Turkey is not the easiest bird to keep moist and to cook evenly. What’s the best technique for insuring the breast meat is not dried out and the dark meat is cooked through? The past two years I’ve gone back to the cheesecloth method my mom always used, although hers was soaked only in butter, and I now use butter and white wine (thank you Elisabeth for the upgrade idea!) And instead of traditional stuffing, I use a mixture of fresh salted (and peppered) herbs and quartered mandarin oranges. Adding seasoning to the mandarins and herbs makes getting the salt and pepper on the inside of the turkey much easier. These beautiful aromatics also enhance moisture without really increasing the cooking time.
I wanted to achieve a somewhat crispy mahogany crust on my finished turkey so I brushed reduced pomegranate sauce (seeds simmered in bit of water for ½ hour and then pureed) on the back of the turkey once I removed the cheesecloth for that last half hour of roasting. The remainder of the sauce is served with the turkey as a change up to the usual cranberries.
Starting the turkey on the bottom rack and at a high heat of 400-450 degrees helps make sure the dark meat cooks completely. After a half an hour the temperature is lowered to 350 degrees and the cheesecloth covering the turkey is brushed with the wine and butter mixture (or broth and butter, or a combination of all three) periodically. Like chicken, the turkey breast should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. I maintain about ½ inch of chicken stock in the bottom of the roasting pan to under the rack to keep the drippings from burning. If you don’t have a rack, use vegetables like celery stalks, carrots, or onions to make a little edible rack and keep the base of the turkey directly off the pan.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove uppermost racks from the oven.
Make sure your turkey is completely thawed. Remove neck from the body cavity and organ parts from the bag usually located in the neck cavity. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add wine. Place the turkey on roasting rack or rack of vegetables. Add a bit of stock to the bottom of the pan (a half-inch is plenty). Pat the back of turkey dry and salt and pepper
the outside of the bird.
Cut mandarins into quarters and stem herbs and chop into small pieces, leaving fairly coarse. Mix herbs and mandarins together and generously add salt and pepper and combine. Stuff the inside of the turkey, fairly loosely.
Place cheesecloth in butter and wine mixture (and/or broth) until soaked. Using tongs or utensils remove the cheesecloth from the pan (letting it drain over the saucepan a bit) and thoroughly cover the turkey, doubling the cheesecloth. Set the turkey in oven and bake at 425 degrees for thirty minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and make sure cheesecloth is still moist. Add more stock as necessary to keep the pan from burning as the turkey cooks. Brush the cheesecloth with the butter mixture every half hour to 45 minutes to make sure it does not dry out. Continue to monitor the temperature of the turkey, and level of stock in the bottom of the pan.
Make the pomegranate glaze but cutting the pomegranates in half and bending pulp back in an inside-out motion, remove seeds. Pick out any membrane that gets in the seed mixture. Add the pomegranate seeds to a saucepan with about ⅓ cup water (may need ½ cup for 4 pomegranates) and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Once the water has been incorporated (add bits more water if seeds need it during the simmering), spoon the softened seeds in a small food processor and puree until smooth. Scoop the majority of the finished pomegranate mixture into a bowl for serving at the table and reserve about ¼ of the pomegranate sauce for glazing the turkey–it doesn’t take much.
When about ½ hour remains to finish cooking the turkey, carefully remove the cheesecloth and brush the turkey with the pomegranate sauce, being careful to spread it evenly. Overly-thick areas will darken or burn. I remove the little remaining yellow seeds from the visible portions of the turkey using a silicone brush. You will probably need more stock at this point–up to an inch in the bottom of the pan is fine. It will help with your cleanup and form a nice base for your gravy.
Once the turkey is done, remove it from oven and cover with aluminum foil for 20-30 minutes before carving. The temperature may rise a tiny bit during the time, but the rest period allows the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat.