Upside Down, Inside, Outside Turkey
Countless numbers of turkeys have been sacrificed for a grand feast only to wind up so dry you can’t even swallow the meat. Some people have been eating, or attempting to eat, dry turkey all their born days with no idea that turkey can be moist and succulent.
Growing up, ham or chicken was typically the star of holiday celebrations. I never knew my grandmother to cook a turkey. My mother took a notion to cook turkeys for Thanksgiving. I don’t remember anything notable about the turkey with the except of one. Someone had convinced my mother to try what they promoted as their no-fail method for cooking a turkey. I don’t remember the specifics of how the method was supposed to work. Apparently, Mama didn’t either. The method relied on cooking from residual heat. You put the turkey in the oven in a covered roasting pan the night before at a high temperature and after a short while, the oven was turned off and the oven door was to remain closed until the next morning. I’m not sure where the foul-up occurred, but something went badly wrong. To say the turkey was dry is like saying Lady Gaga isn’t modest. It was so dry I don’t think we have a word in the English language to describe it. Poor Mama! I remember feeling so bad for her. We all have kitchen failure. I’ve certainly had my share, too.
One fateful day, over 36 years ago, I was having a conversation with my boss’s mother about Thanksgiving Dinner. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned that I haven’t found a good way to roast a whole turkey that wouldn’t result in dry turkey. She told me she cooked her upside down in an oven bag and it’s always moist and juicy. She went on to explain the reasoning for cooking it breast down is the juices will flow down to the breast meat and keep it from drying out. That made perfect sense to me. Use the laws of nature to help the turkey out. As the years progressed, I modified the recipe by adding fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs and coating the bird with olive oil. The result is a splendid turkey that is so moist it’s unbelievable. The fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs not only flavor the bird, flavor the broth that forms as a result of the cooking process.
I wanted to test the reliability of this method that I had been using for so many years. Last Thanksgiving, I veered from my trusted method to test out a different process. I brined the bird for 24 hours which was a pain in the hind side. My hind side, not the bird’s. My turkey was so big, the only container I could find big enough to hold the turkey and brine solution was a cooler. I had to keep checking to make sure the solution was staying cold enough which meant adding ice occasionally. After the brining process, I made up a compound butter and smeared the butter under the skin and all over the outside of the Mr. Tom Turkey. While he was cooking, I basted him frequently. The whole dadgum process was time-consuming and not carefree. The consensus from my family was, “Can we go back to cooking the bird the way you normally cook it?” Now, that was a scientific experiment as far as I’m concerned. The conclusion was proof positive that my old method is the best. I love science.
Now, let’s get down to business and stop the bantering. Simply stated, this process involves bathing a turkey in olive oil on the outside, generously seasoning inside and outside, adding fruits, veggies and herbs inside the cavity, placing the bird on a nest of fruits, veggies and herbs outside the bird and cooking inside an oven bag upside down. That’s it! No brining. No basting. No worries. No kidding! Who knew that all those spatial concepts you learned in kindergarten would help you cook.
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Upside Down, Inside, Outside Turkey
The downside to this cooking method is that you won’t have crispy skin like the turkey in the Normal Rockwell picture. Truth be told, that turkey was probably dry as a bone. The turkey that I referenced from last year had beautiful, brown crispy skin but the meat wasn’t nearly as flavorful and juicy as it is with this method. In a perfect world, we should have both. I can get both in roasted chicken, but the extra cook time required for turkey creates a challenge with conventional cooking methods.
If you like to entertain folks by carving the turkey at the table, this isn’t the method for you, either. It comes out so tender that the breast literally falls off the bone. The legs and thighs separate from the carcass with a gentle tug. All you need to do is slice the breast.
I have a stockpot ready and my husband throws in the carcass and skin as he’s getting the bird ready for a platter. All that gets covered with water and I start making turkey stock for dressing, gumbo, pot pies, etc.
1 whole turkey (You pick the size. I’ve cooked everything from 12 pounds to 22 pounds)
2 apples (I used Granny Smith’s)
3 stalks of celery
2 medium sweet onions
1 head of garlic
several sprigs of parsley
several sprigs of sage
Remove giblet bag, neck and pop-up thermometer. Wash and pat dry turkey. Give him a good rub down with olive oil. Season generously with 4-1-1. Don’t forget the cavity.
Don’t even worry about peeling, trimming or coring. Just wash everybody good. Cut everything into three or four pieces except garlic. Cut the top off the garlic bulb.
If you want to make giblet gravy, reserve a piece of everything to make the stock for the gravy.
Put roughly 2/3 of the fruits and vegetables and some of the herbs in the bottom of the oven bag. I used Reynolds Oven Bags Turkey Size.
Stuff the inside the cavity with the as many of the fruits, veggies and herbs that you can cram into it. Truss the legs. This turkey was a Publix brand and it came with a plastic thing-a-ma-jig attached to it that is so much easier to work with than cord.
Turn the bird upside down and place in the oven bag. Sprinkle some parsley and sage leaves on top.
Tie up the bag and place several slits in the top. Cook according to the directions that come with the oven bag. This was a 13 pound turkey that I cooked at 350 for 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let it sit in the bag for 30 minutes.
Enjoy your juicy turkey! I’ve taught many people how to cook a turkey this way. They tell me this will be the way they cook turkeys from now on.