How To Cook The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey


It’s time to talk Turkey.

Every year I am asked the same question: “How do I cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey?” Truthfully, even the most veteran cooks like to refresh their memory. Rather than including a specific recipe, I trust these Ten Tasty Turkey Tips will assuage any fears about the process of roasting a turkey using your favorite herbs.

1. Order the turkey today if you haven’t already done it. As a rule of thumb, count 1 pound per person. A 15- to 18-pound bird is about the largest size for easy handling and sharing leftovers. (If it’s frozen, defrost it according to directions on the side of the package.)

2. If you can, season the turkey with herbed butter under the skin, the night before and refrigerate it. But, do not stuff it until right before roasting. An un-stuffed turkey will reduce the roasting time by about 30 minutes, allowing time for reheating the side dishes in the oven while the turkey rests.

3. Rinse out the turkey with cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.

Rub the entire cavity with a cut side of a lemon. Generously sprinkle kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper in the cavity.

If you are not filling the turkey with stuffing, toss a bunch of sage leaves and a fistful of chopped onion, carrots, and celery in the cavity.

If stuffing the turkey, just before roasting spoon the cold prepared stuffing into the cavity, allowing for expansion.

Place the cut lemon half in the neck cavity and pull the neck skin over it until closed and secure with skewer, toothpicks or stitch the skin with cotton thread.

Fold the wing tips back and tuck them under the breast.

4. For the seasonings: Combine 4 tablespoons of softened butter with 1 and 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (sage, thyme, summer savory, rosemary, etc.) salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, smear the seasoned butter under the skin of the breast and thighs coating the flesh as much as possible. Pull the skin back over the butter to create a natural non-chemical basting technique that keeps the meat moist and produces tasty juices in the bottom of the pan. If the skin tears, stitch it with a needle and cotton thread. Rub any remaining butter on the outside of the skin.

5. To truss, use cotton kitchen string to tie the crossed legs together and the wings back. Have on hand a pair of old but clean potholders to protect your hands when maneuvering the hot bird.

6. Plan to start the process six hours before serving. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

7. Scatter chopped carrot, celery and onion on the bottom of a large roasting pan and set a roasting rack over the vegetables.

Place the turkey, breast side down, on the rack and place the pan in the center of the oven.

Reduce the temperature to 450 degrees F and roast, uncovered, until the skin is brown on top, about 20 to 25 minutes. Turn the breast side up and roast until the skin is brown, about 20 minutes.

Add 1 to 2 cups of water or stock to the bottom of the pan and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F.

Continue roasting, basting the bird every so often with the pan juices until the turkey is done. The juices will run clear when pierced with a two-pronged fork into the thickest part of the thigh. Or by inserting an instant read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and thighs/it should register 165 to 179 degrees F. The drumsticks should move slightly up and down and feel tender when pressed or pinched. If the legs or wings are getting too brown before the entire turkey is done, wrap them with small pieces of foil to reflect the heat.

Once the turkey is cooked, transfer it to a carving board or platter, loosely tent it with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest at least 25 minutes. It will remain hot for up to an hour.

8. For sauce or gravy:

Add 1 cup of wine or stock to the vegetables and cooking juices in the roasting pan and deglaze over high heat, scraping up the bits in the bottom of the pan and then strain out the vegetables. Transfer the liquid to a gravy strainer. Let stand about 10 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top. Pour the de-fatted pan juices into a clean saucepan over high heat, adding about 2 cups of turkey or chicken stock to the juices. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer about five to seven minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

9. To thicken the sauce, in a small cup, whisk 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons cold stock or water until dissolved (“a slurry.”) Slowly whisk just enough slurry into the simmering juices until the mixture begins to thicken. It should lightly coat the back of a tablespoon. Simmer about two to three minutes, taste, and adjust the seasonings and thickness. (Thin with stock or water and thicken with more slurry.)

10. To carve the bird:

Remove all of the stuffing from the cavity and transfer to a serving bowl and keep warm.

Remove the legs and thighs by cutting through the ball joint to release the drumsticks. Using a sharp carving knife, slice the thighs into two or three servings each. Remove the wings and transfer to a platter with the thighs and drumsticks. Starting from the neck end, gradually angle the knife parallel to the breastbone and cut into thin slices. Arrange the carved meat on a large platter, garnish with extra skin and fresh herbs.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bon appétit!

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