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This post is part 3 in a series of Christmas themed steam oven recipes (part 1 here and 2 here!), and I’m going to do something a bit different today. Rather than a straight up recipe for cooking turkey in a steam oven, I’ve rounded up all the useful information I know of on the subject so you’ve got lots of different ideas to look at and choose from. And yes, I know it's Thanksgiving today for all of you USA-based people - I would have loved to get this published a little earlier so you could have used the information, but it just wasn't to be. Regardless, I hope your turkeys are juicy and your holiday relaxed!
When I thought about doing a series of Christmas steam oven recipes, turkey was one of the first things which came to mind because people ask me about it every year for their own holiday tables. But here’s the thing: I never cook a turkey at Christmas! There are a few reasons – for one, after the inevitable insanity leading up to Christmas day we are all about relaxed cooking and eating on the day itself – anything which can be cooked or prepared ahead is going to win out over a roast dinner with lots of moving parts to coordinate. But the biggest reason is that it’s almost always hot on Christmas day here, and heating up the house any further in order to cook a gargantuan bird* is not my idea of fun.
Also, it might be sacrilege to say so, but I’m just not a big fan of turkey meat when there are so many other good things we could eat at Christmas. Glazed ham! Roast duck (coming soon to a blog near you)! Seafood! Not to mention the endless array of possible side dishes. And the big reason I think we should celebrate Christmas in general (you know, apart from the actual Christmas part of it): a groaning dessert buffet. I have little desire to fill my belly with poultry protein when I could be saving room for mince pies, chocolates, pudding (also coming soon, I know there are quite a few of you wondering about steaming your Christmas dessert!) and all the cookies.
I recognise I am in the minority with my turkey-averse ways, though, and I have been known to cook a turkey or two in the steam oven for purposes of research. I will likely not get around to doing one this year, however I have copious notes from previous years which I can share with you. So here are a few pointers plus some links which will help if you’re planning to attempt a steam oven turkey dinner for the holidays.
Things to remember when cooking a turkey
· Turkey is not chicken. This is key – they might look like different sizes of the same thing but turkey meat is denser and more fibrous than chicken. It’s notoriously hard to get right in terms of moisture retention, especially the white meat. That means it’s almost always the case that the white meat cooks long before the dark when you’re roasting a whole bird, and this gets more pronounced the larger your bird is. What frequently happens is that the legs are just barely cooked and the breast meat is dessicated and dry. You can overcome this in several ways - by covering or stuffing the breast with something fatty (bacon and butter come to mind); cooking the different parts separately (good but not as impressive to look at when you bring it to the table); or splaying the legs to name a few.
· Turkey in a steam oven cooks MUCH faster than in a conventional oven. Yep, you’ve heard it said the steam oven can knock 30% or more off the cooking time of your food and this is one of those instances where the ‘more’ part is absolutely true. The rule of thumb for conventionally-roasted poultry is 20 minutes per half kilo (or per pound), plus another 20 minutes or so to finish things off. You can throw that timing out the window when it comes to the steam oven: I have cooked a 5kg (11lb) turkey in little over an hour using combination steam. Allowing for 40 minutes resting before carving, that’s half the time I would have otherwise needed.
· Temperature is everything. I know it might seem annoying, but if you want the juiciest and best-cooked meat, you need to rely on the internal temperature of the bird rather than a specific cooking time (this is not unique to turkey, by the way – cooking any meat to temperature eliminates all the guesswork). Cooking times vary greatly between oven models and one combi steam oven is not the same as another regarding levels of humidity, temperature accuracy and size (oven size being important because the amount of hot air and steam which circulate around the turkey while cooking will alter how long it takes). You want the thickest part of the turkey, between the breast and thigh, to cook to a temperature of 70-74⁰C (160-165⁰F). Then as you rest the meat the temperature will rise to 82-85⁰C (180-185⁰F), which is just right. If your steam oven has a temperature probe, you're already set. If not (mine doesn't), buy an instant-read thermometer - it's relatively inexpensive and will be useful for all your roasting.
Okay, I’ve been rambling on about this for a whole thousand words – congratulations if you’re still with me. Your prize? The good stuff – this is my advice if you’d like to cook a turkey in your steam oven this holiday season.
The best way I know of to roast turkey in a steam oven
The honour for best (and maybe the simplest) steam oven turkey goes to Jacques Pepin’s steamed and roasted turkey, as featured in this New York Times article. The article/recipe has you steam the turkey in a huge pot before transferring to the oven, but if you have a steam oven there’s no transferring necessary! Just follow the directions for the recipe, switching out the pot for a tray and the steam-only setting in your oven. You’ll end up with juicy tender meat from the steaming and crispy skin from finishing with conventional (dry) heat. It's great.
Other recipes and methods to cook turkey in a steam oven
Not into Pepin’s method? I’ve got you covered too – here are some other links which will help.
· Purcell Murray have a turkey-cooking video on their YouTube channel, specific to Thermador steam ovens. If you have a Thermador or Bosch steam oven and want a simple steam oven turkey recipe it’s worth the 3-minute watching time.
· There is a forum thread about today’s topic on English Forum Switzerland, and one kind person has posted a step by step turkey roasting method for a Miele steam oven.
· Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelley has a very simple and brief blog post about roasting a turkey in a Wolf steam oven.
· And if you want something a bit different, Melissa Clark wrote this recipe for the New York Times for a splayed turkey with herbs. I debated including this one as it requires some thinking and adaptation for the steam oven, however it’s pretty sensible and if you are cooking your bird to temperature you should be able to convert it without too much trouble.
Phew! That’s it from me today, I hope you find something useful in the links above – if you try any of these methods for roasting your holiday turkey I’d love to hear about it.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the USA, and I’ll see everyone here again soon for more Christmas steam oven recipes…
*Speaking of gargantuan birds, I did once cook a 5-bird roast (like a turducken on steroids, with the addition of a quail and a spatchcock) for a Christmas party. It was the worst experience of my cooking life, because when I showed up to the fancy and hideously expensive butcher on the morning of the party to collect my pre-ordered roast, I discovered it to be not fresh as expected, but frozen solid. All 10kg (22lb) of it. What ensued was a full day of tending carefully to an icy mass of multiple stuffed birds in the laundry sink, the only place I could fit the thing to continuously run water over the giant frozen orb in hope of defrosting it enough to put into the oven (food safety police look away now). Eventually, hours later, it began cooking and even more hours later, came out of the oven and was duly carved. I could not tell you whether it was delicious because after the horror it had inflicted I couldn’t bear to eat any. All the (by that stage very drunk) guests were thrilled, though, and we still laugh about it every year come December. By which I mean everyone else laughs and I cry quietly in embarrassment and shame about my failed beautiful showpiece roast. Ha.
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