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How to Roast Chickens and Turkeys

Close your eyes, and imagine a festive Shabbas or Holiday meal. No matter what else is there, if you are like most Americans, the most prominent item is a perfectly roasted Chicken or Turkey. In our minds eye, it has a shiny dark brown glaze, and rests in a bed of Parsley, on a large platter. We long to hear our family gasp with delight as it is carried to the table, but suspect that this masterpiece can only be created by the food photographer of a gourmet magazine.

I promise that, if you follow my directions, every one of you can make that vision a reality. You will not have to put it in a paper bag, wrap it in cheesecloth, or do anything else complicated. Moreover, your gravy will be a beautiful color and perfectly seasoned with no possibility for error. With one special ingredient, and a few simple steps, you will have a picture perfect centerpiece for your feast.

The first step is to buy two platters. You will need one to hold the bird, and another on which to carve the various pieces. Be sure to have the second platter available. It is impossible to do a neat job of carving without it.

The next step, and your most important decision will be to decide which bird to roast. The general rule is to allow one pound per person. This will be enough and not force you to consume the same thing for days after the holiday. A smaller bird will cook in less time, and be easier to handle. The best strategy is to roast two small birds rather than a large one. This will leave the breast meat more moist and give you 4 drumsticks for the children. Another benefit is that a platter which holds two birds is extremely impressive.

Do not buy a 15 pound Turkey for 8 people unless you are willing to rise and package the leftovers immediately after eating. Food which sits at room temperature while you enjoy your coffee, may be the source of food poisoning when eaten the next day. Roasting Chickens are available up to 10 pounds, while Turkeys start at about that weight. A special note: if you purchase a frozen bird, for safety's sake, be sure to thaw it in the refrigerator, not on your kitchen counter.

The roasting process is much easier and faster than you might think. I strongly recommend that you use a disposable aluminum pan placed within another rigid container. Disposable pans are inexpensive and save a great deal of unpleasant work after dinner. Remove the bag of innards from the body and neck cavities. Rinse the bird in cold water, then put it in the pan. Pull the wings slightly out from the body, and twist so that you can tuck the tips underneath it.

Never put dressing into a bird. It takes longer to cook, is unsafe if stuffed of time, and the cavity never holds an adequate amount. Instead, fill the cavity with several lemons or oranges which have been cut into quarters. Put your dressing in a separate casserole to bake. The special flavor of dressing baked in the bird comes from the fat it absorbs during roasting. Just render and use the bits of fat at the opening of the body cavity to have the same taste in a convenient and safe fashion.

If the bird is 10 pounds or less, have the oven rack in the center of the oven. For a bird over 10 pounds, place the oven rack on the bottom rung, but not on the floor of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees if the bird is 10 pound or less, 325 degrees if it is larger. Place the pan on the rack. Wiggle the leg of the bird a bit; I want you to notice the rigidity of the joint.

If the bird is 10 pounds or less, pour a bottle of White Wine into the pan. If the bird is over 10 pounds, use 2 bottles. Do not let anyone see you do this. There will be some killjoy who will say, "Isn't that a lot of wine?" It is just the right amount and broth or water will not do the same thing. Do not try to place the bird or pour the wine before the pan is in the oven. It will be too heavy and you stand a good chance of dropping dinner on the floor. Slide the rack into the oven and close the door. Do not cover the bird with foil. A cover is a nuisance to remove while basting and the skin will look steamed rather than having the golden crispy glaze you seek.

Roasting time is approximately 20 minutes per pound. Every 20 minutes, open the oven door and spoon some of the juices over the bird. As you approach the correct time, try wiggling the leg a bit to test for looseness. When the bird is done, the joint will be loose and the skin at the end of the leg will be pulling away. It is easiest to buy a meat thermometer, insert it at the thickest part of the thigh, (not touching the bone) and check that it has reached 180 degrees. Be sure to baste every 20 minutes, that will keep it moist and make a lovely glaze.

Just before the bird is done, wash the Parsley and pat it dry with paper towels. Arrange it on the platter. make sure you use enough to make a luxurious bed. When the bird is done, have someone big lift the pan onto the top of the stove. Take the bird out and put it on a platter. This is most easily done by inserting a large fork as far as possible into the body cavity, sliding a long metal spatula under it, then lifting.

Measure the pan liquids into a large saucepan (you may skim off most of the fat). Whisk 2 tablespoons of Flour for every cup of liquid with a bit of cold water to make a thin paste. Add the paste to the pan juices whilst whisking until smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring, then remove from the heat. If you have a hand blender, use it instead of stirring, because the gravy will have a more creamy consistency. Don't season the gravy; the Wine and natural juices will have formed a stock during the roasting process, and made it tasty. Children dislike spicy gravy and those on sodium restricted diets will be grateful that they may enjoy it.
This is an excerpt from  It's Not Just Chicken Soup.

copyright 2001 Eddy Robey

Eddy Robey M.A.
Author of  It's Not Just Chicken Soup. Like all Jewish mothers, I feed everyone in sight, and have been at work in the kitchen for over 25 years. Correspondence should be addressed to and will be read as soon as the dishes are done. You can find many of my recipes online at Gantseh Megillah. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it, as long as you include my copyright.

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