Tried and True Thanksgiving Turkey

I just did the math and realized Thanksgiving is way closer than I thought.  Wow, time sure does fly.  I have barely put my summer clothes away, I am still recovering from Halloween and already we are speeding toward Thanksgiving. Although I am a bit freaked by how soon it is coming, I am kind of excited.  I, like many, am a huge fan of the holidays and Thanksgiving is the perfect kick-off to the season, well it has been for me in more recent years.

Growing up, Thanksgiving was not really a big holiday in our house.  Yes, we had our traditional dishes we must have every year but it was really a quiet time for our family.  We didn’t live near family most of our lives so it was usually a quiet time for my parents, brother and I.  In more recent years I have taken Thanksgiving and made it into a very special holiday.  It all started when I decided I wanted to host my first Thanksgiving.  It was a break from the traditional extended family holiday we partook in since moving closer to family. I invited my immediate family and fellow co-workers who were unable to travel to their families for the holiday.

I was a bit nervous biting off cooking the whole meal, so of course I did a lot of research looking for the best way to cook a turkey.  Although my mom is a fabulous cook, roasting a turkey was never her best.  Going for ease, she usually cooked the turkey in a bag (no basting) and it usually turned out pretty dry.  I was determined to have a juicy, moist turkey.  All in all my first time hosting Thanksgiving was a raving success!  We had a wonderful evening and enjoyed  a gorgeous, juicy turkey!  That Thanksgiving has been the cornerstone to all my Thanksgivings since and each year I have been in charge of roasting the turkey. It has become my fail proof, tried and true, Thanksgiving turkey and now I am going to share what I have learned with you.

Brining the Turkey: I have found the key to a great turkey is brining.  I know, this isn’t exactly breaking news.  Brining has been a food trend for years but it was a much newer concept when I first made this turkey and it is a trend I swear by.  I like to use a cider brine similar to this one.

Preparing the Turkey For Roasting: Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees and lower your oven rack to its lowest position in.

Once the turkey has been brined (8-24 hours), rinsed, cleaned and dried, it is time to prepare it for roasting.  You will need:

  • kosher salt
  • ground pepper
  • 2 sticks softened unsalted butter
  • 1 pealed and quartered apple
  • 1 pealed and quartered orange
  • 1 pealed and quartered onion
  • Williams-Sonoma Turkey Herbs
  • fresh turkey herbs (3 sprigs each sage, rosemary, thyme)

Ok, this can be a bit messy but I swear it makes for a great flavorful turkey.

  1. Carefully lift the skin from the turkey breast.  Using a knife, slit a little pocket between the skin and the breast meat.  Slide about four 1 tablespoon pats of butter into the pocket. Massage the skin spreading the butter.  Do this on both sides of the breast.
  2. Using your hands (I told you it was messy) massage the rest of the butter over the outside skin of the rest of the turkey.  It should look like the turkey has been coated in butter.
  3. Now sprinkle with salt, pepper and Williams-Sonoma herbs top and bottom, pat down so it is evenly coated.
  4. Sprinkle salt, pepper and Williams-Sonoma herbs into the cavity.
  5. Fill the cavity with quartered onion, apple, orange, and fresh herbs.
  6. Truss turkey.
  7. Place turkey on a rack in a roasting pan

Roasting & Basting (tested on a 20-25 pound turkey – adjust roasting times to size of turkey)
Again, this is another key to a juicy turkey.  You will need:

  • Cheesecloth
  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 bottle wine (I prefer to use Madera wine but you can also use a white wine)
  • pastry brush
  • turkey baster
  • instant-read thermometer
  1. Fold the cheesecloth into a four layer square big enough to cover the turkey (it should be big enough to cover the breast all the way down to the drumstick).  Melt the butter and combine with the Madera wine in a sauce pan.  Once you have your basting mixture ready, submerge your cheesecloth into the mixture till it is soaked through.  Lightly squeeze out excess liquid so it is soaked but not dripping.  Place wet cheesecloth over the breast and hanging down over the legs.
  2. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, baste cheesecloth and all exposed parts of turkey with butter-and-wine mixture. After 30 minutes, reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Cook approx. 2 1/2 more hours, basting with pastry brush every 30 minutes and watching the pan juices – if pan is getting too full, suction some of the  juices so level remains below the rack.
  3. During the fourth hour of cooking, remove and discard the cheesecloth and turn the roasting pan so the breast faces the back of oven. Baste the turkey with juices that have collected in bottom of pan. If there are not enough juices, continue to use the butter-and-wine mixture.  Baste carefully as the skin gets fragile as it browns, particularly over the breast. Cook another hour, basting every 30 minutes. If some areas of the bird start getting too brown you can cover those areas loosely with aluminum foil.
  4. After fourth hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into thickest part of thigh making sure not to poke into a bone. The thermometer should reach at least 180 degrees and the turkey should be golden brown.  If the turkey is not golden brown or the thigh meat does not register 180 degrees, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. When fully cooked, transfer the turkey to a serving platter, and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Gravy
In making my gravy I use Williams-Sonoma Gravy Base.  Using it and just adding the required milk and drippings from the turkey makes for a flavorful and creamy gravy.  No lumpy gravy – consider it fool proof.

Serving
Ok, you have put a ton of work into roasting this turkey and it is going to be glorious.  However, before you start carving you need to make sure you show it off and get the ooohs and aaahs you deserve – it is all about presentation!  I like to decorate my platter with fresh herbs, fruit and nuts.  I usually hit up my local produce department to find some interesting garnish – favorites are kumquats, mini-pears, walnuts and pecans in the shell.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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