Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday- for so many reasons. But the turkey can be a pain — a pain to make properly, and then a pain because you have so much of it that one tires of turkey leftovers after a day or so. The answer- making Turkey Sous Vide.
Sous Vide is a method of cooking that we have advocated for a while. Don’t have a Sous Vide machine? Treat yourself and start changing the way you cook. It allows low temperature cooking, so that the meats are not overly dry. The most common reason people go to an emergency room on Thanksgiving is they get a piece of dry turkey caught in their throat. With Sous Vide, the turkey won’t be dry (of course, if you swallow too large a piece it can still get stuck).
The previous posts have talked about Sous Vide but there are a number of places that sell the equipment for the home cook to do Sous Vide cooking easily. Most people need to get a water oven and a machine that does vacuum sealing of the food. You can use the link above to purchase the Sous Vide machine, or you can find them at places like Sur Le Table and William-Sonoma. Mine was purchased from William-Sonoma and I have demonstrated its use at their stores.
The first key is to butcher the turkey into its parts. This makes the bird manageable. As you can see from the video, I love to do that myself, but if you have a good butcher they will do that for you. You can also purchase the pieces individually from the butcher if you like. Some purchase just breast, some thighs. It is cheaper to purchase the entire bird, though, and have the butcher break down the bird, including splitting the breasts.
This allows the turkey parts to be cooked at temperatures and times individually for them. It also allows you to cook the entire turkey Sous Vide and those parts you won’t use can be frozen for up to six months (avoiding those many recipes for turkey soups, turkey casseroles, and turkey curry).
To Brine or not Brine
Many talk about placing the turkey into a brine in order to help the turkey stay moist through cooking. The brine has little to do with a turkey being moist. A brine is a solution of salty water, and some place other herbs and sugar in it- that draws water out of the turkey, especially the skin. It does not make the turkey more moist when cooking it. Over cooking turkey in an oven is easy- over cooking turkey Sous Vide is impossible.
I find brines and marinades to be messy. But having a turkey broken down into its parts makes it easier to handle.
Instead consider seasoning the turkey with Kosher Salt for a day. Less messy than making up a brine. Salting the turkey helps the skin become crisp. Seasoning the turkey parts with Kosher salt is the same process as a brine- with a lot less mess.
Seasoning the turkey:
A simple salt and pepper seasoning works well on the turkey. You won’t need olive oil on it, and we will take care of that great herb flavor with our cachet of herbs. Salt and pepper the skin. There are a number of poultry rubs available- and you may prefer those.
The Water Oven Bags
There is a lot of worry about BPA these days, and it is worth being concerned about. I’ve used several types of bags, but all of them are BPA free. Cooking in plastic bags is otherwise quite safe. When it comes to systems- take a look out there, but my current favorite system is the one sold by William-Sonoma
With Sous Vide the best way to permeate the turkey with sage, rosemary, thyme, and even basil if you like- is to roll these up in a plastic wrap. Cut off both ends and drop this into the bag. If you put the herbs in directly there will be bits of turkey that will have intense flavor, and other bits that have none.
Duck Fat or Butter:
Placing either duck fat or butter in the bag will bathe the turkey during the time it is in the water oven. Some prefer one over the other- some even use a bit of olive oil. Butter is easy because it is solid at room temperature and melts nicely in the water oven. Duck Fat, if kept in the refrigerator is solid at cool temperatures also. Olive oil isn’t solid at room temperature and may be pulled out by the vacuum sealer, unless you are careful.
Water Oven Time:
Once sealed, they can be placed into the water bath kept at 150 degrees F. Breast is done in 2.5 hours, thighs about 2 hours. They can stay in for longer- so if the guests are not quite ready, you can relax knowing that the turkey will not over cook.
When you are ready, have a hot grill to sear the turkey skin and provide that crispness to it. Whether you use a grill, grill pan, or hot oil – it is only two minutes a side.
If you find that you will have more turkey than you need- leave the turkey in the vacuum sealed bag. Put it into an ice bath immediately to stop the cooking and cool it down. Then freeze it. The turkey will be ok for up to six months. Three months after last Thanksgiving we placed turkey breast back into the Sous Vide for 30 minutes to “re-warm” it (an oven, microwave, or stove will dry it out) – and had the most delicious, most amazing turkey breast — far better for sandwiches than anything you could purchase.
Want to smell that stuffing– simple- make your favorite stuffing and bake it– the house will smell like thanksgiving and no choking on dry turkey!
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.