I didn't realize until recently that people buy pre-cooked turkeys for Thanksgiving. The concept is flawed. Not only am I too control freaky to trust The Bird's wellbeing, but it also seems flawed. Turkey is already extremely prone to drying, and the act reheating cooked meat adds even more moisture.
One day, I passed my local Popeyes and noticed that they were selling Cajun Turkeys with Louisiana-style seasonings. I was instantly intrigued. I called the restaurant to ask how to order one. They said to just come in and ask me for the turkey. (Thrillist says you can also preorder it, so make sure to call your local Popeyes to find out the truth.
I bought my turkey at a walk-in and returned the frozen bird for $49.99. I was ready for some zesty turkey after it had been in the fridge for 4 days, as directed by my local Popeyes manager.
It's not as easy as "heat and Serve".
The Popeyes Cajun Turkey is described in two reviews as being "flash-fried" by one reviewer. But the skin says another. The cold bird came out of its packaging beige and grey. There were specks of cajun seasoning on the skin, and plenty of congealed oil drippings. Although I found the preparation of this turkey for the oven slightly more difficult than handling a raw carcass, I'm used to breaking down many fowl so it might not be as daunting to you. It reminded me of Aqua Teen turkeys who "exit the mother's womb with gravy." However, not everyone has been poisoned from Adult Swim.
The instructions are easy to follow:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Take out all packaging and reserve the juices. Place the turkey on a rack and place the juices in a large roasting tray. Wrap aluminum foil around the edges of your pan to cover it. Place in the oven on a lower rack for about 1 1/2 hours. Take off the foil. Cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, or until the internal temperature reaches 150. This can be done with a meat thermometer that is inserted into the meat of the breast meat. Let cool for 20 minutes before you cut.
I do not have a traditional roasting pan, both because I usually spatchcock my bird, and because the high walls of a roasting pan shield the thighs and legs, which is counterproductive--you want the dark meat to cook faster than the white, as a higher temp is required to break down their connective tissue. However, I did have an aluminum roasting pot so I used that to cook the bird along with all of its congealed juices. The foil was sealed and the bird was cooked for 90 minutes. I then placed it on a wire rack to dry off the skin. Although the breast reached 150 degrees in an additional hour, it was still a mistake to do so.
This turkey was not the most visually pleasing I have ever cooked. There were several tears in the skin, a few bones in the middle of my breast and the meat peeking out from the drumsticks were all visible. Despite all that, the meat was still quite good.
If you like Popeyes, the flavor is amazing
150 degrees is too high for a turkey that has been cooked. The wings and thigh meat were delicious, but the entire bird fell off its body when it was taken out of the oven. Additionally, the drumsticks and breast were dry and almost dehydrated. I have eaten 35 Thanksgiving dinners and still enjoy the tender, moist breast meat.
The whole bird was infused with Popeyes flavor, which is one my favorite flavors. It's salty, tangy, and deep savory due to the addition of garlic and onion powders. Surprised to see MSG not listed among the ingredients, I was. Cajun seasoning was very spicy and zippy on the skin. However, I read that some paler palates may find it too hot. (I am pale and have a low tolerance for heat so I wasn't overwhelmed. Although it was not the worst turkey I have ever had, it could be better with some tweaking.
How to prepare the Popeyes turkey
Instead of heating the entire bird at 350 degrees until it reaches a temperature of 150 inside, reduce the oven temperature to 300 and set the target temperature to 135-140. If I had to do it again, I would bake the turkey covered in foil for about an hour and a half until it reaches 145 degrees. Then, heat it in a 300-degree oven for another 45 minutes, then turn it upside down and broil it to crispen the skin. It will still be warm, especially if you add the gravy from the pan drippings. This is a great move that I can't recommend enough. (I'll talk more about that gravy shortly.)
Although the breast meat won't be tender or as juicy as a buttermilk brined chicken breast, or any sous vide, it will be moister than the turkey you ate at Thanksgiving.
The best thing about the pre-cooked, pre-packaged bird is that it comes with over four cups of Popeyes-flavored pan drips. These drippings can be used to make a delicious gravy. The instructions for making gravy are not as easy to follow as the instructions on how to prepare the turkey.
When the gravy is prepared according to the instructions on the shrink-wrapped packaging, it has a noticeable flour-forward taste. The reason is that the instructions say to make a paste with the flour and drippings, but not to cook the roux first before adding the liquid.
This is easy to fix. Instead of using the drippings for the roux, i used butter to make the mixture. I also cooked the butter-flour mixture for a few minutes in order to remove the raw flour flavor. I reduced the water by half a cup and increased the amount of drippings by 1 cup to 1 1/2 cup. These adjustments made it taste much better. This gravy is so good that I will save any drippings to make my Thanksgiving dinner.
Improved Popeyes Turkey Gravy
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 cups reserved pan drippings
1/2 cup water
In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter on low heat. Add the flour and the pepper. Stir and scrape with a wooden spoon, silicone spatula, or a whisk to form a paste. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook the roux until it smells more like cooked butter than raw flour. Continue to whisk the liquid ingredients until they are well combined. Allow to boil for five minutes, or until the mixture becomes thick. Serve immediately with mashed potatoes and turkey.
You should also buy a Popeyes pre-cooked turkey.
It all depends on your ability to cook delicious turkeys year after year. You can skip this if you're an experienced turkey cook who is able to produce delicious, juicy birds year after year. This particular turkey costs $50 and takes almost as long to heat up as a spatchcocked bird. You will save time in the seasoning department.
You don't have to worry about the Bird being undercooked, if you don't mind a dry brining process, or if you simply love Popeyes, there are better options. The breast meat may be slightly dry than a tender spatchcocked or sous vided turkey. However, the thigh meat is delicious and will taste better than any turkey you've ever eaten as a child. You can also moisten any remaining dry parts with gravy. This gravy is amazing.