Friday, December 5, 2008

Garlic- and Herb-Studded Turkey

And now, I am going to share with you my secret, extra-special turkey recipe. I have prepared it every year for quite some time now, and everyone loves it. (except for the one year I decided to use about 6 bulbs of garlic...but I don't want to talk about that right now). One of my former co-workers has prepared this recipe for all her family's holidays for many years is always requested of her! (yes, Angelica, I'm talking about you!)

It really is delicious. Let me walk you through it.

Get a turkey that is big enough you'll have leftovers. You won't be sorry. The general rule is about 1 pound per adult, and 1/2 pound per child. So really, my 23-pounder this year was a bit excessive. But I'm not sorry, we have tons of leftovers! Generally, with 6 adults and 4 kids, we could have cooked a turkey that weighed about 10 pounds and it would have been fine. Of course we wouldn't have had the leftovers either....

Thaw your turkey well in advance of when you want to cook it. I mean, buy it about a week ahead, and depending on the size, you'll want it in the refrigerator (on a tray to catch the juice!) at least four days in advance.

This will be a messy process, so make sure you have some space cleared ahead of time. Clean out your sink so you can put the turkey right in there, and have paper towels on a tray right beside the sink so you can dry the turkey. You can then transfer the turkey to the rack and roasting pan.

The beauty of this recipe is it's versatility. You really can use whatever herbs you feel like using. This year, I used only rosemary. In the past, I have run across a fresh herb assortment for poultry, and have used that. I've used several different combinations. Additionally, you can remove the leaves from woody stems, or not. You can insert them whole, or chopped. Whatever you feel like doing is fine.

You can also use different cheeses. I have used blue cheese or gorgonzola or asiago. At the moment I can't think if I've used anything besides those cheeses. But mostly it's blue cheese because it's easier to find around these parts. I buy the pre-crumbled containers of blue cheese; the containers are 2" high and about 4 1/2" diameter.

For this recipe, you will need to gather:

  • a 20-pound turkey (if your turkey is smaller, use less garlic and half the herbs and cheese. you'll use a bit less salt and pepper too, but be generous)
  • roughly three bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • fresh herbs (rosemary, Italian parsley, sage, thyme), leaves stripped or not, chopped or not I think one or almost two fresh herb containers (at our store they are .66 ounces) should do it, or just harvest an ample amount from your garden like I do
  • 2 containers crumbled blue cheese or crumbled gorgonzola or grated asiago cheese
  • ample Kosher salt (about 4 tablespoons +) in a small bowl, with a healthy layer (perhaps 1 tablespoon +) of freshly ground black pepper on top, then mixed in. (I don't measure the salt or the pepper. The best I can say is use a bit more than you would think.)
Get everything ready and in separate bowls. Start with one container of cheese, and have someone standing by to open the next one and pour half of it into the contaminated container so you don't have to wash your hands more than necessary and don't contaminate ALL the cheese if you don't end up using it.

Remove the turkey from the packaging, and make sure to remove the giblets package from inside the turkey. If the turkey has a timer insert, you can remove that too, if you'd like. Rinse the turkey inside and out, and dry with paper towels. Transfer the turkey to the rack in your roasting pan. (If you don't have a rack, that's okay. Just transfer the turkey to your roasting pan.) I toss the giblets in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Starting at one end of the turkey, carefully start loosening the skin from the flesh with your fingertips, without ripping the skin near the end. If you happen to rip some of the skin near the end, don't worry, it can be fixed. Loosen all the skin you can, reaching your hand/arm in there and loosening the connective tissues under the skin. Again, be careful not to rip the skin too much. But you want the skin to be loose so you can get all the good stuff under there--including up onto the legs and wings, the breast and the back. Loosen all the skin you can on the whole turkey.
(maybe one day I'll post a video demo)

Now. Grab some cheese with your fingertips, and distribute it under the turkey skin. Just shove it under there, everywhere you can reach. Don't worry if it clumps, just make sure it's sort of evenly spaced, and that there is cheese both on the back side and the breast side. Do the same with your herbs (front and back). Whole herbs are actually easier to place than chopped, but either way works. Just do the same thing with the herbs, making sure it looks even under there. I reserve one big herb, like a sprig of rosemary, and put it inside the turkey cavity.

Place one garlic clove at a time under the skin, you can slide and manipulate and move the garlic from both under the skin and on top of the skin. The garlic will stick out (hence the "studded" name), and you want these luscious little garlic lumps to be roughly 1 to 2 inches apart (again, front side and back side). And yes, you'll put a couple under the skin on the legs and wings too, wherever you've loosened it, there should be a clove of garlic or two.

Once you have the cheese, herbs and garlic under the skin, have someone grab you some toothpicks. You will use these to "sew" together any skin that may have ripped in the process. Remember where the toothpicks are so you can remove them later.

Grab your salt and pepper mixture and rub/sprinkle it all over the turkey, top and bottom. Use more than you would think you'd need, and don't think about it. It will work. Once your turkey is salted and peppered, turn it breast side up on the roasting rack. Fill your roasting pan with about 2 inches of water. And wash your hands thoroughly, up to the elbows. I'm not joking. You will understand once you make this.

Bake your turkey as directed on the package. I usually let it bake for about an hour, then loosely drape a sheet of aluminum foil over the turkey. I mean loosely. I just tear it off, and sort of balance it on top, I don't even mold it to the turkey too much--it's hot! Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the biggest part of the thigh registers about 170 degrees, then remove from the oven. Keep the foil in place, loosely "tented" over the turkey, and let rest for 15 minutes or more.

You can use the juices in the bottom of the pan to make gravy, adding lots of unsalted butter and heavy cream, scraping up all the brown bits and boiling to reduce, and adding a bit of cornstarch if needed to thicken it. It might be a little salty, but it will still taste great.

Carefully transfer the turkey to a platter and make sure everyone gets to see that magnificent bird before you carve it up. (don't forget about the toothpicks!) The skin will be crispy and delicious, the meat delightfully herbed with whole roasted garlic cloves and savory cheese gently spicing it up.

Enjoy. And promise your family you will make this turkey for them every single year.

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