I know that in the U.S. cooking turkey is both a ritual and a tradition. As a non-American, turkey elicits no feelings for me except as food. I wasn’t even a turkey eater, having a preference for duck over the years, until I discovered that turkey can be just as great if prepared properly. By that I mean making sure that the bird is seasoned through to the bone before it goes into the oven. I really don’t like my meat bland. Relying on sauces and gravies for flavor does not agree with my palate. I like my meat tasty and any sauce or gravy served on the side should only enhance the flavors rather than be the primary source of flavors.
In the Philippines, whole turkey is available in the freezer section of bigger supermarkets. That’s a 10+ pound turkey in the photo. So how did I cook it?
First, I prepared a brine. I mixed rock salt with about 5 liters of water. I kept adding salt until the particles could no longer be dissolved. I peeled off the wrapping of the unthawed turkey and lowered it into the brine. I let the turkey thaw in the brine inside the fridge for several hours. Depending on how cold your fridge is, thawing can take anywhere from several hours to a day or two.
When the turkey was partially thawed, I removed the neck, giblet and liver that were stuffed inside the bird’s cavity and set them aside for the gravy. Once removed, I filled the cavity with brine and left the turkey until completely thawed.
I prepared the stuffing by mixing together about 3 cups of cold cooked rice, 2 tbsps. of chopped pimientoes, 2 tbsps. of chopped carrots, 2 tbsps. of toasted onion bits, about half a cup of roughly chopped wansuy (cilantro) and 5-6 tbsps. of sesame seed oil (yes, very oriental :)). I seasoned the stuffing very lightly with salt and quite liberally with pepper.
I removed the turkey from the brine, allowed the brine to drip out from the cavity and patted the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. I stuffed the rice mixture into the turkey’s cavity. I tucked the ends of the drumsticks back into the tail skin and placed the turkey on a roasting pan (with a rack to allow the fat to drip) and roasted it uncovered in a 160oC oven. The general rule is 30 minutes for every pound of meat but if you’re using a convection oven, the turkey will look faster.
Now, the gravy… I did not use the turkey drippings because I did not want to add the fat to the gravy. I know it sounds sacrilegous but butter in the gravy is enough fat for me.
While the turkey was roasting, I boiled the neck, giblet and liver in about 4 c. of water with some salt, peppercorns, a bay leaf, a whole onion and a whole garlic. I simmered everything for about 30-45 minutes then cooled and strained the broth and pureed the giblet and the liver in a food processor.
Next, I melted half a cup of butter in a sauce pan and added about 6 tbsps. of flour, stirring to remove lumps. I cooked the mixture over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the mixture gave off a toasted aroma. I poured in the strained broth little by little, stirring continuously (tip: if the mixture is still too thick at this stage, add water little by little until you reach the consistency you prefer). I seasoned the gravy with salt, pepper and 3-4 tbsps. of steak sauce and stirred in the pureed giblet and liver and simmered the gravy for about 5 minutes. I turned off the heat and kept the gravy warm (you can reheat the gravy gently just before serving).
When the turkey was done, I transferred it to a serving platter and served with the gravy on the side.
Some notes: I used a Butterball turkey which came with its own “lifters”–strings with loops where the turkey is “cradled” during roasting. When done, the string is used to lift the whole turkey from the roasting pan to a platter without danger of ruining its shape or tearing off the skin. A huge convenience, really. The turkey is served nicely browned and perfectly formed.