A Turkey Tip
Lou Codella wonders about the problem of the turkey breast cooking faster than the dark meat of the thighs and legs. Lou, you’re right, it’s a problem, although not insurmountable.
If you really want each part of the bird to cook perfectly, then you have to disjoint the turkey and cook the dark meat and white meat separately, as Julia Child and Jacques Pepin did on their Thanksgiving program. I’d love to try it myself, but besides that it’s a project, I have another, much easier solution.
Most people roast their turkeys breast side up, but in my family we have for many years been roasting the bird breast side down (on a V-shaped rack) for most, although not all, of its cooking time. Eventually, the breast must be turned upward so it will brown.
At first, I thought the main advantage of this method was that the fattier dark meat on the top self-basted the drier, white breast meat cooking on the bottom. Not that we don’t baste with butter and herb-infused white wine anyway – every 20 minutes for the first hour of cooking – then with pan drippings after that.
But another reason this upside-down method works to keep the breast moist is that whichever part of the bird is in the bottom of the pan doesn’t get reached by the heat of the oven until some time after the more exposed portion of the bird. You might say that the turkey is insulated from the heat of the oven by the cool pan. It takes awhile — I would say a half hour – for the pan to heat up to the oven temperature and for the whole bird to be cooking at the same temperature.
In addition, the breast-side down method is particularly helpful for very large birds, although they are much more difficult to turn right side up when the time comes. The reason is that large birds fill your oven, coming very close to the top of the oven, and the heat reflected from the top metal panel of your oven increases the heat on the most heat-sensitive part of the bird. (Also, let’s remember, heat rises, so the very top of your oven is hotter than the bottom.)