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A beginners guide to cooking turkey this COVID Christmas

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December 25, 2020 - 10:30 AM

The Christmas decorations are up, the presents are shipped and the Christmas morning Zoom call is scheduled, but there's still one thing missing.

If family gatherings are out because of COVID-19, who's cooking the turkey?

If you're like me and have never cooked a turkey before, this is a daunting task.

But don't settle for Christmas chicken wings just yet. Here are some tips on how to cook a stuffed turkey that will save you from a dry, burnt, or not-ready-until-midnight disaster.

Tricia Sullivan, owner of Sullindeo Farm, has been raising turkeys for ten-plus years, and cooking them for 55 years. 

She said the first thing you need to do is figure out what size bird you're going to buy.

"If you had eight people, they say 12 to 16 pounds, if you had 12 people, 18 to 24 pounds," Sullivan said. "That's a big range, but I can guarantee you with a 24 pound bird, you're going to have leftovers."

If your gathering this year is only about four people, your best bet is to just hunt for the smallest turkey in the pile and make some space in the fridge for leftovers.

Turkey sandwiches may get boring, but you don't need to limit yourself. Take your Christmas leftovers up a notch and check out the recipes from Turkey Farmers of Canada online here.

 

 

The tricky part is cooking time. The size of the bird will ultimately determine how long you want it in the oven. 

Turkey Farmers of Canada offers an online tool to calculate how many your turkey will feed, how long you'll need to defrost it for, and how long to cook it, depending on temperature. 

For example, if you've got a nine pound turkey, you'll feed five people with leftovers, and you'll need to defrost it for nine hours in cold water.

A nine pound turkey cooked at 350°F will take three hours to cook, with stuffing. However, because oven temperatures can vary, cook time should be treated as a guideline.

This is where a meat thermometer comes in handy. Take your turkey out of the oven and insert the thermometer in the meatiest part of the thigh, midway through without touching the bone. Leave the thermometer in for 20 to 30 seconds. It's done if the temperature reads 180°F, or 170°F if the bird is unstuffed.   

For an extra flavourful, juicy turkey, Sullivan has a couple pointers. 

"After you do your stuffing, give it a brush off with olive oil, rosemary, thyme and coat the whole bird," she said.

"Put it in the oven on broil just to seal it, then flip it back over so it’s breast down."

If you cook the turkey breast down, all the moisture and juices go into the otherwise dry breast, she explained. All the juices that you would typically see in the bottom of the pan stay in the bird.

To seal the skin, broil the turkey for about 10 minutes before flipping it over and cooking the rest. Once it's done cooking, let it rest for about 20 minutes.

When it comes to stuffing, there's tons of different recipes online. I've eaten a few different variations, but my favourite has always been my mom's. 

She learned to make it from my grandma, who has been making it so long she no longer uses a recipe. I'll be making it by myself this year, so I asked my mom exactly how to do it.

"You'll need about six cups of dried bread cubes for a large turkey," she said. "One cup of chopped celery, and diced white onion to taste."

The main ingredient is ground pork sausage, which you'll find in 500g tubes at the grocery store. If not, 500g of regular ground pork will work too. 

"Sauté the celery with onions, then add the pork," she said. "Cook it until it's mostly done, just don't overcook it or it'll dry out."

Next, add the bread cubes and mix everything together. Add a little water until the mix starts to stick together. Add some spices like ground sage, to taste, and season it with salt and pepper.

While it's not the way my grandma makes it, you could add some dried cranberries for a little pop to compliment the savoury sausage. 

Just remove the neck and gizzards — which you can throw out, use for turkey stock or cook in the turkey pan — and stuff the turkey.

For anyone feeling overwhelmed by cooking a big turkey, just pretend it's a very large chicken — the cooking methods are basically the same for both birds.

And if you're still stressed, buy some chicken wings as a backup.

I won't judge. 

Merry Christmas!

— This story was originally published on Dec. 14, 2020.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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