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Down With Dry Turkey!

<i> Kump is director of Peter Kump's New York Cooking School</i>

My cooking students must get exasperated when they ask me how long to cook something and I reply, “Until done.” The easiest way to tell when any sort of roast is done is to insert an instant-reading thermometer about three or more inches into the thickest part, let it rest for about four to five minutes, then check the temperature.

Many people mistakenly think that different items must be cooked to certain precise temperatures. Just look at the type of thermometer that is traditionally inserted and left in a roast--they tend to become inaccurate very quickly. Most of them indicate specific temperatures, say 185 degrees for a roast turkey. This, to me, is misleading amateur nonsense.

The range of doneness for all proteins--from eggs to fish to meat and Thanksgiving turkey--begins at 125 degrees, where rare starts; at 145 degrees the medium range begins, and at 165 degrees well-done starts; 185 degrees is the very top of the range. (Some old thermometers advise 195 degrees for some roasts--certain, in my book, to guarantee overdone dryness.)

If you want to cook something until well-done, just roast it until it reaches the well-done temperature range. If you cook a turkey, for instance, above 165 degrees, it will, in my opinion, just get too well-done and dried out.

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Only certain cuts of beef and lamb are commonly cooked rare: leg of lamb, rack of lamb, standing rib roasts, filet mignon, etc. Other parts are cooked to medium or well-done, as desired.

Poultry and rabbit are traditionally cooked to well-done. White meats, pork and veal, are traditionally cooked to well-done but many modern cooks are only taking them to the medium range. (Trichinosis in pork is killed when the internal temperature is 131 degrees for 10 minutes. Pork doesn’t turn from pink to gray until the temperature is 150 degrees, so pork may safely be eaten pink if the roast has been in the oven a good hour.)

How you arrive at the internal temperature in a roast may vary, and the time it takes will depend on several factors, including the temperature of the oven and the thickness of what is being cooked.

The general rule of thumb for the most commonly recommended oven temperatures for poultry and medium-rare meats (300 to 400 degrees and sometimes higher) is 20 minutes per pound, for well-done meats 30 minutes per pound. While this is a good way to predict the approximate time it will take, using a good thermometer is the most accurate.

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When the roast is done, remove it from the oven, tent it loosely with foil and allow it to stand for 15 to 30 minutes before carving. When this is done, the roast continues to cook and the average internal temperature will rise an additional 10 degrees. That should be taken into consideration when deciding if it’s time to remove the roast from the oven.

Be prepared for the fact that this method--adapted from a recipe from “The Food of Portugal” by Jean Anderson--breaks almost every conventional rule of cooking turkey . But it produces a bird of incomparable moistness, with skin as crackly as a potato chip. The process of tucking the stuffing under the skin of the bird is slow going at first, but once you begin to free the skin, the job goes quickly.

PORTUGUESE ROAST TURKEY

1 (10-pound) freshly killed turkey

2 pounds coarse (kosher) salt

1/4 pound unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced

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1 pound French or Italian bread

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 1/2 cups chicken stock

2 large egg yolks

Remove giblets from turkey and reserve for another use. Wash turkey and pat dry. Fill neck and body cavities with coarse salt, then rub skin well all over with salt. Place turkey and any remaining coarse salt in large deep kettle, adding enough cold water just to cover bird. Set in cool spot 3 to 4 hours.

To prepare stuffing, place butter and olive oil in large, heavy saute pan or kettle, and set over moderate heat. When butter is melted, add garlic and cook 3 to 5 minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, tear bread into small chunks. Add bread, fine salt and pepper to garlic mixture and toss well. Pour in chicken stock and beat hard with wooden spoon until mixture is paste-like. Reduce heat to lowest point. Cover kettle and steam 15 to 20 minutes until bread absorbs all liquid. Add egg yolks to mixture and beat hard until smooth. Remove from heat and reserve.

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Drain turkey and rinse several times in cool water so all traces of salt wash away. Place bird on counter with neck cavity facing up. With hands, begin working skin free from breast. Proceed gently, taking care not to tear skin. Loosen skin down both sides of bird to within 1 inch of tail end.

With hands, push stuffing bit by bit under skin. Continue packing stuffing in lightly, until breast is covered with about 1-inch layer. Next, fill neck cavity. Skewer neck skin flat against back to enclose and truss bird.

Place turkey, breast-side up, in large, shallow roasting pan without rack. Roast at 400 degrees, uncovered, about 2 1/2 hours. Do not baste. When bird is richly browned and leg moves easily in hip joint, remove from oven and let stand, uncovered, 20 minutes.

Drain drippings into sauceboat and keep warm. Remove trussing string and skewers and serve turkey at once on warmed platter. Makes 10 servings.


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