Friday, November 23, 2012


In many ways the turkey is the easy part of thanksgiving provided a few basics are adhered to. I have tried just about every method known for roasting and serving a whole turkey. High heat, low heat, wrap in cheesecloth and soak in butter, bacon on the breasts, wet brine, dry brine, stuffed, not stuffed. The list is endless. However, I have settled on the simplest approach that I have found so far. And now having done it 2 years in a row, I am hooked. 2011 we did a small one (12 or so lbs). This year a monster (22+lbs) Diestel. It is (of course) the well named “Judy Bird” which I found here. What I am about to describe is my take on that – including the inimitable Alton Brown’s method of trussing the bird. My goal is to produce a perfectly cooked bird that could grace the cover of a magazine. And yes, the pic above is the one we did this year - the picture kindly taken by my friend Jim Brewer.

I start this on Monday at midday prior to the Thursday Thanksgiving feast. The time doesn’t depend on the size of the turkey.


1 22lb turkey (this is for a fresh turkey, no comment for a frozen one)
5T Kosher salt (master recipe calls for 1T for every 5lbs of turkey)
3 large yellow onions
½ head celery
6 large carrots
1 lemon quartered
1T unsalted butter
3T flour (more or less as needed)

Remove the giblets, plastic bags, clips and any other strange items that you might find on the turkey (including that irritating pop-up device). Remove the wishbone (to make for easier carving – you will thank me later)
Rinse the inside and outside of the turkey with cold water. Dry the inside and outside thoroughly. Sprinkle 1/3 of the salt onto the breast of the turkey, ¼ on each thigh/drumstick and the remainder on the back. Place the turkey inside a large bag, seal closed and place in the refrigerator for 2 days. It is now Wednesday at lunch time. Remove the turkey from the bag, and set uncovered in the fridge to dry out. This helps the skin brown when cooking.

Cooking time should be (in total) less than 12 minutes/lb. But you are advised to pay attention to the rate at which it is cooking. Use a probe thermometer to ensure that you are doing it right! See this post. That's why I am so opposed to the little pop ups. You want to know when it will be done, as well as when it is done!

At least an hour before you want to start cooking the turkey, remove it from the fridge. Pat dry (it will in all likelihood be completely dry anyway, but it is safer to ensure it. Slide some sage leaves up between the skin and the breast – just to make it look nice. Put a chopped onion and the quartered lemon into the cavity.  Truss the turkey as mentioned above. Follow the Alton Brown video carefully.
Heat the oven to 425F. Into a roasting pan put 1 remaining onion, rough chopped, ½ of the celery toughly chopped, 4 carrots roughly chopped and 2 cups of water. The water helps moderate the heat at the bottom of the pan and prevents burning of the initial drippings.. Place the turkey on a V rack, breast side down over the onion/carrot/celery in the roasting pan. Place the pan into the oven, and cook for 20 minutes (small turkey) or 30 minutes (large turkey). Remove from the oven, and turn the turkey breast side up, and set the oven to 325. Roast the turkey uncovered until the temperature reads 160 or so in the thickest part of the breast. Carry over heat will take it to the 165 temperature recommended by the FDA.

While the turkey is cooking, dice one onion, and the remaining carrot and celery. Soften in the butter until the onion is translucent. Dice up the giblets, heart, neck and other unmentionables from the turkey, add to the onion mixture and sauté until browned and fragrant. Cover with water and simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Of course you can do this the day before - especially if you plan to use some of the unmentionables in the dressing as we did.
Remove from heat, strain the pan liquid and discard the onions and giblet solids (retaining the liver and heart for adding to the dressing if you like). Allow the fat to rise, and separate it. This fat will be used as the basis of the roux for the gravy.

To make the gravy, take the remaining fat, the remaining onion, diced and sauté until translucent. Add the flour and cook for about 10 minutes watching carefully to prevent burning to make a light brown roux. Add the reserved giblet stock, stirring constantly to remove lumps. This will be very concentrated, so thin to desired thickness with water. Bring to boil to thicken.
When the turkey is cooked, remove from the pan and stir some of the roasting pan juices into the gravy. It will darken it a bit and add extra richness. 

No comments: