Roast Turkey, Chinese Style

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hi! Welcome to Shelly in Real Life. So I hear you want to make a Chinese flavored turkey. I'm so excited you landed on this blog post because I'm happy to share this family recipe with you. Sounds so nerdy, but I literally get the feels knowing that other Asian American families are enjoying the tradition of having turkey for Thanksgiving.

I'm tired of hearing about how Asian families don't cook turkey for Thanksgiving because "they don't like turkey". I get it - most recipes out there on the internets is focused on the American palette, so feeding that to your fam can sometimes be a disaster. I'm cooking this turkey recipe for my bf's extended family for the first time this year and I'm nervous as hell that they won't like this because I've heard SOOO many times how much they dislike turkey. I'm even going to have prepare several racks of lamb just in case people actually hate turkey... but! I'm dedicated to turning them into turkey lovers and I'm confident that my Uncle Mike's turkey recipe will help me win them over.

Ultimately, I have to give props where it's due. My Uncle Mike has spent quite some time perfecting the technique and flavors so that the turkey is moist and flavorful, not bland and cardboard tasting as you might have tasted before. I promise you if you read this blog post carefully and follow the instructions, you will make a turkey that you'd be proud to serve your family and friends!

For more Thanksgiving recipes, check out my index of tried and true Thanksgiving recipes!

My perfect Turkey - except I forgot to tuck the wings in - so perfect minus the burnt wings...

During my first Thanksgiving away from my family a few years ago, I had to take on the daunting task of making a turkey for my friend's Orphan's Thanksgiving in NYC. So of course when it came to cooking my first turkey, I ran to my Uncle Mike for guidance on making a Thanksgiving Turkey that tastes like home.

Before I unveil my Uncle Mike's turkey recipe and cooking techniques, I'll first note that I did a lot of reading about turkeys this year before I cooked it. Here are some of the things I've found helpful when trying to attack the task of making your own turkey.

(This is going to be a long list, so go ahead and skip to the bottom if you only want the recipe.)


Turkey FAQs 

Natural, Kosher, Injected Turkeys - which one should I buy?
With all the different choices at the supermarket, it can be pretty intimidating when you go to pick your turkey. This year, I looked at two places for my turkey, Trader Joe's and Food Emporium. Trader Joe's offered only 2 types of turkey, kosher and injected while Food Emporium offered those two in addition to a natural/organic turkey. 

Here's a quick cliff notes version on the differences:
  • Natural - just as it sounds, a natural bird contains no additives, is minimally processed and if you go to the right farmer's market such as Union Square's Greenmarket, you can pick the farm that your turkey comes from. I didn't pick a natural bird because it was pricey - ranging anywhere from $4.50/lb and up to be precise. Of course, that's the price you pay to buy your turkey straight from a farmer who loved it and raised it right.
  • Kosher - as a part of the process to make a bird kosher, it goes through a salting process.  As a result, it's almost like your bird goes through a brining process and can keep more moisture. I didn't pick a kosher bird because my uncle's recipe required that I seasoned the bird pretty heavily, and so I wanted to control my own seasoning. For those of you who are planning to just pop your turkey in the oven without too much prep, I'd recommend going for a Kosher bird (as do a lot of the Food Network TV stars).
  • Self-basting/Injected - these are the birds that are most common at your neighborhood supermarket. Butterball, the bird that we all know and love, is indeed a self-basting bird. Companies inject the birds with a salt and flavor solution to keep the bird moist as it cooks. This basically helps guarantee that we don't f-up the birds as we cook it. This is also the cheapest bird, going for about $1.49/lb. Since I'm not made of money at the moment this is what I picked. Winner!
For more reading about this topic, check out Serious Eat's article.

Should I brine my turkey? What does that even mean!?
Brining is the process of soaking your turkey in a solution of water (or broth) and salt with other seasonings in order to help bring water/moisture into the bird. Once brined, your turkey will retain some of that moisture as it cooks the next day. My thanksgiving bible at the Food Lab were very methodical about testing brining vs not brining turkey and recorded the results.

At the end of the day, the good people at Serious Eats confirmed what I knew, my Uncle's recipe for just marinating the bird was the way to go. According to the tests, salting and brining the turkey produced similar results in terms of moisture, however salting the bird didn't induce false moisture (read: water) to the turkey, just pure turkey juiciness.

Marinade turkey for 36 hours and then stuff with vegetables, not stuffing

To stuff or not to stuff, that is the question.
Who doesn't love stuffing that comes with a traditional thanksgiving meal? However, stuffing which is typically made with bread and then placed inside the bird, will end up sucking up all the moisture and fat of the turkey. So, would you rather have really really flavorful stuffing, or a nice moist turkey? Well, since the whole "wow" factor of thanksgiving comes from the turkey, I prefer not to stuff my bird.

There are a few other considerations when deciding to stuff your bird or not. One of them is how sanitary it all is. According to health experts, the stuffing inside the bird needs to reach a temperature of 165 degrees in order for the stuffing to be fully cooked. As a result, the outside of the bird, most likely the breast, will be heated up to a temperature of 180 in order for the stuffing to even hit 165. 180 = overcooked bird. No thanks, I'd rather cook my stuffing outside the bird. And, fun fact - stuffing made outside the bird is called dressing, not stuffing.

Here's tried and true recipe for Sage and Sausage Stuffing.

3 tips to help keep your turkey moist

  1. Starting your roast breast side down will allow the juices to flow downward to the white meat, helping keep the meat as moist as possible.
  2. Adding hot water to your roasting pan helps add some moisture in the oven and can prevent the oven from drying out your turkey. The extra water will help you have more liquid to baste with and use to on the turkey. Important: your water needs to be hot when you put it in because you don't want your oven to cool down heating up the water - this might mess up your temperature control if you don't put in hot water right off the bat.
  3. Place some tin foil over turkey breast as it roasts since the breast is always the easiest to overcook, so this will help prevent so much direct heat to the usual dry white meat.
2-3 stalks of celery, 2 whole carrots, 1 whole onion, 3-4 cloves smashed garlic, stuffed into the turkey

Alright, on to the good part, the actual recipe from Uncle Mike. I've followed this recipe to a T for the past two years and it's gone flawlessly. Enjoy!

Chinese Roast Turkey

Serves 10-12 (1 lb of turkey per person)

1 10-12 lb turkey (I've been using self-basting turkeys)

Marinade for Turkey
Marinade written is for a 12 lb turkey, feel free to adjust and make more marinade as needed.

6 tablespoons chee hou sauce, available at Asian Supermarkets or online here
6 tablespoons oyster sauce
6 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 teaspoons sugar (optional)

Stuffing for Turkey
2-3 stalks of celery
2 whole carrots
1 large onion
3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed

1. Thaw the turkey and marinade. If you bought a frozen turkey, thaw it in the fridge. A 12 lb turkey should take about 1.5 days in the fridge to thaw out. 36 hours before you're ready to roast your turkey, prep your marinade in a bowl. Taste it before you slather it all over your turkey - both inside the cavity and outside. Put it back in the fridge and flip your turkey about 20 hours after you first marinade it. This will help ensure the marinade distributes more evenly. 

2. Help bring your turkey closer to temperature. 2 hours before you're ready to cook your turkey, bring out out of the fridge and let it sit at room temp (and away from the heating vent). The idea is to bring the turkey back down from it's refrigerated temperature so that when it goes into the oven, the oven isn't working to warm up the turkey - instead it's actually cooking it from the start. 

3. Prepare your turkey to go into the oven. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees for 30 minutes. As your oven heats up, prep your turkey - stuff it with the vegetables and prop it, breast side down on the rack. Coat the turkey liberally with canola oil. Also start boiling 1-2 cups of water on the side.

The turkey isn't breast side down in this photo - this year I started the turkey with the wing tip facing down, and it made a huge difference in terms of keeping the turkey more moist

4. Stick it in the oven. Place the turkey in the oven and add 1.5 cups of hot water to the bottom of your roasting pan. This will help keep some moisture in your oven and keep it from drying out your turkey. 

5. Flip your turkey after 45 minutes. After you flip the turkey, it should be breast side up. Keep some aluminum foil over your turkey breasts for the next hour. Check on your turkey about every 30 minutes and baste it with the juices from the bottom of the pan. Keep your turkey in the oven for another 2 hours and 15 minutes. The typical roasting time works out to about 15 minutes per each pound of turkey - a 12 pound bird therefore equals 3 hours of cook time.

6. Rest your turkey. Once your turkey comes out of the oven, be sure to rest the turkey for at least 15-30 minutes prior to carving it. Be sure to cover it with aluminum foil so it traps the heat of the turkey. I had mine out of the oven for about 1.5 hours prior to carving it up and the turkey was still very warm. 

Turkey comes out of the oven after 3 hours!
Doesn't the turkey on the left make it look like it's doing a b-boy pose?
Carving the turkey like a pro!!
Setting up the rest of the food as the party waits!

As your turkey rests... take this time to finish off your sides in the oven, grab the drippings from the turkey to be used in your gravy and most of all, watch this YouTube video to learn how to perfectly carve your turkey from a butcher at the popular New York supermarket, Fairway.

Looking for more Chinese Thanksgiving recipes? Check out Uncle Mike's tips for Turkey Jook (aka Congee, Porridge)!

Hope you find the tips from this post helpful, and that Uncle Mike's secrets will help you make your own juicy turkey for your family and friends! I want to hear from you - did you try this recipe and how'd it turn out?? Let me know your results :)

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