Thanksgiving Turkey

I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving for the past 20-something years and by now my turkey recipe is tried and true.  I’ve tried variations and deviations, and while results were good, they were not this good.  So here it is, finally put to paper – or a computer screen as it is – so the method can be preserved for posterity.

Size of the turkey.  In this case size matters – you don’t want to run out (G-d forbid, my constant and worst nightmare is not having enough food) or to be stuck with a ton of unnecessary leftovers. So, one pound per person plus a couple of extra just in case – for example, if you are expecting to feed 15 people get 17-18-pound bird. To me, fresh or frozen doesn’t matter – and I have heard that all supermarket-sold turkeys are frozen at least once anyhow so ‘fresh’ is a relative term.  Of course, if you are getting farm-raised, organic bird – awesome, and this will be truly fresh, so definitely go for it if you can. 

Stuffing. I do not stuff the turkey.  And not because it negatively affects cooking time, or creates undercooked bird – no.  I completely disagree with Food Network gurus on this point. I’ve stuffed turkeys with all kinds of stuffing and they were always good and perfectly cooked.  No, the one and only reason I do not stuff my turkeys is that the stuffing that comes out of it – to me – is not pretty.  Simple.  I cook it separately so I can nicely arrange everything in a pretty baking dish, and serve it as I like, not as it comes out of the turkey’s cavity, grey and mushy.  I like to stuff the bird with fruit – apples, fresh pineapple, oranges and an assortment of dried ones.  Sometimes I add chestnuts. So baked apples look much better when done separately with butter, herbs and other accoutrements. If you like your birds stuffed – by all means, go ahead.  This is entirely up to the cook. 

Brining.  My turkey is brined, and I do it for a long time.  At least 24 but preferably 48 hours. I make apple cider brine, the proportion is 1 gallon of cider to one cup of kosher salt, half a cup of brown sugar and peel from one orange (just the orange stuff, no pith).  I use cloves, allspice, peppercorns and cardamom (all whole) to spice the brine. For example, for a 17-pound bird you need two gallons of liquid to make sure it’s properly done.  Bring the brine to a boil, let cool completely and put the bird in.  Use non-reactive container or an oven bag as a liner to put the turkey in before pouring in the brine.  Make sure to keep it cold – in the fridge if you have room, or with ice/ice packs if you are doing it outside and the temperatures are not low enough.  Put ice in ziplocks so it does not dilute the brine.  And also make sure the bird is completely submerged so it acquires good even skin tone (cider brine darkens the skin).  

Roasting.  Evening before you need to cook it, take the bird out of the brine, pat dry and let sit in the fridge uncovered or lightly covered with foil – it needs to dry before you roast it to achieve crispy and pretty skin.  Inside the bird I put couple of cut up lemons and oranges (don’t stuff it, just pop a few for more flavor), bunch of time and sage – you can use any herbs you like.  On the bottom of the roasting pan (I don’t use the provided racks) put couple of thick orange and/or apple slices and lay the turkey on top of them – again, that adds more flavor and serves as a rack.  Take the turkey out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you put it in the oven.  Rub the skin with olive oil. Cooking time is about 15 minutes per pound if you do not stuff it and 20 minutes per pound if you do.  But always, always check the temperature with the thermometer – in the thigh, as those cook longer than breasts.  It has to get to at least 185 F for the bird to be considered cooked. The last 5 degrees will happen when the turkey is resting. Preheat the oven to 400F and put the turkey in, uncovered.  After 30 minutes, cover the turkey with foil (I use non-stick spray so it doesn’t accidentally rip the skin), lower the temperature to 350F and continue cooking until you are 30 minutes from the end of your estimated cooking time. At this point, remove the foil, drain the excessive liquid from the bottom of the roasting pan (you only need a cup or so for the gravy if you are making it and too much liquid will make the turkey too soggy), and, using tongues, remove the oranges and other things you put inside the turkey.  Brush the skin with your glaze and cook for the last 30 minutes.  Keep checking the temperature as well – at 185 F you are absolutely finished. Take the bird out of the oven and let it rest 30 minutes before carving.  Enjoy!