The following is an
accurate account of my adventures with a 4.5kg free-range
Two weeks ago, I received an email from the ODT asking
if I wanted a free-range Crozier's turkey to write about for
this blog. Somewhat shocked, I said "yes". I had never
roasted anything before, not a chicken, not anything, let
alone a whole turkey. In hindsight, I wonder what made me
A few days later a frozen bird was delivered at my old hall,
Carrington. I am eternally thankful for the use of their
freezer for the week prior to cooking it, as there was no way
the thing would fit into our tiny freezer.
I planned on hosting a Thanksgiving dinner the Saturday
before exams were due to start. Probably not the smartest
idea, but at least I got to put into practice some of my
knowledge on how to avoid giving an entire party food
poisoning (I have had lectures on that, no joke).
Thanksgiving in Canada falls on the second Monday of October,
so this party was only a few days late. It was also the
perfect excuse to make mini pecan and mini pumpkin pies for
Planning this thing was kind of stressful. My family is a ham
family; we have an aversion to turkey. The last time we had
it -- like, seven years ago -- it was too dry and so I have
never seen it as a viable feasting option.
After doing a bit of research I found that if you soak the
turkey in a brine solution overnight the resultant cooked
bird is lovely and moist. I then did some brine-recipe
investigation. Initially, I was confused. Some well-known
food personalities have their science mixed up. They say that
the brine solution causes the water to move into the meat via
Unfortunately, they have it around the wrong way. The high
salt concentration in the surrounding water would cause water
in the turkey cells to leach out to try to dilute the salt
solution, resulting in an even drier bird than before. What
they are right about, nevertheless, is that brining does make
the bird juicier. I went to talk to my lecturer to find the
salty solution to this brainteaser.
The salt in the brine solution migrates into the muscle
tissue. The myosin (the proteins involved in contracting the
muscle) is solubilised. The negatively charged chloride ions
(from the salt) cause the proteins to have an overall
negative charge. As we know, like charges repel, causing the
protein fibres to repel each other. This repulsion leads to
increased space between the proteins.
Water migrates into these spaces. The chloride ions and the
dissolved sugars also like to hold on to the water, making it
stay in the meat. Therefore, the water-holding capacity of
the meat is greater and hence a juicier slice of turkey
breast. The same thing happens with our ham, bacon and other
meats. If the meat holds more water it weighs more, it is
juicier and therefore meat retailers can charge more for it.
So armed with this knowledge I set about making up my brine,
stuffing and cooking recipes. Remember, I had never done this
before and there was a good chance that this would be a
Now, large frozen birds take a while to defrost. But if you
were to leave one on the kitchen bench to thaw, there is a
good chance you would spend the 24 hours after eating it in
the bathroom. The way to avoid spending the night caressing
your favourite bathroom fixture is to slowly defrost the bird
in the fridge over a couple of days. Sure, it will take
longer, but it is better than the alternative.
So, my turkey adventure proper began on a Wednesday.
On the Wednesday we went to pick up the turkey (in the car
thank goodness) and it began its great but slow defrosting
Thursday was the day for making the brine concentrate. After
looking at a few recipes I decided that a successful brine
recipe had the following components: salt, a sugar source, a
fruit flavour, thyme and rosemary, garlic and plenty of
water. I decided that I wanted my turkey to have apple and
pear as the main feature, so a litre of apple juice went in.
I chose brown sugar to be my sugar source as it has a more
complex flavour than white sugar. I threw in some rosemary
and thyme and five crushed cloves of garlic. A few recipes
suggested peppercorns so those went in too.
To freshen the brine up a bit I threw in the zest of one
orange and the flesh cut into cubes. This method also helped
to release the flavours in the orange rind and herbs. The
high salt content of the brine concentrate lowers the boiling
point quite significantly. So it will be bubbling away at
about the 70degC mark. I took it off the heat, left it to
cool for a bit then poured it into a clean milk bottle. Once
it was room temperature, I popped it in the fridge to chill
Friday was the day I found a large enough plastic bag to
brine my turkey, a plastic bag that wouldn't leak briny
turkey juice everywhere. I also needed to make my mini pies.
I told a friend to come over after work and do some quality
control. I said that there would either be lovely cute wee
pies or she would find a crumpled Sophie-shaped mess on the
floor crying over ruined pies. Both scenarios were completely
In the afternoon I began the brining process. If I am ever
asked in a job interview when was the last time I used
problem-solving and perseverance, I can tell them about the
time I brined a turkey.
It was almost as comical as a Mr Bean Christmas special.
After 48 hours defrosting in the fridge, my turkey was still
frozen. That's a good start. When I opened the bag the turkey
was in, I forgot that I was dealing with a gutted, headless
animal, frozen into a shape that fits conveniently into a
plastic bag. I opened the leg end of the bag and as it tore
open I let out a little yelp. All I could see was the bit of
neck sitting inside the internal cavity. I have a thing about
animal spines. I can't even look at a roast chicken if I can
see its spine. So tinned salmon is a no go for me too.
I manned up and lifted the bird out of the bag, at which
point it skidded, frozen, across the kitchen bench,
almost landing in the sink. It was then that I realised that
I didn't actually have a bag big enough to brine it in. This
was a problem.
Solution 1: I could use my bucket. I got out the hot glue gun
and glued up the hole in the bottom. Then it occurred to me
that I needed to fit this bucket, along with the 4.5kg bird
and about 8kg of water on to a glass shelf in the fridge.
Unfortunately, a) the bucket wouldn't fit even if I removed
all the shelves, and b) the weight of the full bucket would
surely break the shelf.
Solution 2: The last Dunedin City Council rubbish bag sitting
in the laundry. It was 40 litres. It was perfect, except that
I didn't think it could carry the 12kg of weight without
splitting. After filling it with the frozen bird, brine and 6
litres of extra water it looked like a giant black bladder
sitting on the bench. The bench (and floor) at this stage was
covered in brine (and probably a little bit of melted turkey
Right now I needed a way of supporting the bladder so that it
wouldn't split under its own weight. Aha! I had a largish
clothes shop bag with handles. I awkwardly slid the bladder
into the bag (one-handedly as I was taking photos of the
ridiculousness at the same time). I tied a nice knot and
tried lifting it. I still didn't trust this wrapping. Next
thing you know I am sliding my clean (I hoped) gym towel
under the bird bag and forming a sling, just as you
would to carry a real body in first-aid training. I
moved everything from the vege bin in the fridge on to the
bottom shelf, then very carefully lifted the precious cargo
into the vege bin. Closed the drawer. Bam. Done. I'm awesome.
I sat there for a few minutes revelling in my ability to
solve problems and defy the odds.
I called Mum and recapped the afternoon's events. She pointed
out that I could reuse the council rubbish bag; after all,
it's just going to have rubbish in it. Win!
After disinfecting everything of turkey-juice contamination,
I proceeded to make my mini pecan and pumpkin pies. I owned
those mini pies. They turned out excellently (much to my
surprise actually, pastry and I haven't had a good
relationship in the past).
So it's 8pm, I am winning at life and completely exhausted.
After running to the supermarket to get a few last-minute
things, I began the day's preparations. First I grated an
endless number of carrots and beetroots for another salad,
before getting down to making the stuffing. At first I
followed the recipe I sort of made up. Then I felt like
adding some chopped dates to it. I love dates so surely a few
of them in there wouldn't hurt. Then I added some orange.
Why? Because orange goes excellently with dates and almonds
(which were also in there).
Just before 3pm, I rolled up my sleeves, donned an apron,
sanitised the bench and threw on some disposable gloves. I
poured out the brine from my double-lined council rubbish bag
and had a look at the bird inside. At least it had defrosted.
I faced my aversion to bird carcasses and flipped the legs
out from the flap of skin keeping them tight together. Making
a reach of faith I stuck my hand in and pulled out the neck
and the liver. Nom nom. I'm sure an anatomy student would be
stoked with these.
After rinsing out the inside I proceeded to stuff the bird. I
had to YouTube how to do this first. Apparently you don't
want to pack it too firmly or it takes too long to cook and
you end up with a dense soggy mass. You should be able to
slide your hand in and over the mound of stuffing. Once it
was full of my delicious mixture, I stoppered the hole with a
half-orange and popped the legs back under the handy skin tie
the butcher had made. Now to put it in the roasting dish.
The turkey god seriously hates me.
The bird was too big for my dish. The tail-flap hung out and
over the end of it. After doing a call around to see if
anyone had a bigger dish (which no one did - students can't
afford such large amounts of meat) I decided to just squish
it in and hope that it shrank before the fat melted over the
side. Thankfully it did and I avoided an oven fire.
I cooked it at 180degC for 45 minutes. I think this was to
crisp the skin first. I then added as much cider to the dish
as I could without it spilling. I think it was almost a
litre, minus a few confidence-boosting swigs. I turned the
temperature down to 160degC, at which I let it cook for
another hour. I took it out again and poured some of the
cidery juices over it before putting it in again for another
Now Annabel (Langbein) told me (via her blog, not in person)
to cook a bird of this size for 2 hours 45 minutes. The
packet said two and a half. My mum (who had to convert it to
pounds) said three. As exams were coming up I was quite
nervous about it being undercooked. We couldn't afford any
food poisoning. The bird had a pop-up timer inserted into it
but I don't think it popped (I was expecting it to shoot up).
So after giving it a few stabs here and there in the chunky
bits to check if the juices had run clear (which they had) I
finally took it out of the oven after almost three hours.
Note to self, don't cook a turkey wearing glasses. It was a
bad day to try to channel the inner smarty-pants. Every time
I opened the oven door I forgot I had to wait for the steam
to gush out, so my glasses kept steaming up. So annoying.
When I went to take it out there was a delayed steam gush and
I ended up spilling some of the oily juices on the floor (and
on me). So half an hour before everyone arrived I was mopping
the floor to avoid a slippery head injury.
Sweet giblets! The bird smelt amazing. As in, like, amazing.
I gave it a good poke and the skin was crisp and crunchy. Now
I'm usually the healthy poultry consumer and remove all skin
before I eat, but all that was going out the window. I had to
flip the bird on to its breast to let the juices flow back
into it as well as to relax the muscle fibres before we ate
it. I was by myself and flipping this steaming-hot bird with
only a dinner fork was quite comical. In the process a
portion of wing "accidentally" snapped off. How tragic.
I had to sample the wing of course.
It was the best thing I have ever eaten. I ended up with
grease from ear to ear (thank goodness none of the guests had
arrived yet). I immediately went about rubbing the meaty
goodness in my brother's face (he's in Auckland) by sending
him a picture of it. I gave myself a quick pat on the back
before running around getting everything else together. I
also had to make the gravy. The best thing about pouring all
the cider in is that you have a delicious amount of liquid
from which to make the gravy.
Carving was also an interesting experience. Once again I had
to YouTube the instructions. The guy made it look so easy.
That was probably because he had a decent knife. However, the
meat came off and all my fingers remained attached. Success!
Everyone finally arrived and as it turned out, everyone
forgot to bring the cutlery and plates that I asked them to
bring. This was going to be interesting. So Alix and I
checked our bags for rogue forks. I had a nightmare a few
days previously that while I did something else, everyone ate
all the turkey. This actually almost happened.
As I was doing a quick tidy up, everyone dug in. When I went
to get something to take a nice photo, all the pretty breast
pieces had gone. Like disappeared. Just like the plates and
cutlery had. So I had to get out this small 20cm plate and
put a huge caveman leg on to it. I then had to do a quick
dash to get a few things to put on my plate before they too
disappeared. Then I realised there were no forks left. I
couldn't even find a plastic one in the drawer. So I had to
pick apart my leg with my fingers while waiting for someone's
fork to become available. The turkey god really didn't want
me to have this.
I also discovered that taking attractive photos of a rather
caveman-like meat experience was quite difficult. Knobbly
bits of cartilage and other bits of turkey anatomy aren't
very aesthetic. So the photos really do not do it justice,
neither does my iPhone, with which I was taking the photos.
For those of you wondering what was on my plate other than
the huge leg, there was a raw-energy salad comprised of raw
beetroot and carrot with a pomegranate molasses-based
dressing, a roasted pear, and walnut and blue cheese salad.
Take my word for it, it tasted excellent.
I was kind of hoping there would be leftovers for our lunches
the following day, and maybe even a dinner. But no.
Everything was eaten. Before I even got a fork the carcass
was being picked over. At least that meant it tasted good and
many a student belly was filled.
The gravy and the stuffing were fantastic on my juicy thigh
(which is probably where they ended up). The leg had been
sitting directly in the cider and was super-juicy. I am not
too sure about the breast meat though. I don't think it
needed that extra time in the oven, but it is better to be
safe than sorry. The flavour of the meat was excellent. It
had that satisfying level of salty that makes tummies smile.
The sweet stuffing complemented the meat perfectly. The
fruity components removed any need for fruit-based condiments
and the almonds, oh the almonds. They just went brilliantly
with the dried fruit and the orange and provided that
well-needed crunch among it all.
Success! I could sleep easy that night (with a very large
food baby indeed).
Once the dishes were cleared and the kitchen returned to a
less bombsite-like state, it was time for dessert. And what
more perfect to finish a Thanksgiving turkey meal than
pumpkin and pecan pies? They went down a treat (the recipes
for these are on my personal blog
So here concludes my adventures in turkey town. After a week
of planning and more trips to New World than I care to
remember, it is over.
I would like to give a huge thank you to Crozier's (www.croziersturkeys.co.nz)
for providing me with the magnificent bird, as well as to my
flatmate Alix, who put up with all my obsessive turkey
nonsense this week.
The following methods I have adjusted slightly, taking in my
own learning experience to make the process easier.
48 hours before you plan to cook the turkey:
2 cups salt
1 cup brown sugar
4 cups of water
4 cups apple juice (just use the cheapest you can get)
3 Tbsp whole peppercorns
4 Tbsp rosemary leaves
3 Tbsp thyme leaves
5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped or crushed
the peel of one orange plus the flesh, cubed
6 litres of cold water.
In a medium saucepan, dissolve the salt and sugar in 4 cups
of water and 1 cup of apple juice. Add the peppercorns,
herbs, garlic and orange. Simmer until all the salt and sugar
has dissolved and a good aroma has been released (about 10
minutes). Take off the heat and leave to cool for a bit
before pouring into a clean milk bottle (if the mixture is
too hot it will melt the bottle). Pour in the remaining three
cups of apple juice. Leave to cool to room temperature before
placing in the fridge overnight. Leaving it overnight not
only cools the brine so that it doesn't raise the temperature
of the turkey meat (health hazard!) but it will also help to
develop the flavours.
24 hours before you plan to cook the
Take your defrosted bird out of the fridge. It doesn't really
matter if it hasn't fully defrosted, it still has 24 hours to
do so. Unwrap the bird. Place the bird into a double-lined
(clean) rubbish bag. Carefully pour in the brine solution,
making sure it doesn't spill out of the bag. Pour in another
6 litres of cold water (from the tap will do) over the
turkey. Tie the bags up nice and tightly.
Either a) create a towel sling and transfer the turkey bag
into the vege drawer of your fridge or
b) fill a large chilly bin with ice and place the bag in
that. If using a chilly bin, make sure no animals can get to
it; it would make a nice feast for them. Check the chilly bin
every six hours or so and top up the ice if required. If you
want to be super-safe, throw a thermometer into the bin and
monitor the temperature, making sure it doesn't rise above
Leave to soak in the brine for 24 hours.
Approximately 4 hours before you want to serve your
Remove the turkey from the plastic bags. Remove the giblets
from the internal cavity and give the bird a good rinse with
fresh cold water inside and out.
Prepare the stuffing:
3 cups chunky breadcrumbs
½ cup chunkily chopped almonds
½ cup crystallised dried apple (the sweet sugary type from
the bulk bins)
½ cup dried dates, chopped
The peel of one orange, finely sliced
2 medium-sized onions, diced
3 Tbsp thyme
a good handful of parsley, chopped
the leaves of 2 sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
½ an orange
Soften the onions by frying them in the butter along with the
thyme and rosemary. Cook them until they are translucent but
not brown. Mix all of the ingredients apart from the eggs in
a bowl. Just before you plan to stuff the turkey, mix in the
eggs (otherwise it goes soggy).
Hold the bird upside down and spoon the stuffing inside.
Return the turkey to its normal position. Make sure you can
slide your hand in and over the mound of stuffing inside, be
careful not to overstuff. Stopper the cavity with the
half-orange. Tie the legs together with some cooking string.
To roast the turkey:
2 medium-sized onions, sliced into rings
2 pears, sliced lengthways
3 sprigs of rosemary
5 sprigs of thyme
30g butter, softened
1 litre apple or pear cider
Preheat the oven to 180degC.
Place the onions, pears and herbs in the roasting dish. Place
your stuffed turkey on top of them. Rub the skin of the
turkey with the softened butter.
Place the turkey in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. At 45
minutes, take the turkey out and pour as much cider as you
can into the roasting dish. Turn the oven down to 160degC and
put turkey back in the oven for another 2 hours. At intervals
pour some of the cider and juices back over the breast. To
see if the meat is cooked, stab the thickest part of the meat
(usually the thigh) and see if the juices run clear.
In young birds, the bones are still
quite porous and so it is common for some of the marrow to
leach into the surrounding muscle, giving it a very pink or
purple colour. This is completely normal, just make sure the
juices are clear and not pink.
Take the turkey out of the oven and flip it onto its breast.
This is to help the juices flow back into the breast meat.
Cover with tinfoil and a couple of tea towels to keep it
warm. Leave to rest for half an hour before you carve and
serve it. This gives you a good amount of time to get other
things together, such as the gravy.
I placed all the pears and onions from the roasting pan in a
small bowl for people to have as a side to their turkey.
Waste not, want not.
¼ cup cornflour
¼ cup cold water
3 cups of the cooking juices surrounding the turkey.
Slurry together the cold water and cornflour in a separate
cup. Pour into a saucepan along with the 3 cups of turkey
juices. Cook on a medium heat until the sauce thickens.
Carve up the turkey (with a sharp knife!) and serve with a
good portion of amazing stuffing and
a good drowning in gravy (oh, you should probably put some
vegetables with it too!).
As exams are next week, this will probably be my last post
for the year. So good luck to all my fellow Scarfies, see you