The best part about Thanksgiving is the turkey.
The worst part of Thanksgiving? The turkey.
It's either dry and overcooked, or it's spot on. The unfortunate thing is you never know what you are going to get, unless you have some know-how.
When I was a kid my mother did all of the major holidays, and she was really good at it. She would wake up at the crack of dawn and start cooking by 7 or 8 am. No joke. The turkey would cook all day. Most years it was really good, a few times we needed extra gravy ... if you know what I mean.
When the time came for me to cook the turkey one year, I could not imagine myself standing in the kitchen all day long. So, like everything else I have ever done, I figured out a better way with this week's recipe.
Damon Burke co-owns the Salumiere Cesario gourmet grocery in Walla Walla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also writes at thegrocersbag.blogspot.com
No-fuss perfect holiday bird
Here is what you are going to need, in no particular order:
- 2 half sheet pans, commonly called baking sheets.
- Roasting pan, about 2 inches deep, preferably with a rack.
- Paper towels
- Salt (kosher)
- Pepper (fresh ground - do this in an old coffee grinder and set aside in a pinch bowl)
- Ground sage, thyme, bay leaves, garlic powder
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Trifecta (onion, carrots, celery - rough chop on all, about 1 cup of each)
- Chicken stock
- Dry white wine (semillon or chardonnay)
- Foil, whisk, wooden spoon, immersion blender, and most importantly a probe thermometer, preferably with a digital read out. Trust me this is THE most useful splurge you will ever make on things for your kitchen.
Rinse your bird in cold water inside and out. Remove giblets and "things" (yucky bits that are actually quite useful) and set aside in fridge to use later in stock for gravy. Set bird on one sheet pan and dry thoroughly, inside and out, with paper towels, changing frequently. Transfer to sheet the second sheet pan 2. Set your oven to 400-degrees F. Rub your bird down with olive oil on the outside. Season with salt and pepper liberally (see it's not a bad word), inside and out, making sure to season the cavity. Once your oven is hot, transfer your turkey to the roasting pan rack; this will make it easier to remove later on. Insert your thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast, being sure NOT to touch the bone. Set the temperature alarm for 161 degrees F. Make sure the probe wire is easily accessible so that you can plug it into the base. After about 15 to 20 minutes cover the entire breast only with foil to prevent it becoming overdone. Your turkey should reach optimal temperature in 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of your bird. Don't try to baste it; don't try to fuss with it. Don't even open the oven door to check on it, unless you smell burning. If you feel that it is cooking too fast and you want more time, reduce your oven temp to 350 degrees F. It's that easy. Really. Just set the alarm and sit back and catch up on your beauty rest.
In a stock pot over medium flame heat some olive oil add your giblets and "things." Brown evenly. Add your trifecta and brown, developing a nice color by not stirring too much. Add one clove of crushed garlic and two bay leaves. Add stock and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 30 minutes, at which point you may discard all of your solid matter leaving only a good rich stock. Remove from heat and let sit covered.
Once your temperature probe alarm in the bird reaches 161 degrees F., remove turkey from oven, then from the roasting pan and onto a platter or one of your cleaned sheet pans. Cover the entire thing with foil, being sure not to remove the probe thermometer. Let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. In the roasting pan is all that great juice, fat and fond, which we are going to use right now to make gravy.
Remove the drippings from the roasting pan, especially the fat, into a 2- to 5-quart sauce pan, leaving any stuck on bits and solid matter. Begin heating stock over medium flame and, once simmering, lower to lowest setting and put a lid on it. Over a medium flame heat fat and juices and add about 2 tablespoons of flour, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate. Switch to your whisk and continue to stir flour with fat until all the lumps are gone, to make a roux. If there are still browned bits, not black, stuck on the roasting pan, deglaze with about 1 cup of wine and a wooden spoon. Reduce this by about a third to half and set aside. Once the roux is blonde and devoid of lumps (it should look like wet sand at first, then liquid and glossy) begin adding your deglaze from the roasting pan. Do this slowly so it won't bubble up on you and possibly burn your skin. Once incorporated into roux, whisk to remove any lumps and lower flame to low/medium low. Begin adding stock. Once your gravy is at the correct consistency add sage, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. If it is too salty add stock and or wine or even a pinch of sugar. If it needs some acidity add wine. If gravy still is lumpy, use your immersion blender carefully to remove the lumps. If that fails run the whole thing through a fine chinoise (conical strainer) to remove the lumps.
At this point you are ready to go. Remove the probe and carve your bird carefully. By the way, it will not need the gravy - that's for your mashed potatoes.