A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Monday, November 12, 2007


Thanksgiving turkey probably involves more advice, worry, clucking, and carrying on than any other meal in our culture. It's not that hard to roast a turkey! An added plus is that the Thanksgiving feast is so excessive that you don't have to cook for several days after.

My very simplest and best method for turkey is to brine lightly for 2 or 3 hours (soak in a solution of cold water with 1/4 cup of salt*); drain turkey and then rub all over with a mixture of olive oil, paprika, and salt. Stuff if desired. Place breast-side-up in a turkey roaster or baking pan. Pour 1 cup white wine or vermouth around it, and then bake at 325 or 350 for whatever the label says. I usually have a 12-pound turkey, stuffed, and it takes about 3 1/2 hours. It's not done until the dark thigh meat is done. Usually I cover the turkey for the first half, but it depends on the pan available, the oven, the company, etc.


12 cups dry bread crumbs (don't buy seasoned bread crumbs. Save old bread in the freezer for the month leading up to Thanksgiving and break it up in the food processor).

1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter

Cook the onion in the butter in large Dutch oven. Add bread crumbs and cook a little to toast lightly. Then add:

2 teaspoons dried sage
A little each of thyme, rosemary, and marjoram
A small handful of finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Chicken or turkey broth to taste--our family likes very dry stuffing, so we just add a half cup or so. It will get wetter if it's cooked inside the turkey.

It's important not to overseason at this point. The flavors will develop as the turkey juices soak in.

You can also cook the stuffing in a casserole (30 to 45 minutes in medium oven), in which case you can be freer with the amounts of seasonings and broth. I usually put some inside the turkey cavity and the rest in a casserole.


It's good to boil the turkey neck, onion skins, and any other spare parts for a couple of hours ahead of time to make broth. You can use it in both the stuffing and the gravy.

Once the turkey is done, remove it to a platter and let rest a little before carving, while you make the gravy. Assess your roasting pan: is there still some fat and liquid in there? If there's a lot, pour it off into a blender, add about a third or half that amount in flour, and blend. Put back in roasting pan and cook the paste (roux) until it's not raw anymore. You can make it as dark as you want the gravy to be. Then gradually add the broth, stirring constantly, until you have gravy. You could use about 5 cups of broth per cup of flour, I suppose, though I never really measure. Boil gently and stir. Season with salt and pepper. If it's too thin, boil more to concentrate. If it's way too bland, add some chicken bouillon granules. If it tastes "flat," add just a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.

If your roasting pan has baked dry, you can put in a quart of water and boil it up to get the flavorful broth out of there. Pour off, make a roux using 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup flour, and use some of the broth you just created to make gravy.

Whenever you get gravy that's not as smooth as you like, puree it in the blender. No one has to know.

*Brining is easily accomplished in an ice chest. Throw in some ice cubes to keep everything cold. And--here's a great thing I discovered once when the turkey got done a whole hour ahead of everything else: preheat the ice chest with hot water, then drain. Put the cooked turkey in and it will stay very hot for a long time while everything finishes cooking.


Eva said...

Would you believe that I have never cooked a turkey? Somehow on Thanksgiving that's always someone else's job -- I've made every other contribution, but I've never hosted or done the turkey.

I like our recent tradition, anyway: Lawson's brother usually smokes a turkey and a whole bunch of pork ribs.

Eva said...

Today the grocery store was giving away free instructional DVDs on how to cook a turkey.

Kris said...

If you have a smoked turkey, do you skip gravy and mashed potatoes? I hope you'll post all the different things on your plate next Thursday.