), cook a whole turkey for a fast and easy method that you don’t have to watch over. You can push a button and walk away. The only limitation with the Instant Pot is the size of the turkey.
Try Priya’s Simple Instant Pot Turkey Recipe.
A whole small 8- to 9-pound turkey can easily fit into an 8- or 10-quart Instant Pot. It takes about 35 to 40 minutes to cook. If you are a fan of crispy skin, the bird can be finished off under the broiler. Another Instant Pot method is to cut up the turkey to fit a larger bird in the Instant Pot. Crisp it up on a sheet pan after cooking.
Other options to consider are smoking, glazing or grilling your turkey for unique and flavorful ways to change up the traditional.
Enjoy and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
Simple Instant Pot Turkey Recipe
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner
1 small turkey, 8 lbs.
1 cup water or vegetable or chicken stock
2 T butter
2 carrots, cut into large pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into large pieces
1 large onion, cut into large pieces
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 t. poultry seasoning
2 t Montreal seasoning
2 t salt
1 t pepper
Rub the turkey with butter and spices. Place vegetables on bottom of pot with stock or water. Place trivet on top of vegetables and place turkey on trivet. Close the lid and press poultry setting or manual setting (6 to 8 minutes per pound of meat). Allow the pressure to release naturally.
For crispy skin, gently remove the turkey and place on a shallow baking pan. Brush with butter or oil and crisp skin under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully; you don’t want to burn the skin. Let the turkey rest for 20 to 25 minutes before cutting.