With all the bad s**t going down in Ferguson, I think a lighter post is needed to help balance me out. So with that in mind, I present my Bacon-Wrapped Turkey recipe. It's a variation on an existing recipe I found somewhere online years ago, but over time I've added to and modified it so much it's practically it's own recipe now.
- 1 Turkey, 14-22 pounds (I tend towards the 20+ pound birds because I cook for two families)
- 2 pounds of bacon, uncooked (if you have a smaller bird you may only need half that)
- 5 or so apples, chopped in medium-large chunks
- 2 onions, also chopped in medium-large chunks
- 5 or 6 stalks of celery, chopped in 3-4 inch chunks
- 1 bulb of garlic, all cloves separated and peeled
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (what the hell, regular olive oil works fine too)
- Sage, 1 small bunch chopped (if you don’t have fresh sage, dried sage is an ok substitute)
- Kosher Salt & Pepper, whatever you feel is a modest amount
- Wooden Toothpicks
- Heat the oven to about 400 F.
- Take out the giblets bag and neck, rinse the turkey with lukewarm water (or cold water if it will be a little while until you put the bird in the oven), and dry with a paper towel. Put the bird in the roasting pan
- Mix the olive oil, chopped sage, and salt & pepper in a small bowl. Then give that bird a good rubdown of that mixture on the outside and then the inside of the turkey cavity. I usually leave any of that extra fat and skin around the cavity on the bird so it can add to the drippings (fat adds to the flavor).
- Stuff that bird full of the chopped apples, onion, garlic cloves, and celery. Any remainder that won’t fit inside you can put on the bottom of the pan under the turkey where it will cook and mix with the drippings. Tie up the turkey’s legs/drumsticks together with twine, or that turkey leg-cuffs metal doohickey that sometimes comes with the bird. The turkey should be breast-side up, with the wings tucked underneath the turkey.
- Drape the bacon slices across the turkey. I lay the bacon strips more or less in a parallel fashion, but I’ve seen other recipes where they lay the bacon criss-cross fashion on the bird. I’m sure either way works equally well, so feel free to go nuts and do what feels right. I try to concentrate more of the bacon around the breast of the bird, but wrap the bacon around the legs, wings and sides of the bird too, using the wooden toothpicks to secure it as necessary. Basically try to cover the whole bird except for the parts resting on the roasting pan rack.
- Put your meat thermometer in the inner thigh (that sounds like something Family Guy's Quagmire would say). It should be good and deep in the inner thigh, but shouldn’t be touching bone.
- Cover the bird loosely with aluminum foil, so loosely that it barely touches only a few parts of the turkey. You can leave a little space so you can see the thermometer, but since the foil won’t be on the whole time it’s not really an issue.
- Put the turkey in the oven, and then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Now I don’t baste my turkeys and they turn out great, but if you want to do it feel free. I just think it’s better to maintain a more constant temperature in the oven, that’s all. As for cooking time, the 20-21 pound birds I get usually are done in a little bit more than 4 hours, but there are many cooking time charts like this one (http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/howtocook/primers/turkey_stuffingandroasting) where you can get a reasonable estimate based on your bird's weight. These times are just guidelines though, and it's the internal temperature that will tell you when it's done.
- I take the foil cover off about 2/3 of the way through the anticipated cooking time (about an hour and a half before the estimated cooking time ends). This is just so the turkey and the bacon can get some color. If the bacon or turkey skin already looks pretty dark, keep the foil on longer.
- When both the thigh meat and the breast meat reaches about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, take it out of the oven and put it on a platter or grooved cutting board that won't let the juices leak over the side. Take that foil you removed earlier and loosely cover the turkey with it, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes while you make the gravy or attend to any other cooking tasks that need doing. The internal temperature will continue to rise well above the 165 degree threshold of safety. Meanwhile you can use the pan drippings to make your gravy.
- Take the apples, vegetables, and garlic out of the turkey cavity. In the past I've tended to just throw them in the garbage because of uncertainty about insufficiently cooked turkey juices, but this year I think I'll try to simmer them and strain out the liquid for use in the gravy.
- Remove the bacon and the toothpicks. The bacon will be really crispy, almost crumbly in texture. I usually use the crumbled up bits to mix into the mashed potatoes, and put the rest on the side of the turkey for people to snack on as they like. Prepare to see some competition for who gets the pieces of turkey skin, because that bacon grease just does something wonderful to the taste of it.
And that is pretty much that. Being immigrants, my wife and in-laws didn't grow up with the Thanksgiving holiday and so they see this whole turkey cooking business as rather intimidating, but as you can see it's really quite easy. They don't believe me when I say how easy it is, but I don't argue the point too much. After all, I get to stay in the kitchen and read a book or play games on the tablet while THEY have to watch the kids. Oh yes, poor little me.... :-)