Last week I hosted a Thanksgiving meal!
Not really…Carlton and I shot a Thanksgiving campaign for work, and I roasted a turkey, made stuffing, dished up cranberry sauce, baked a pecan pie…you know the drill. Both husband and dog were completely mystified by the chaos and delicious wintery smells eminating from the kitchen, that’s for sure. It felt too early, but then again, every magazine out there is touting their “new and improved” turkey recipe on this month’s cover. Perhaps I’m a bit of a purist, but my belief is that as long as you know how to properly roast a bird, the old stand by recipes always do the trick. Since it only comes once a year, I generally prefer to forgoe kitchen experiments on this occasion, and stick with what works best.
And, when it comes to the best, Alice Waters is who I continually turn to. Her cookbook, “The Art of Simple Food”, has been a kitchen standby of mine since it came out in 2007. Of Chez Panisse fame, Waters is the woman who pioneered organic, farm to table eating, long before it was mainstream. Her take on food has always been to buy locally and sustainably. Her dishes reflect that, and the food speaks for itself, by actually tasting like that food. Her recipes are a solid foundation for any home chef, wishing to nurture friends and family through tasty and healthy cooking. So, once again, I pulled down my favorite cookbook, and got to work.
“Turkeys in the 12-18 pound range are easier to handle than larger birds, and will feed 8 to 12 people, allowing for some leftovers.
Season the bird generously with salt and pepper, inside and out, at least a day ahead, preferably two or three. Turkeys can also be made tastier by being submerged in a seasoned saltwater brine for a day or two, but I no longer bother with brining, especially since more flavorful heritage breeds of turkey have become available again. Flavor the turkey with herbs, if you like; stuff the cavity with herb branches, rub the skin with chopped herb leaves, or work sprigs under the skin of the breast and thighs.
Make sure the turkey is at room temperature when it goes into the oven, and rub it first with softened butter, both outside and under the skin. If you stuff it, do so at the last minute, with freshly made stuffing, also at room temperature. Fill the cavity loosely so the bird will cook evenly. Extra stuffing can be cooked separately in an ovenproof dish.
Put the bird in a heavy roasting pan, breast up, preferably on a rack or cushioned by a bed of herb branches, in a preheated 400 degree F oven. Figure roughly 12 minutes per pound for a 15 pound unstuffed turkey (less for a bigger one). If the turkey is stuffed, allow about 5 minutes more per pound.
After about one third of the total cooking time, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and turn the turkey over. Roast it breast down for the middle third, and turn it back breast up for the final third. Baste it once or twice while it roasts after the final turn. Check for doneness at the leg joint as you would a chicken. Cook it to a temperature of no more then 160 degrees F at its thickest points, at the fattest part of its breast and deep in its inner thigh. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before you carve it (its internal temperature will continue to climb). The pan juices make wonderful gravy.”
Do you have a favorite roast turkey recipe? A holiday standby that pleases year after year? Please share with us if so!
Photos by Carlton Canary, styled by me.