I’ve left this a bit late, and haven’t even got a recipe formulated for it, so this is just a post on my musings rather than anything formal. But considering how frequently I hear complaints about dry turkey, I feel it’s worth mentioning that there is a solution! A very easy, fool proof solution as well. Yeah, I’m beating that drum for the 100th time in a fortnight: our mate sous vide!
(I know this isn’t a turkey crown – I haven’t got a photo of that yet!)
It really is the perfect solution to getting perfect, moist turkey every single time. Perfect turkey – let me underline that! Perfect turkey! I’ve also mentioned before that sous vide machines are now sub-£50, so it is as affordable as a rice cooker or decent slow cooker. That makes it irresistible to anyone who cares about cooking!
Now I know my own limitations here. I’m cooking for 6 folk this Christmas dinner, and I need to pre-convince them that sous vide is the way to go before they let me loose on their Christmas turkey. Can you imagine if it went wrong?!? People are scared of new techniques and machines. It’s all science-y. I can’t imagine how freaked out people were when microwave ovens first came on the market, where you’re literally frying food with invisible rays! But now it’s a staple of any modern kitchen without question.
If you’ve never tried food sous vide then you’re missing out on a treat. In some instances it is merely a time saver (even though it takes longer – see HERE for details!). More often it seriously helps the food, making it juicier, tenderer, plumper, and the ideal succulence. But in a few cases it truly transforms the food beyond recognition. Since getting my sous vide circulator, I will never be able to slow cook beef without it again. I simply refuse to. You don’t drive in a Fiesta when you have a Ferrari on the drive waiting to go.
So I’ve put together the following recipe, which is what I’ll be following for my own turkey dinner (authorisation allowing!). This does mean that this is UNTESTED. Please don’t crucify me if this doesn’t work and ruins Christmas for you! The maths and science should work. The timings should be enough (but please feel free to cook for longer to be sure – it won’t affect the end product). But in all instances please probe your meat to ensure it is cooked through completely.
Fed Up of Dry Christmas Turkey?
- 3 kg Turkey crown
- 1 Lemon halved
- 200 g Butter
- A few springs of thyme
- Pre-heat the sous vide to 57C
- Season the turkey all over
- Place the lemon within the turkey cavity. Put into a large sous vide bag, and place the butter and thyme at various places around the bird. Vacuum seal, ensuring a good air-tight seal.
- Cook sous vide for 3-4 hours, until the internal core temperature has reached 56C
- Remove, drain (reserve the liquid for gravy), cover, and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
- For a crispy skin, flash fry in very hot oil until the skin is crispy (being very careful due to the huge size of the bird)
So why a turkey crown? The issue with a whole bird is that the legs and wings require cooking at a much higher temperature than the breast. So in a conventional oven you either need to under-cook the legs and wings (sounds a bit dangerous!), or over-cook the breast. But there is tons more breast than leg or wings, so basically we’re butchering the biggest part of the meat. So we get rid of the legs and wings to make life easier. If you have two sous vide machines, then you’re a lucky guy and can do them separately. Around 63C for the legs should get them lovely and tender. The legs can take a LOT more cooking though, so consider having these in for 6-8 hours for melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.
Why is a sous vide so much better? The sheer humongous size of a turkey is what causes our issues. Getting the heat right to the centre of the breast and wings takes hours and hours. Cooking in an oven even set to very low is still cooking the meat far above our target temperature of 56C. By the time the very centre is anywhere near that, the external temperature is in the region of 70-80C. That’s completely butchered meat, in my eyes. Even simmering the turkey in a pan of water won’t help. Although logic tells you that cooking in water must equal moist meat, it doesn’t. As long as the temperature is enough to turn the water in the meat into steam, it will still do so, which equals dry meat. Also the high temperature causes the muscle fibres to contract, squeezing out all our lovely juices in the process.
Cooking sous vide at a set temperature stops both of these problems as the temperature can never exceed our ideal internal temperature. It will just cook and cook until uniformly heated. Even if you continue cooking for an extra hour, it can’t over-cook as we’re not reaching the temperatures required for this. Perfect!
Why the butter in with the meat? Because butter is delicious.
Why fry the skin after cooking? Could we do this before? Or in an oven? The skin will be really flabby when it comes out of the sous vide. So you can either discard it, or flash it in a pan to remove any water that is harbouring inside, giving us a crispy skin. You could flash it in the pan beforehand, but we’re then cooking the turkey in its own juices which will mean we lose any crispness we achieved. Cooking in the oven will work eventually, but it’ll also start over-cooking the outsides long before any crisp skin is achieved, totally undoing our hard work in the sous vide water bath.
56C sounds quite a low temperature – is that safe? Yes, very. The age-old adage that you cook meat to a specific temperature and it is safe is a fallacy (and ruins good meat in the process). Safety comes with both temperature and time, and is never 100% safe. As we’re cooking for a very long time, we will be achieving a safe level of pathogen reduction.
Imagine it like squashing loads of cherry tomatoes. You can use a sledge hammer (high heat) and squash them all in one very quick hit, but if there are enough tomatoes some may still survive the wrath of the hammer. Two blows with the hammer and you’re almost certainly there after just a few seconds. Or you can use a fork (low heat) and slowly press each tomato till squashed. It takes a long time, and if you stop too soon there will be tomatoes unsquashed. But given long enough you’ll eventually squash them all. As long as the tool (temperature) is enough to squash the tomatoes in the first place, it will do the job.
If you’re interested in the details of this, let me know and I can discuss further to put your mind at rest!
Why the thyme? And the lemon? Just for my own taste preferences because it works with the turkey meat. In fact there are a lot of different herbs, spices, and flavourings you could add to the mix to give flavoured meat – use your own instincts!