Saturday, January 10, 2009

First-Ever Roast Turkey (and Five-Spice Turkeys)

Sorry we ever doubted you, our feathered friend.

None of us has ever liked turkey.

Years and years ago, even as young 'uns, upon first tasting it, we quickly dismissed it as a dry and flavorless bird. Even the "best" of the ones I've tasted didn't warrant a second piece.

We tried to cure our turkey prejudices by ordering a Chinese-style roasted turkey last New Year's Eve.

While it was better than the other turkeys I've tasted, it was only passable, and we thought of turkey as something to be tolerated but not desired.

Is Everybody Crazy?

Imagine our feeling, then, when every year we see the mad rush to buy turkeys and the excitement that accompanies that. At times, we begin to doubt ourselves: "Could it really be good?" I mean, we knew it couldn't be that good, but is it possible that it could actually be... well, edible?

During these times of self-doubt, we would need only to think back on our previous turkey experiences and be rest assured that we were correct and everyone else was wrong.

Then, this year, upon our discovery of food blogs, at home where we thought we were safest, we were bombarded with turkey upon turkey upon turkey -- recipes, pictures, tips, menus -- starting from October all the way through December!

Of course, we thought everyone was crazy!

We Succumb
But, as advertisers know, when one sees something frequently enough, the will eventually, though it may valiantly resist, succumbs.

So, when JS saw Fresh Young Turkeys for sale, she went right up there and got one! We were worried about the turkey actually being consumed, so picked a small-looking turkey, about 11 pounds.

I rationalized it to TS thusly.

There must be something to turkey that we need to find out. If this turkey we do isn't successful, then at least we can say we tried. It's going to be our first, last, and only turkey.

The Recipe
Now the problem was, having ignored all those helpful turkey recipes and tips, I was now too lazy to try to do "research". The one turkey tip or recipe I remembered off the top of my head for its promise of being the easiest and best-tasting was Wandering Chopsticks'. So, a quick search on her site yielded her recipe for Salt Rub and Butter Turkey.

Since we didn't have any turkey experience, we followed the recipe to the letter. (Although, interestingly enough, without meaning to, we've taken to calling it Dry-Brined Roast Turkey. Go figure.)

The Day Before
We simply had to rub salt all over the turkey and rest it breast side down. Easy. (And put it back in the refrigerator, covered, of course.)

The Day Of
Time for the butter!

First, I drained the liquid that was in the pan and got to work. I cut up (actually, more like pinched off) pieces of butter for putting under the skin. Oh, I almost forgot, we also put some sage leaves underneath the skin.

I had quite a giggly time putting my whole hand under the breast skin, teehee.

Then it went into a preheated 425F oven, breast-side down, for about 45 minutes.

After which, I turned it over, lowered the heat to 350F, and waited until it was done. Since this was a small turkey, it only took about 2 more hours.


Now, after cooking the bird (and letting it rest, of course), it was time to carve it. We usually see people carving the bird starting from the breast and making those big slices from it. I've always thought that that method resulted in skin distribution problems. I mean, one person gets that slice with all the skin, and nobody else has enough skin!

We happened to catch a portion of Jamie Oliver's Jamie At Home Christmas Special. For his turkey, he made a point of saying that he takes the breast off the bird and before slicing it. That way, each slice has part of the breast close to the bone and part of the breast close to the skin. As for the dark meat, he simply shreds them all! We followed suit.

I left the drumsticks whole at first, but during the course of dinner, when the dark meat supply threatened to run out, I shredded those as well. I guess no ones wants to take a huge drumstick for themselves.

Cranberry Sauce and Gravy

I made cranberry sauce (following the recipe from the pack of OceanSpray cranberries) and JS made gravy.

I took the neck bone and giblets and made a stock with carrots and onions. Apparently, per Mark Bittman, I wasn't supposed to throw in the liver there, but I found out too late since I dumped everything into the pot. I added a couple of chicken carcasses we had lying around in the freezer.

For the gravy, I simply made a light roux (sautéed equal amounts of butter and flour together), added the strained stock, and the pan drippings. Salt and pepper to taste.

Since I was timid with the roux, our gravy was not too thick, a deficiency TS remedied with a cornstarch slurry. On second thought, I didn't want the gravy to be very thick, because I figure a thinner-consistency gravy might have a little more mileage.

Regarding the display above: um, well, I guess we need to work on our presentation skills.

But, who cares about presentation. We care only about the taste.


I stole a little piece of thigh meat while TS was carving the turkey and my eyes widened in amazement.

It was freakishly delicious! So this is what turkey could taste like!

The turkey wasn't just "good,", it was great! In fact, we didn't have any left over!

And guess what else I discovered? The turkey went great with the gravy (of course) and the cranberry sauce! That cranberry sauce is gold!

We hang our heads in shame for ever doubting the turkey. Thank you fellow foodbloggers -- especially Wandering Chopsticks -- for showing us the error of our ways.

Well, I guess this is one time when we had to eat crow-- I mean, turkey. But it wasn't such a cruel punishment, as this bird was really, really "edible".

All our turkey prejudices are out the window: this bird now has a place on our table.

Our First-Ever Roast Turkey made its debut during our Christmas 2008 dinner.

We were so emblazoned with the turkey's success that not only did we add it to our New Year's Eve menu, but we roasted TWO of them for the party! One was 22 pounds, the other 11.

five-spice and salt

To make it fit with our theme, we added five-spice to the salt rub, then proceeded like before. The resulting turkeys had that lovely, familiar, Chinese-y scent.

The recipe that started our love affair. (Did I just say "love"?)
Wandering Chopsticks' Salt Rub and Butter Turkey

[eatingclub] vancouver
Christmas 2008 Dinner

New Year's Eve Party:
A Starry, Starry Night in Vancouver -- Evoking the Philippine Christmas Spirit


  1. I love the asian flair you gave this bird! Wonderful job!!

  2. That 5-spice rub looks so good. I should have done that for Thanksgiving instead of ordering from the Chinese BBQ. Turkey's a little weird. Cooked too long and it's dry and tough. So glad you tried the dry-brining. It's so quick and easy, isn't it?

  3. love 5 spices.I always run 5 spices to my roast chicken!1 Maybve next Thanksgiving I'm going to use 5 spices for my Turkey!

  4. That turkey looks perfect!!!

  5. Um, I need to have been invited to this.

    *going to get my 5-spice RIGHT now*

  6. I feel like I just relived the holidays and loved every minute of it.

  7. Love your turkey story. I need to try one with five-spice.

  8. What a great post.... I love your honesty and candor....

    And welcome to Turkey....! Check out my blog for Turkey and sides sometime....


  9. LOL, great post. I was never a huge fan of turkey growing up because it was always dry and had a funny taste. It's a little trickier to cook than chicken, but the results are rewarding as I see you've discovered:-)

  10. Gotta hand it to you, girls -- if I needed convincing, you brought me around :) Looks like a fabulous "way" with turkey.

    We've been into maple brining lately, but the five-spice idea is appealing. Might have to try it out ourselves!

  11. I'm so glad your turkey turned out delicious. Welcome to the "dark meat" side. Sorry, couldn't resist.....hee hee. :)

  12. Your turkey looks darn moist! Unlike the dry turkey I tend to see everywhere!

  13. What a great meal complete with gravy and sauce! Turkey looks nicely roasted n moist :)

  14. No need for a fancy pants presentation if the bird is as moist as that. I really found this post helpful because cooking whole turkey scares the heck out of me.

  15. Wow!!!! I bet it was delicious!!!!! All pictures are saying: EATME!!! Thanks so much for sharing :D

  16. Wandering Chopsticks:
    I don't think we'll bother trying the wet brine after this!

    Yes, do so. =)

    Thanks! Not bad for a first-timer.

    Darius T. Williams:
    Haha... if only all food bloggers lived in the same city!

    noble pig:
    We were afraid this turkey post was much too late already, hehe.

    "And welcome to Turkey!" LOL!

    Marc @ NoRecipes:
    Haha... Maybe all turkeys of the past were always overcooked.

    Oh, maple brining you say... Very intriguing.


    Yeah, so JS and I were speculating that perhaps everybody overcooks turley!

    Haha... are you also one who doesn't/didn't "understand" this whole turkley madness? ;)

    Thanks! =D

  17. I wanted to ask how much Five spice powder for an 11 lb turkey?

    This looks like a great recipe that i want to try! Thanks!!

  18. Love this post. Will definitely try what you guys did since i dont like turkey either.

  19. Savory dumpling:
    Just a pinch will do. Five-spice is very aromatic, so even just a hint of it elevates the dish.

    Thanks! =)
    The WHACKLOAD of butter definitely helped put turkey in the "like" column.


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