The biggest food-related holiday of the year deserves some real attention. This recipe keeps it simple and will impress even the most critical turkey connoisseur.
I was able to cut down the roasting time considerably and keep it moist and flavorful. Spend more time with friends and family while giving them something to remember.
This is the first recipe in this year’s Food Nation Radio Network Thanksgiving Menu. Enjoy.
Let’s start with a few more tips on buying and prepping the crown-jewel of the table.
1. Try to get a fresh turkey or defrost according to package directions. It’s important to keep the turkey refrigerated while it’s defrosting. The days of Mom leaving it on the counter to defrost are over. It will take a day or two to thaw completely in the fridge.
2. When it is defrosted, reserve the giblets and rinse the turkey completely.
3. Brine the turkey overnight. (Instructions on this are below.)
4. Use the giblets to make stock for the gravy.
5. Season the bird generously. (Instructions on this are below.)
6. Make sure you have a pot and roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey for brining, steaming and then roasting. Find a round rack the size of the bottom of the pot, or an oven-safe plate you can turn upside down for the turkey to sit on in the pot. (More instructions below.)
7. Baste every 15 minutes while it is roasting. No exceptions! Set the timer to make sure.
8. Make sure you have a festive platter to serve your size turkey and try to have some garnishes on hand, like fresh herbs or fruit to add around the platter. People eat with their eyes first.
9. Reserve the drippings in the roasting pan, because you are going to make the gravy right in the pan.
1 12-15 lb turkey (If it’s much bigger than that you will lose flavor. Get two if you need more meat than that)
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of Kosher salt
1 bunch fresh tarragon
2 large onions, 1 small onion
1 stick of butter, softened
sea salt and pepper, to taste
pinch of thyme
a few sprigs of parsley
3 or 4 black peppercorns
2 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup of ruby port
Thaw the turkey (if frozen) according to package directions. Always do this in the fridge.
Rinse the turkey, reserving the giblets for stock. Fill a pot large enough to hold the turkey about 1/3 full of water. Add the Kosher salt and sugar. Stir. Add the turkey and enough water to just cover it. Put a lid or foil on it and refrigerate overnight. Sanitize any areas in the kitchen that came in contact with the turkey.
Remove the turkey to a large plate. Rinse the pot. Add the rack and about 2 inches of water. Make a slit between the leg and thigh to allow for quicker cooking. Remove the wishbone by making two knife cuts directly around the bone and pull out in two pieces. This will add several ounces of meat that would otherwise be wasted. Add the turkey and cover tightly with a lid or foil. Steam with the water slowly bubbling for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Sanitize the kitchen areas that came into contact with the turkey.
Stock for gravy
While the turkey is brining or steaming, heat a two quart saucepan to high. Cut the other large onion in half, leaving the skin on. Place each half in cut-side down in the saucepan. Chop the other carrot into large pieces and add it to the pot. Add the giblets. When the onion is browned very well, pour water up to almost the top of the pot. Add the thyme, parsley, peppercorns and cloves. Bring to a simmer, letting it slowly simmer while the turkey is steaming and roasting.
During the last 15 minutes, heat the oven to 450 degrees F, making sure your oven rack is low enough to allow room for basting.
Cut one large onion into chunks and place in the roasting pan. Chop one carrot into large pieces and add to the pan. Add the garlic cloves. Put several sprigs of tarragon in the pan, reserving the rest for the turkey. When the turkey is cool enough to handle after steaming. Tuck the wing tips underneath the turkey. Cut off any excess fat at the leg opening of the cavity. Rub the entire bird, inside and out with two thirds of the butter. Don’t touch the remaining one third of the butter with raw turkey hands! Try to get some under the skin, as well. The skin will have retracted somewhat in steaming, so make sure you rub those exposed areas well and baste those generously during cooking. Cut the small onion in half and put inside the cavity. Do the same with the orange and lemon. Generously salt and pepper with sea salt and black pepper. Tie the legs together, or use the plastic device that sometimes comes with the turkey. Tuck some of the tarragon into the cavity and try to get some of the tarragon under the skin of the bird. Put a couple of ladles of the stock into the bottom of the pan.
Place the turkey in the oven for 15 minutes. While you are waiting, in a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter and add 1/4 cup of the port. Baste the turkey with the port/butter mixture all over, paying more attention to any areas where the skin has retracted. Do this again at 15 minutes. Check the temperature of the turkey in the thickest part of the thigh (being careful not to hit bone). If it is not 165-170 degrees F, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and cover any areas of the turkey that are getting too brown with foil. Baste again and continue basting every 15 minutes until the proper temp is reached (baste under the foil, as well). If the pan dries out, add a little more stock. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and cover.
When your turkey is done, your vegetables should be well cooked and soft. While you set it aside to cool, use a slotted spoon to put the vegetables, garlic and herbs in a food processor or blender. Puree them well. Place the roasting pan on the stove over high heat, add a half cup of port to the pan and scrape the tasty bits off the bottom of the pan. Add two cups of the stock, or a little more, if desired. Put puree back in roasting pan, and over high heat, reduce the gravy by half. Check for seasoning. At this point you can strain it or serve it as-is. I like it as-is. If it is still not thick enough for you, you can continue to reduce or cheat and sprinkle some gluten-free flour on it while it is boiling and stir with a whisk. Chop up the giblets and add to the gravy, if desired.
Decorate your platter with fruit and/or fresh herbs and bring it to the table with the gravy on the side.
Elizabeth Dougherty has been a food writer for over 10 years, attended culinary school and holds a Bachelor’s degree, Magna Cum Laude in Hospitality, Business and Labor Relations from NYIT. She has been a talk show host of nearly 150 episodes of Food Nation Radio which airs each Saturday afternoon at 4 on WWBA AM820 News and other stations. You can read her articles and hear previous shows on her podcast page on the Food Nation Radio Network website and on Facebook.