Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, obviously, because it is all about food and family. In fact, I like Thanksgiving so much, I have a pre-Thanksgiving with my friends the weekend before and then a post-Thanksgiving the day after. I love that there are always a lot of leftovers and I love Turkey.
This year, my sister-in-law requested I do the turkey for our dinner, because she loved the pre-Thanksgiving turkey so much. People always ask me what I do to my turkey to make it so amazing, and I almost always tell them it’s an accident. HA! But seriously, I think a good turkey is paramount to enjoying a good Thanksgiving and even though this is 2 days late, some people might be doing Turkey for other holiday feasts and so I will put my tips here. Sadly, with all the Turkey I made this year, I did not get a photo, but I will make another at some point and I will post a photo eventually.
So my method for making a good turkey is pretty simple, really. I generally use a frozen bird, because I like the cavity to still be a tad frozen when I start it. I will take the bird out the night before and put it in a cold-water bath overnight. The breasts and thighs thaw completely, the giblets slide out easily and the neck comes out, but around the cavity, there is still a little bit of ice. The first time this happened, I panicked, thinking that I would send all my guests to the ER for salmonella. I didn’t. Put all the things you take out of the bird and put them in a medium to large saucepan with water and turn that on med-low heat.
I don’t stuff my bird. I make the stuffing in a pan with the turkey drippings and bake it in the oven when the bird is about done. The real trick to a good turkey is to get the flavor under the skin. I chop 1 T fresh rosemary, 1 onion, and 3 cloves garlic, add about 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 t salt, 1 t pepper, some oregano if i have it and mix it up. I let that sit for about 20 minutes or so, till the oil becomes fragrant. Next you have to work up the skin around the opening to the cavity. You want to get your hand all the way up under the skin and slather the oil mixture all over the breast meat. Coat the inside of the cavity and then rub the oil on the skin itself. I then take a celery stalk, a carrot, an onion and some garlic and cube them and put them in the cavity. The cavity should not even be close to full, there should be a lot of room in there for air circulation. You want a lot of circulation around your bird, so make sure you elevate it in the pan on a wire rack. Next I cover the whole pan with a tin foil tent and pop it in a 350 oven. Like this, it generally takes an hour for every 4-5 pounds of bird (the recommendation is 20 minutes per pound, but I find this to be entirely too long for my birds to be in the oven). Make sure you have a meat thermometer on hand and always check the temperature of the meat at the thickest point on the breast before you decide that your bird is done.
After the bird has been in about 1/2 the time, you should start to smell it. This is when you can start collecting the juices. Add them to the pan of removed stuff I don’t bother with trying to separate the oil anymore. I have a trick for that later. Keep siphoning juices off every 45 minutes or so.
When the bird is about an hour away from being done, I take 1 cup of the juices from the pot on the stove, and set it aside. Coarse chop some stale bread (I keep a bag of old bread heels in the freezer just for this) to make about 2 cups. Chop an onion, 1-3 cloves garlic, 2 stalks of celery (with greens) and shred a carrot. Melt 1/4 cup butter in the bottom of a heavy skillet, add onion, garlic, celery and carrot. Wilt the veggies, and add the bread. Try to coat all the bread with the mixture and let it sit to brown a bit. Turn the mixture and let some more brown, then do this again. You should end up with some pieces that are really crispy and a lot that are not. Add the juices. Your bread should be moist and want to stick together but not too wet and you certainly don’t want it dry and not sticking together at all. If it is too wet, you can bake it longer, but the bread will no longer have it’s own distinct breadiness (it will still taste good), but if it is too dry, just add some more of the juices. If you are like me, you did this all in a cast iron skillet and you can just put that in the oven, if not, find your big casserole dish and transfer it. Bake for 30-45 minutes until it is brown on top and smells a bit like what heaven should smell like.
Take your bird out when it is about 178 degrees. I know the thermometer says don’t take it out till 180, but i promise just below that is OK, and it will finish getting to 180 by the time you are ready to carve it. Let the turkey sit 10-20 minutes before carving and maybe have a glass of wine while you wait.