Turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving dinner table

Roast rurkey

Over the years, I’ve cooked a lot of turkeys. My mother used the foil method, a standby for years. It was OK. My mother-in-law used a roasting bag — not a method I recommend. The turkey ends up more steamed than roasted. We tired a variety of methods, used a thermometer and/or timed it. But, it was either too dry or looked splotchy.

Unfortunately, many cooks go for the easiest method instead of the one that gives the best results. I went on a quest about 10 years ago for a juicy, moist turkey that looks great, and the winner is a recipe from Martha Stewart that I use every year now. It seems to be fool-proof, comes out gorgeous every time and garners me rave reviews. My brother-in-law, who is a great cook, says it looks like a picture from a magazine.

A low-cal recipe it is not. And, it requires some tending. But, I only make the turkey, stuffing, gravy and a dessert, so I’m not swamped with table-setting and side dishes. Depending on what you make for dessert, prepare it the night before or early in the morning before the turkey goes in the oven.

In the morning, I make the stuffing, stuff the bird and pop it in the oven. Included here is my timetable. I’ve changed the recipe some (cut back on the butter). If you want to see Martha’s, visit her website, type turkey into the recipe finder (it’s the one called Perfect Roast Turkey).

Perfect Roast Turkey a la Martha Stewart

Serves 12 to 14

20- to 21-pound fresh whole turkey, giblets and neck removed from cavity and reserved

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (to spread on turkey)

3/4 of a bottle dry white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup white wine, for gravy (optional)

Giblet stock

Stuffing (recipe follows, or use your favorite)

Rinse turkey with cool water, and dry with paper towels. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature. Place rack on lowest level in oven. Heat oven to 450°. Combine melted butter and white wine in a large saucepan. Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into quarters and cut it into a 17-inch, four-layer square. Immerse cheesecloth in the butter and wine; let soak.

Place turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. If the turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it (those things aren’t accurate enough). Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper inside turkey. Fill large cavity and neck cavity loosely with as much stuffing as they hold comfortably; do not pack tightly. (Cook remaining stuffing in a buttered baking dish for 45 minutes at 375°.) Cover large opening with a slice of bread from the end of the loaf and tie legs together loosely with kitchen string (a bow will be easy to untie later). Fold neck flap under, and secure with metal skewers. Rub turkey with the softened butter.

Lift cheesecloth out of liquid, and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area. Place turkey, legs first, in oven.** Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, generously baste cheesecloth and exposed parts of turkey with butter and wine.

Meanwhile, simmer giblets for the stock. Save the broth. (I cook the liver in a separate pan for the kitty girls, my cats, who get it and the other giblets diced up and mixed with their food). Reduce oven temperature to 350°, and continue to cook for 2 1/2 more hours, basting every 30 minutes and watching pan juices; if the pan gets too full, spoon out juices, reserving them for gravy.

After this third hour of cooking, carefully remove and discard cheesecloth (don’t worry if it gets very brown). Turn roasting pan so the breast is facing the back of the oven. Baste turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices, continue to use butter and wine. The skin gets fragile as it browns, so baste carefully. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes.

After this fourth hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not poke into a bone. The temperature should reach 180° (stuffing should be between 140° and 160°) and the turkey should be golden brown. The breast does not need to be checked for temperature. If legs are not yet fully cooked, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes. When done, transfer turkey to a serving platter, and let rest for about 30 minutes loosely tented with foil.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. Pour all the pan juices into a big glass measuring cup. Let stand until grease rises to the surface, about 15 minutes, then skim it off. Meanwhile, place roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add some chicken broth to the pan. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the pan until liquid boils and all the crisp bits are unstuck from pan. Add giblet stock to pan. Stir and pour into a large saucepan. Place over medium heat. Shake some flour and chicken stock in a plastic bottle or jar to make a slurry.* Add to the pan and stir and cook until it thickens. Use more chicken broth if necessary to make it the thickness you want. Simmer 10 minutes.

* The ratio is 3 tbsp. fat and 3 tbsp. flour for every 2 cups of liquid to make the perfect gravy.

** If your roasting pan only fits sideways in the oven, turn the pan every hour so the turkey cooks and browns evenly.

Turkey tips

• Cube the bread a week ahead and put it in loose plastic bags so it will stale. If I have to, I leave it out the night before. It needs to be pretty dry.

• Cut up cheesecloth, celery and onions and get out all pans, etc., the night before and it will take 1 hour and 15 minutes to get the turkey in the oven the next morning.

• I use a big disposable aluminum roasting pan and a heavy roasting rack. I place the whole thing on a jelly roll pan for ease in turning.

• Follow directions. It comes out perfect every time. It takes 4 hours to 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Sage and Onion Stuffing

Makes 10 cups(fills a 20-pound turkey)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large onions, peeled and diced

Large bunch of celery stalks, diced

10 large fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 2 teaspoons crushed dried sage

1 tsp. Bell’s Seasoning

5 to 6 cups low-sodium, low-fat chicken stock

2 loaves stale white bread (about 36 slices), crust on, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

My grandmother always used whole loaves of stale bread she got from the bakery and we would crumble them up. But, I buy Arnold Brick Oven Bread (there are 27 slices in a large loaf) and cube the slices with a serrated bread knife a week ahead so they get stale. You really need it to be stale to soak up all the chicken broth.

Melt butter in a large skillet (I use a wok so I don’t need two pans). Add onions and celery, and cook over medium heat until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add sage, stir to combine, and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup stock, and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes, until liquid has reduced by half.

Transfer onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and 3 cups of the stock. Mix with your hands or a large spoon. Add enough of the remaining stock to make a moist (but not soggy) dressing. How much you need depends on how stale the bread is.

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