Most traditions came to be for a reason. In our family, we always cooked the turkey overnight. It was a simpleprocess that had so many benefits. The turkey didn’t require brining that takes up most of the refrigerator a day or so, or finding some other creative place to keep the bird iced down. Once the turkey was done, you could adjust the oven shelf back up to its normal height. You didn’t have to stuff it and still cook the rest of the stuffing that wouldn’t fit in the cavity separately. The house would fill with wonderful smells while you were sleeping, and when you woke up, the turkey would be tender and falling off the bone, just as if you had slow cooked it in the crock pot. This left the rest of Thanksgiving day to go at a slower pace as you enjoy a light breakfast, watch the parade on TV, prepare the side dishes and bake an extra dessert you hadn’t planned on making. If the turkey is the most complicated thing to make, then cooking it thorough the night relieved the stress.
As the years have gone on, with the advent of cooking channels on television and food magazines and websites all competing for the consumers’ attention, hundreds of turkey recipes have been invented. I don’t know what it was about this year that reminded me of our family tradition except that I have a much needed week off of work, and I made a vow to myself that I was going to use each moment as productively as possible. Stressing out as I try to cook everything at once and winding up exhausted before the meal is cooked just didn’t seem that appealing. It also might have been that I remember having tender, juicy and flavorful turkey every Thanksgiving when we cooked it overnight.
I can already hear your concerns. How will I know if the turkey is really done through and through? Is it safe to cook the turkey at a temperature lower than normal? I suggest that you use a meat thermometer to assure yourself that the turkey is thoroughly cooked. Since the turkey will cook at 400 degrees for a half an hour, and 250 degrees for the rest of the night, it is important that once the oven gets turned down, the turkey gets tented securely. This will help to keep the heat in and ensure proper cooking.
I have never stressed about how many hours per pound when using this method to cook the bird. The turkey has always been falling off the bone by morning. If it isn’t, possibly because you have a larger hen or Tom, simply remain calm and let it cook on until it is ready. Really, there isn’t much guess work when using this method.
I aim to put my turkey in the oven at midnight, which means I start prepping it around 11:30 P.M. Preparation is simple. I rub an entire softened stick of butter onto the bird. I put gobs of it under the skin and make sure the outside is well covered. I spread the butter in every cavity and all over the legs and wings. Then, I put my favorite spices on top and I don’t measure – I pour. Cumin, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary and of course gobs of sage cover the gobbler. Of course, you can adjust the spices to your liking. You can also fill the cavity with chopped vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onion and garlic, or place the turkey on a rack inside the pans and place the vegetables underneath. You can also spread minced garlic over the skin of the turkey along with the spices, which is a more Caribbean style of turkey cooking.
So, here I sit with the turkey in the oven, finishing up the recipe before I go to bed. I can’t wait for the house to smell with the wonderful aromas that announce that Thanksgiving has arrived.
1 stick of butter, softened
spices such as oregano, sage, basil, cumin, thyme and rosemary
1. Prepare the roasting pan by lining it with heavy duty aluminum foil.
2. Wash the turkey in the sink including the cavities, and remove the neck and bag of giblets.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
4. Place the turkey in the roaster. Spread the butter over the entire surface of the turkey. Lift the skin and push butter under the skin. Massage over the skin to spread the butter inside. Place butter in the cavities and crevices.
5. Pour ample amounts of spices all over the surface of the turkey.
6. Pour water between the sides of the roaster and the turkey about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way full. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
7. Remove the turkey from the oven. Turn the temperature down to 250 degrees. Tent the turkey with aluminum foil so that it is snug at the sides of the pan but roomy in the middle. If you have a roaster with a lid, you can also put the lid on top of the tent (if it will fit.)
8. Place the turkey back in the oven and go to bed.
9. Wake up to the most delicious turkey aromas swirling through your house.
10. Check the turkey. If it is done, remove it from the oven. If it isn’t, go on about your business. It will be done shortly.
11. Remove the turkey from the oven when it is fully cooked. The temperature of the breast meat should read 165 degrees. You can uncover the turkey and cook it for another 15 to 20 minutes on 400 degrees if you want the skin browner and more crisp.
12. Make the rest of your Thanksgiving meal and enjoy your holiday! Fussing over the turkey is done.