It occurs to me that in the almost-10 years that I've been blogging, I've never not once mentioned how we go about cooking our Thanksgiving turkey here in the Circle B Kitchen. I think I'll take care of that right here and now.
There are more recipes out there for how to do this than you can shake a stick at, so the only reason I can think to add my two cents to the mix is that this turkey turns out perfectly every time. Not even kidding. The white meat is moist and flavorful and the dark meat is sublime. Why do I feel like I just jinxed my turkey this year?! And yes, I DO stuff the bird. But we'll get to that in a minute.
Every year for the past 30 years or more, I have ordered a fresh, organic turkey, which I think may make a bit of difference in terms of flavor and texture. I do not brine my turkey. I've gone that route and very much did not like what it did to the texture of the meat. A good, fresh turkey does not need brining. In my humble opinion.
But here is what I do and it is very simple, indeed...
I used to wash the turkey, inside and out, but I stopped doing that and now I just use paper towels to wipe it out and blot it dry. (Be sure to remove the little package containing the neck, heart and kidneys). I throw the neck into a pot with some water, onion, celery and a few peppercorns and let that simmer while the bird cooks. I'll use this stock for making gravy.
Once the bird is patted dry, I combine copious amounts of softened butter with salt, pepper, and herbs d' provence and then schmear this all over the bird; inside, outside and under the skin.
As to the stuffing, I will admit to getting a bit annoyed with the chorus of voices out there who shriek in horror if you mention that you actually put stuffing inside of your turkey. Well, yes we do, and no one's died. Honestly, people. Did not our Grandmothers and their Grandmothers before them stuff their turkeys? Mine did and it's a wonder we lived to tell the tale.
OK, I'll be stepping off of the soap box now, but if you'd rather not stuff your bird, that's perfectly fine. Just know that you will perhaps be missing one of the best bits of Thanksgiving. I place some cheesecloth inside the cavity (well, both of them) and then place the stuffing in that. When it's time take out the stuffing, it's easy to just pull out the cheesecloth. There really is nothing like the flavor and moisture the cooking turkey imparts to the stuffing. That said, I also cook some stuffing in a large pan in the oven and mix the two stuffings together before serving. That way, all of the stuffing has a little of that turkey-saturated flavor.
Back to the bird... once it's smothered with butter and herbs, I place it in a preheated 325 degree oven. Sometimes I'll pour a cup of wine, stock, or water in the bottom of the roasting pan, but I'm not rigid about this.
I usually get an 18-20 lb bird and will cook it for 4-4 1/2 hours. (My rule of thumb is usually about 13 to 14 minutes per pound.) If it starts to get too brown on top, I'll cover it with foil for the last hour or so. I'll always check the temp and take it out when the thigh reaches 160, but honestly, I don't even have to do that. If that leg is loose and wiggly, I know it's done.
When I take the turkey out, I remove it to a large carving board, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before we start carving it. While it rests, I'll put the roasting pan on the stove, firstly pouring the fat and juices that have accumulated in the bottom into a measuring cup, leaving some of the fat in the pan. Over medium heat, I use a flat whisk to stir in some flour. And this is where I'm probably not going to be much help to you at all because I never measure stock, fat or flour. I just start whisking, adding what I need as I go, tasting for salt and pepper until I have at least a quart, but more often 1 1/2 quarts of gravy. My secret flavor bomb is Kitchen Bouquet which deepens the flavors and gives it a beautiful burnished color. I learned to make gravy watching my Husband's Mother and Grandmother when I was in my '20's. Nothing was ever measured or written down, it was all done by feel, and it's how I do it to this day. The best way to learn is to just get in there and let yourself mess it up. That's what Wondra flour is for; also something I learned from those two women. If your gravy is too thin, you can whisk that in without worrying about lumps; if it's too thick, just stir in more stock. The only mistake that's hard to fix is too much salt, so go easy on that in the beginning. Do your final salting at the end.
I hadn't intended talking about gravy for the obvious reason that I don't have a recipe to share with you, just my old fashioned instincts to guide me through.
But for me, that's what Thanksgiving is really all about. It's reaching back to the past, to favorite traditions and memories and re-creating that every year, surrounded by the people you love most.
So enjoy the day. Get help where you can....
And always put the kids' table on the other side of the house!
Wishing you a very special, happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. Don't forget to check out our list of favorite Thanksgiving dishes on the Recipe Index Tab! happy cooking!