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       Volume I - December 20, 2008

Let's Talk Turkey
by Patty Liston

There is quite a bit of information out there about turkeys—enough to leave even the best of us asking some questions. Below is a thumb-nail review of some turkey basics.

These days turkeys come fresh, frozen and somewhere in between. That "in between" category is courtesy of a recent USDA ruling on labeling. "Fresh" turkeys have to be stored at 26 degrees Fahrenheit or above; frozen turkeys have to be stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. But what happens to the turkeys stored between one and 25 degrees Fahrenheit? There's no name for them; some producers call them "refrigerated," while others call them "hard-chilled or "not previously frozen."

The National Turkey Federation says "there is no quality difference between a fresh and frozen turkey." We can only assume they're also referring to "refrigerated" turkeys. However, freezing any meat has a disruptive effect on cell structure — when meat is frozen, the ice crystals that form around the cells can cause cell damage and fluid loss, ultimately resulting in drier meat.

Though modern flash freezing techniques minimize the damage done during freezing and thawing (it reduces the size of the ice crystals), many turkey manufacturers still hedge their bets by injecting a liquid "basting" solution of water, oil and seasoning prior to freezing. This basting solution is often high in sodium — it's essentially a brine and also imparts a flavor of its own. Such turkeys are often labeled "self-basting."

The flavor of a bird is determined by several additional factors, which may actually be more important than whether your turkey is fresh or frozen. Size is key — smaller birds tend to be more tender; if you have a lot of guests coming, think about cooking two small turkeys instead of one large one. Gender plays a role too — female birds, known as hens, tend to be slaughtered younger (i.e., smaller); larger turkeys are typically males, known as toms or stags.

When choosing your turkey, also keep in mind that frozen turkeys take a long time to thaw — one day for every five pounds.

If you're hosting a small Christmas, you should be able to easily find birds under nine pounds. If not, go with a turkey breast. If you're serving lots of sides, figure about one pound per person.

Turkey Tenderloin

Cooking spray
2 turkey breast tenderloins
Salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 large black olive, halved crosswise
Wooden pick

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a shallow roasting pan with cooking spray. Place tenderloins in pan and season all over with salt and black pepper. On 1 of the tenderloins, spread hoisin sauce all over. On the other, drizzle vegetable oil over the top. Using wooden picks, attach black olives to pearl onions and then the hoisin- coated turkey tenderloin, making a set of eyes in the meat. Roast 30 minutes, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the tenderloin registers at least 160 degrees F. Reserve plain tenderloin for another meal. Let hoisin-coated turkey stand 10 minutes before slicing crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices.

  Download this recipe.

Spiced & Super Juicy Turkey
From Nigella Lawson
Serves 12

10 pints 11 fluid ounces (6 liters) water
4 1/4-ounces (125 grams) table salt
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
4 cloves
2 tablespoons allspice berries
4 star anise
2 tablespoons white mustard seeds
7 ounces (200 grams) caster sugar
2 onions, quartered
1 (3-inch) piece ginger, cut into 6 slices
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons clear honey
Handful fresh parsley leaves, optional (only if you've got some parsley hanging around)
1 orange, quartered
1 (9 to 11 1/4-pound) (4 to 5-kg) turkey

For the basting glaze:
2 3/4 ounces (75 grams) butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Place the water into your largest cooking pot or bucket/plastic bin and add all the turkey ingredients, stirring to dissolve the salt, sugar, syrup and honey. (Squeeze the juice of the orange quarters into the brine before you chuck in the pieces.)
Untie and remove any string or trussing attached to the turkey, shake it free and add it to the liquid. Add more water if the turkey is not completely submerged. Keep the mixture in a cold place, even outside overnight or for up 1 or 2 days before you cook it, remembering to take it out of its liquid (and wiping it dry with kitchen-towel) a good 40 or 50 minutes before it has to go into the oven. Turkeys - indeed this is the case for all meat - should be at room temperature before being put in the preheated oven. If you're at all concerned - the cold water in the brine will really chill this bird - then just cook the turkey for longer than its actual weight requires.

For the basting glaze:
Place the butter and syrup into a saucepan and cook over a low heat, while stirring, until the ingredients have melted and combined. Brush the turkey with the glaze before roasting, and baste periodically throughout the roasting time.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Cook the turkey for 30 minutes at this relatively high temperature, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and continue cooking, turning the oven back up to 425 degrees F for the final15 minutes or so if you want to give a browning boost to the skin. For a 9 to 11-pound turkey, allow 2 1/2 to 3-hours in total. But remember that ovens vary enormously, so just check by piercing the flesh between leg and body with a small sharp knife: when the juices run clear, the turkey is cooked.
Just as it's crucial to let the turkey come to room temperature before it goes in to the oven, so it's important to let it stand out of the oven for a good 20 minutes before you actually carve it.

  Download this recipe.

Information Courtesy of the Food Network

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