vrudnyNovember 26, 2006 REVIEW:
I just used this recipe to cook the bird for Thanksgiving dinner and everyone said it was the best turkey they have ever tasted! The meat has a complex wonderful spiced apple flavor and the meat was tender and moist. However, that was very likely a result both of the apple brine AND the cooking method I used. Im sharing the steaming method I used because it is so easy, and the Turkey was so great.
Easy Steaming Method
Some of the classic cook books say that broiled (uncovered) basted bird has a better meat flavor. Yet, who wants to nurse a bird for 3+ hours by basting every ten minutes? Furthermore, the big problem with that open air broiling method is it is very easy to end up with DRY overcooked turkey because the bird is exposed to the dry heated oven air and/or not basting frequently enough.
It is MUCH easier to simply surround the bird completely in a sealed aluminum pan, and put some liquid in the bottom of the pan, effectively steaming the bird inside. This is how I did it:
1) Follow the recipe for apple brining the bird. However, I modified that brining method in the following ways, with great results:
Once the brown sugar was melted with the apple juice, I added the rest of the ingredients into the simmering mixture, with the exception of the water and the orange juice. I did this for obvious reasons. I wanted those ingredients to simmer their flavor into the brine. However, I added the orange juice and water only after the boiled ingredients had a chance to cool to refrigerator temp.
When time is a factor, it is obviously much faster to cool the boiled brine in the freezer instead of the fridge, but you simply have to check it every 30 minutes to catch it before it freezes.
Why on earth would anyone air dry the bird in the fridge for 4-hours after it has been apple brined and patted dry? You can skip that and simply start stuffing the bird and cook it immediately after draining the brine from it.
2) STUFFING: I highly recommend using the Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing mix, and using apple juice as the liquid adder, along with a cup of dried cranberries (they look like dried red grapes, available at most grocers), along with a cup of chopped onion and cup of sliced celery, plus the recommended amount of butter. It is also nice to add in a cup of chopped nuts, such as walnuts for a nutty flavor. Of course, you must finely chop and sauté the liver and giblets and add that to the stuffing mix for added turkey flavor both for the stuffing cooked inside the bird, and extra stuffing that is cooked in a pan outside of the bird. I have tasted many alternative recipes for stuffing, but none of them are even close to as tasty as that cornbread stuffing.
3) Put the bird, after stuffing, into a deep aluminum turkey broiling pan. Now slather the bird with a layer of oil or butter (barding the fowl). Pre-heat your oven to 450 F. Now seal the skin to lock in the moisture by searing in that 450 F oven for about five minutes or until the top half of bird has very light brown color. You must peak in every few minutes to make sure the skin doesnt get burned or over-browned. I chose to use the bottom burners of the oven plus added the upper broiler burner for a few minutes to get a nice light brown seared outside in only a few minutes.
4) Pull the bird back out of the oven and dump at least one cup of apple juice OR one cup of the original brine into the bottom of the broiling pan, so that steam will be produced. Now carefully (the aluminum pan is very hot) completely cover the bird with a double-layer of aluminum foil, sealing it against the aluminum broiling pan by bending it firmly over the edge all the way around the pan. Of course, you must use insulated cooking mittens to do this. The seal around the edge must be made very thoroughly because if it opens during cooking your bird will be very dry due to lost steam. You can poke a few tiny fork holes into the top of the foil. Ideally, try to have an air layer between the bird and the foil above it, because when the foil sits directly upon the bird, that skin area may burn or get dry. Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees and bake it about 3 to 4 hours for a 12 lb bird.
5) IMPORTANTLY, the only way to avoid overcooking is to check the bird early and often with a meat thermometer, pulling the bird as soon as 185 F is reached for the inner thigh and breast meat, and min 165 F for the inner core of the stuffing. You must check temp early to avoid overcooking. For example, if you are cooking a twelve pound bird and the cook books say that will take 3+1/4 to 3+3/4 hours, you need to first check the temp at 2+3/4 or 3 hours, because variations in cooking conditions and type of oven could easily cook your bird early. Obviously if the meat is not hot enough you quickly close the oven door and check it again after another 20 minutes of cooking.
Be careful when opening the aluminum foil after cooking because immense amounts of potentially scalding hot steam will escape.
This method worked so well in producing fantastic turkey that I will never again baste another bird.