Yes I know that technically now Thanksgiving is over, but since I’ve spent the whole day prepping and then subsequently gorging myself I hadn’t had a chance to wish you all, dear readers, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have full bellies surrounded by family and/or friends and most importantly love. I hope you took a moment to reflect on all the blessings you have in your life whether or not you have few or many.
There are many things that I am thankful for. I’m thankful that I am healthy, employed, and that I have a full stomach and roof over my head. I’m thankful for the loving and supportive family I have. I’m thankful for my boyfriend of almost 3 years who makes me feel beautiful and special every single day. And these are just the basics!
I am also thankful for YOU, readers! Yes YOU! Without you this blog would be nothing! I’m so thankful I’m going to share with you the most bestestest (yes a real word) turkey recipe ever – which my Uncle has at this point pretty close to perfected. The turkey is juicy and moist and has TONS of flavor.
This year’s turkey:
This is a recipe that he has taken much from Alton Brown, a little from a couple other celebrity cooks, and a smidge of his own research:
Uncle Manolo’s Super Duper Awesome Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe (with gravy!):
I’m definitely a proponent of:
• Cooking a modest sized bird – from 12 to 14 pounds.
Having experienced ‘birdzilla’ nightmares, smaller is always easier to manage and ends up cooking better. As men have been saying throughout the ages, size isn’t everything. This should be enough to feed ten folks or so. Or two with lots of leftovers. Or something in between.
• Brining the bird at least overnight prior to cooking. Taking advantage of osmotic forces truly makes for a moister bird (who’d have thought the things I learned in high school & college actually had any practical value in feeding me). BUT the key thing is to brine for an appropriate length of time. In the first phase of brining, moisture is actually sucked out of the bird so leave it in the bath at least 8 hours.
• NOT using a Kosher or ‘self-basting’ bird. This isn’t anti-Semitism; Kosher birds are highly salted and the brining creates an unpalatably salty bird. Self-basting birds are typically injected with saltwater that also result in nightmares of inedible salinity.
• Not cooking a stuffed bird. Either the stuffing doesn’t get cooked to a safe temperature and threatens everyone’s health (which may not be a deal-breaker for some families) or the stuffing gets cooked to a safe temperature but the bird ends up the consistency of bad leather left in the desert (which is always a deal-breaker).
• Making gravy. Canned & jarred varieties are useful in a pinch but nothing says cooking like making a pan sauce.
• Not being sued. Use this recipe at your own risk. If you get sick, don’t blame me. Use of this recipe is an implicit agreement that the user (that’s YOU) agrees to hold me (that’s ME) harmless from and against any and all liabilities, claims, suits, actions, demands, settlements, losses, judgments, costs, damages and expenses to the extent that they arise out of or result from any use of this recipe. If you can’t agree to that, then stop reading now.
SO, on to the brining:
- 1 gallon (yes, gallon) of vegetable stock or water
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 1⁄2 cup (or a little more) of light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon of whole black peppercorns
in a large (gallon, remember?) stock pot & bring to a boil. Make sure the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. You can add other spices if you like but I prefer to keep it simple.
2. Remove the brine from heat, allow it to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for a couple of hours (You may notice that this whole process requires time and patience).
3. Using a vessel large enough to hold and refrigerate the bird & brine, combine the brine created above with:
o 1 gallon (yes, gallon) of ice water
o The aforementioned modest sized bird–completely thawed in the refrigerator for the last two days or so – placed with the breast into the deeper part of the brining solution.
and leave in a cold place for eight to sixteen hours. While some use a camping cooler or some such thing as a brining vessel, as brining has become more fashionable, it has become easier to find ‘brining bags’ in cooking stores. These are very convenient and allow you to put the brining bird in the fridge. Depending upon your particular arrangement, turn the bird every few hours to make sure it’s getting the full effect of the brine.
Preparing the bird for the oven:
1. Remove the bird from the brine, rinse with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Throw away the brine. Don’t let it be mistaken for any kind of useful stock or anything like that. That would be a bad thing. And you can’t blame it on me, anyway. You read that part. If not, go back and read it again.
2. Depending upon your oven’s configuration, remove all racks except the lowest. While it seems obvious, do this prior to preheating your oven. Otherwise, you have to take a hot rack out of a hot oven and all kinds of reality-TV worthy wackiness ensues. Then, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Yes, 500. I’m not crazy. This really works.
3. While stuffing is avoided (and better replaced on the table by ‘dressing’), that big honkin’ opening in the bird is useful for introducing more flavor. So in a large bowl, combine:
• 1 apple (sweet rather than tart), roughly cut into quarters
• 1⁄2 onion (again, sweet rather than pungent), roughly cut into pieces matching the apple
• 1 cinnamon stick
• About a cup or so of water
and nuke for about 5 minutes on high.
4. Put the bird on a flat rack and in a roasting pan and put all the hot stuff from the microwave (well, except the water) in the bird’s cavity. Also, to the bird’s innards, add:
• A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary
• About half a dozen fresh sage leaves
Make sure this isn’t packed so tightly that hot oven air can’t move around inside the bird. It can be full – as the apples and onions will shrink creating more airspace – but it shouldn’t be packed tight. If the bird’s cavity is too small, leave out some of the onions and apples out.
5. Take a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold into a very large triangle – shiny side out (yes, it makes a difference but probably not one that’s big enough to cause worry lines). I’ve found the best way to do this is to tear a sheet of foil from the roll twice as long as the roll is wide, then fold the corners to the center of that length. I use a roll that’s 12 inches wide so I tear off a piece 24 inches long and then create a isosceles triangle with a base of 24 inches. It doesn’t have to be perfect since foil is malleable.
6. Coat one side of the foil triangle liberally with canola oil (which has a higher smoke point that others). Taking advantage of the previously mentioned malleability, form fit the foil triangle to the bird’s breast meat (oiled side against the bird so it doesn’t stick). With the point of the triangle at the bird’s caudal opening and the long base at the top of the breast, form it to cover basically all of the white meat. Once you’ve fitted the foil breastplate, set it aside and save it for later.
7. Package the bird for thermodynamic uniformity. Tuck the wings back under the bird so they don’t flop around and, if necessary, tie the legs together with trussing twine. The bird should take on a lump-like quality rather than bird-shape. Give the lump-shaped bird a nice canola oil massage. Be generous with the oil. It promotes that nice golden browning that makes people go, “Ooh,” and sometimes, “Aah!” Add some Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper and it’s ready for the oven. By the way, if your bird has one of those absurd plastic pop-up things, leave it in but ignore what it tells you. If you take it out, it gives bird juices a place to gush out of the bird. If you listen to it, it’ll overcook your bird (a contrivance of attorneys working to protect the turkey industry).
The actual cooking process:
1. Put the turkey (on the roasting rack in the roasting pan on the lowest rack) in the 500-degree oven. The screaming hot air is searing the oil soaked skin for that Ooh-inspiring color. After 30 minutes, take the bird briefly out of the oven to:
a. Reduce the oven to a more reasonable 350 degrees
b. Place the pre-formed, pre-oiled foil on the bird AND
c. Place a remote probe thermometer (You do have one of those, don’t you?) in the thickest part of the breast but NOT touching the bone.
All of this allows for the cooking of the bird to a safe temperature without drying it out AFTER having created that golden brown skin. The additional bonus is that the seared skin seems to contribute to sealing in the bird’s moisture (but that could be just my imagination).
2. Set the thermometer alarm for 155 degrees. Return the bird to the oven and declare the oven off limits for the next few hours (2 to 21⁄2 hours depending on your bird’s size). While some use the velvet rope approach to keep interlopers from peeking in on the bird, I recommend a liberal application of crime scene tape. Peeking to see how the bird is doing allows the temperature to fluctuate too much. Instead of meddling in the kitchen, encourage the watching of football, the family togetherness, the planning for the winter holidays…
3. Once the alarm goes off, remove the bird from the oven, remove the roasting rack (with the bird, of course) from the pan, remove the foil triangle from the bird but leave the thermometer(s) in place (lest all kinds of juices gush forth). Put the bird in a non-drafty place for at least 15 minutes but closer to a half-hour if you can hold off the masses. This gives you time to make other stuff. Tent the bird with foil if necessary (i.e. everything’s drafty) or appropriate (i.e. people keep trying to sneak a piece of turkey). The bird’s temperature should rise to the USDA recommended 165 in that time. By the way, you did read the part about not suing me. Read it again; I’ll wait here.
4. Now that your back: After the bird has rested, remove the thermometer(s). And carve (which is apparently another lost art). And enjoy. And go into a food coma.
1. Put the roasting pan with all of the drippings directly on the range over medium heat. Add:
• 8 ounces of red wine
• 24 ounces of LOW SODIUM chicken broth – This isn’t a health thing, it’s a salt thing.
Remember, the bird from whence the drippings came sat in a salt bath for quite some time. Additional salt is probably not necessary.
2. Whisk it all together and deglaze the pan. Continue heating for another few minutes to reduce slightly and allow some of the alcohol to cook off.
3. Pour all of this into a fat separator (which has been known to travel under the alias ‘gravy separator’) and let it do its thing (i.e. separate) for five to ten minutes. Pour off the denser liquid into a bowl and reserve it for Step 5.
4. Pour about 3⁄4 cup of fat back into the pan over medium-high heat (You can discard any excess fat now. You don’t have to; you can keep it if that’s your thing. I don’t judge). If, for some bizarre reason, you don’t have 3⁄4 cup of turkey fat, you can augment it with melted unsalted (see the caveat about salt in Step 1) butter. Add:
• About 1/3 cup of flour and whisk continuously to create a roux – should take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes depending
upon your whisk arm.
5. Gradually add the liquid reserved in Step 3, continually whisking until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Your desired consistency should be slightly thinner than what you’d expect – the gravy will thicken up once you remove it from heat and put it in a gravy boat (Really? You have a gravy boat?).
6. Flavor with herbs and spices of your choice. This last go-round, I used:
• About 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme (chopped fine) • About 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary (chopped even finer) • Black pepper • Kosher salt – I made the mistake [previously] of adding this PRIOR to taste testing and the gravy
was on the salty side. Please learn from my mistakes.
For a printable copy go to this link: http://bit.ly/5EGLP
Last year’s turkey: