Actually, this is last year’s roasted turkey. Isn’t it beautiful! So perfectly browned and, believe me, so delicious and moist!
Here’s what we do and have done over many years and generations to ensure a successful turkey outcome.
We always, always buy Butterball 19-21 pound turkeys. My mother swore by Butterball’s because they are self-basting. That didn’t keep her or us from basting as the bird roasted. We figured the dual effort, Butterball’s and ours, would give us the best chance for moist and tender meat.
If you buy a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator starting the Monday before Thanksgiving Day. Remove from the fridge in the morning and allow to come to room temperature for an hour or so before roasting. This step is especially important if you choose to stuff your bird – you don’t want to put stuff into into a cold turkey cavity.
Jessica and I started basting the turkey with a warmed mixture of dry white wine and butter several years ago influenced by Martha Stewart’s “Perfect Roast Turkey 101.” Martha submerges folded layers of cheesecloth into the warm mix and drapes it over the breast and drumstick heads before the bird goes into the oven. We baste the turkey every 20-30 minutes until all the wine/butter is used up and then remove the cheesecloth and finish roasting. Follow the link above for thorough instructions from Martha.
Other Turkey Considerations
To Stuff or Not to Stuff: Stuffing is cooked inside the bird. Dressing is cooked in a pan separately from the bird. For 60 years, my mother and her mother always stuffed the turkey with a recipe from a 1950’s Francois Pope cookbook. Mr. Pope and his wife Antoinette originated a television cooking show from Chicago. My grandmother thought Francois was the bomb. And the day-before tradition of toasting, soaking and squeezing bread dry, simmering onions and celery in an obscene amount of butter and putting the whole mix together with lots of sage is a legendary memory in our family.
Last year, we decided to forgo the Pope’s recipe and Grandma’s tradition in favor of a dressing recipe. It’s easier and quicker to prepare. Not everyone we served was as crazy about Francois’ recipe as the Szewczyk-Smith side of the clan. And dressing is scalable – we could make as much or as little as we wished, not mandated by the size of the turkey’s cavity. Here’s the dressing recipe I chose for this year’s dinner: Classic Traditional Thanksgiving Dressing. Yes, I’ve tried cornbread dressing made with half cornbread and half French bread, but it just crumbled apart – maybe too much liquid?
Rather than stuffing, we stuff the bird’s cavity with aromatics like onion, garlic, lemon and oranges. They lend a nice fragrance to the turkey meat without going through the trouble of brining or traditional stuffing. Without stuffing, the turkey roasts quicker, too.
To Brine or Not to Brine: Several years ago, Alton Brown got America on a turkey-brining kick. Turkey brine recipes and brining kits were all over the place. We love Alton – I mean, who doesn’t appreciate the marrying of the scientific method and cooking? But it’s a lot of work and messy. First you have to cook the brine, let it come to room temperature – that takes time – and then submerge the turkey in a large bucket with brine and ice, and let it sit overnight. Thanksgiving morning, Jessica, Brock and I would get up early and wrestled with a cold, wet bird, dried it inside and out, every nook and cranny, with an entire roll of paper toweling, and then stuffed before it went into the oven. Really, it’s messy and more work than necessary. And we didn’t think it made that much of a difference. Jessica and I would rather invest our time and energy into rolls, mashed potatoes & gravy, and yummy sides like pie. If you’re insistent or curious, here’s a link to Alton’s “Good Eats Roast Turkey.”
Lots of Gravy! No matter how nicely you roast a turkey, rarely in my experience are there enough pan drippings to make an adequate amount of turkey gravy. Turkey, mashed potatoes, and dressing smothered with ladles of perfectly seasoned gravy is much loved in our family. My advice is to supplement the drippings with pre-made, homemade turkey &/or chicken stock. I always make chicken stock a day or two before to have on hand for just this purpose. And then I simmer the turkey neck and giblets just in case I need more. Here’s a recipe for “Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy” from the Noble Pig’s website. The secret is to get your stock deeply colored so your gravy is beautifully brown. So, I use onions with their peelings to make my stock – red or yellow onions do the trick.
This year I’m trying “Make-Ahead White Wine Gravy” from Tieghan Gerard at Half Baked Harvest.Tieghan’s recipe appeals to me because she makes a gravy base of butter, flour, shallots, sage, and broth that can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make gravy. Brilliant! Because Jessica & I baste our roasting turkey with white wine and butter, using the same dry white to begin the gravy-making process makes sense. Tieghan instructs that once the turkey is roasted, drain the fat and liquid from the pan into a glass measuring cup. Place the roasting pan on the stove over two burners, add the wine, bring to a boil and deglaze the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce to low, and add the gravy base. Whisk until the gravy is thickened and the proper consistency. You can add more broth if needed. If the gravy is too thin, take a 1-pint mason jar, add 1 cup stock and 1/3 cup flour. Put the jar lid back on and shake until it’s incorporated. Slowly add the slurry to the gravy, whisking all the way, until the gravy is as thick as you like it. Don’t add the slurry all at once – little by little – and whisk so you don’t develop lumps.
2019 Thanksgiving Menu
Here’s our tentative menu for 2019. I say “tentative” because Jessica and I are meeting tomorrow to flesh out the menu. We’re using some old standbys, but integrating new ideas, too. I’ve included links to those new recipes just in case you want to check them out. I’ll also finish this post later with pics and comments to let you know how successful we were.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! Jessica and I hope you enjoy a fabulous meal shared with loved ones and others close to you!
Entree & Sides
Mashed Potatoes Deviled Eggs
Broccoli with Crunchy Cracker & Butter Topping
Jessica’s Cranberry Pomegranate Fluff