We in Canada celebrate Thanksgiving in October, but our friends in the south celebrate a little later. In our house, Thanksgiving and Christmas are typically turkey days. While you can make turkey any time of year, those are the popular days among the masses. That usually also means that there are turkey leftovers.
There are so many uses for turkey leftovers; just see my article from October 2020. In it, I give recipes for making turkey broth, turkey sandwiches, and turkey vegetable soup. This year I cooked two turkeys so I would have leftovers. I always brine my turkey, but I alternate methods each time when I cook it. Over the years, I have smoked, roasted, deep-fried, grilled, and rotisseried turkeys. The trick to keeping it moist in all those methods is a) not overcooking it and b) letting it rest.
If you have cooked your turkey in the past and it was dry, I’m willing to bet you either overcooked it or didn’t let it rest. You need a good thermometer; I always recommend digital ones because they are always more accurate. Probe style is a personal preference because you can keep the thermometer in the bird and still know how hot it is. I reviewed my favourite thermometer from Meater a few years ago, and it’s still going strong. I understand why you would be hesitant to buy an expensive thermometer, so look for one with a probe that you can leave in the bird. The other option is expecting a 15-pound bird to cook for around 3 ½ to 4 hours. I can’t say it will take that long because your oven’s reliability will differ from mine. Several factors go into that reliability, such as convection versus non, age, heater probe wear and tear, cleanliness, size, etc. I could go on, but I think you get the point. So to combat all those factors between the appliances I use, I like a removable probe thermometer. My Meater is Bluetooth enabled, and I can set it up on my iPad or iPhone; it will tell me how long I need and how long to rest.
Also, resting is so important when cooking meats. I have written about resting meat so many times I’m beginning to feel like a broken record. I will always lightly cover my turkey in foil and let it rest for 15 – 20 minutes at a very minimum. When you heat molecules, they begin to vibrate and move faster and faster. If you do not let them calm down before cutting into the meat, all the moisture will leak. If you allow molecules to settle down and relax, the muscle tissue will retain that moisture, and when you cut into the bird, it will still be moist. You will lose some moisture, there is no way around that, but resting minimizes that loss. The longer you rest it, the better your chance of retaining moisture.
How hot you cook your turkey will also determine how moist it is. If you cook the turkey for too long, the moisture will evaporate, leaving a dried-out carcass. If you don’t cook it long enough, you risk food poisoning. Now, the temperatures I pull the turkey out of the oven at and when it is ready to carve are different. You can thank chemistry for this knowledge. Proteins, in this case, will continue to cook even after you have removed them from the heat source. This is again related to the molecules vibrating and moving rapidly. My junior and senior high chemistry is a bit rusty, but I recollect that as protein molecules vibrate, they create heat. The faster the vibration, the more heat is produced.
Removing them from the heat allows them to slow down when they are at peak vibration. I will cook my turkey to an internal temperate of 165-170F. When I pull out the turkey, I rely on carryover cooking to get me to the 175-180F mark. The turkey will start to cool from there, but the moisture is still present. If you think of your turkey like a human who exerts themselves, we sweat. That is the loss of moisture, and we drink water to replace that moisture. The more we exercise, the sweatier we get. Proteins are not much different. If you cook it for too long, it will dry out. Brining will help to retain some of that moisture. Brining is similar to drinking sports drinks, like Gatorade or Powerade. We drink sports drinks to replace the electrolytes we lose during exercise. At least, in theory, that is their purpose. When we brine, we get the turkey to soak up salt, sugar, and water to retain moisture.
After you finish enjoying your feast, you might have a lot of leftovers. If it’s a cold day, make some soup. Your leftover turkey will get to transform into something else, and you can keep eating turkey. When I made this recipe, my oldest was sick. We both like chicken noodle soup, so I thought I’d make turkey noodle soup. It still feels comforting, like eating chicken noodle, and you’re using up leftovers.
Turkey Noodle Soup
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
2 stalks of celery diced
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp parsley
1-2 bay leaves
1 lb leftover turkey
1 lb egg noodles
3 L chicken or turkey broth
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp black pepper
- Get a large pot and set your burner to medium-high.
- Add the butter and onion at the same time.
- Stir for about one minute.
- Add the celery and carrots and 1 tsp of salt.
- Continue to stir and sweat the vegetables. You want them to brighten up a little bit, and the onions should turn translucent.
- Add the dried spices and turkey and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add in the broth and let the soup come to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to simmer, and grab a smaller pot on another burner.
- Fill the pot with water, and follow the directions on the noodle package.
- Cook the noodles until they are just al dente.
- Strain, then add them to the soup.
- Cook for another two minutes, remove the bay leaf, and taste.
- Add more salt and pepper until you think it is salty enough. One tablespoon is usually enough for me.
- Serve and enjoy.