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Posted by Stephanie Meyer on Nov 19, 2006 at 11:40am

How far are you willing to go for Perfect Turkey? By perfect I mean crisp, browned skin over juicy, flavorful breast meat. I’m willing to go pretty far, although I draw the line at roasting the turkey breast-side down (so the breast collects juices) and then flipping the buttery, 14-18 lb, 350-degree bird over to finish roasting. It’s supposed to be incredible, and I’m sure it is, but I have other, very simple, and far (!) less dangerous methods that turn out a gorgeous, juicy bird.

So here you go, Perfect Turkey Tips:

First, and these days not at all unusual – brining, aka soaking the (thawed or fresh) turkey in salted, seasoned water, in the refrigerator, for 10-24 hours. What a difference it makes in flavor and texture (juiciness!) and it really is so easy, especially with the big plastic brining or roasting bags you can pick up at the grocery store.

Second, and now we’re getting at the two must-dos for achieving nicely browned, crisp skin – air-dry the bird, on a rack, in the refrigerator, overnight before you roast it. Wet, soggy skin does not get nicely crisp, as you might imagine. The turkey’s got to sit in the fridge anyhow, obviously, so like brining this is an easy step. Put a couple of cookie racks over a baking sheet, put the (already brined) bird on it, uncovered, and in she goes for a good night’s chill.

Third, and again toward nicely browned, crisp skin – correct basting. That means don’t baste with the juices in the bottom of the roasting pan. Why? They’re wet, those juices, and you just bothered to air-dry the skin, so why make it soft and soggy all over again? Do baste with melted butter (add herbs for extra flavor, if you like). Hot fat = crispy skin. Yeah baby! Mmmm. (How to time the brine and air-dry? Brine overnight Tuesday, air-dry overnight Wednesday. Voila. If the turkey is frozen? Start thawing it in the fridge today, it takes more than 24 hours.)

Fourth, and also easy – loosely cover the breast with foil for the first two hours of roasting. In fact, if the breast is browning nicely under the foil, keep it there the entire time. The shield it provides keeps the breast from cooking faster than the rest of the bird, which it tends to do (and is often why breast meat is overly dry).

So. Let me know if you try any of these ideas. Can you tell I’m going over my notes, making my plan for dinner? It’s going to be just the four of us, here, this year. I usually spend Thanksgiving with my aunts Mary and Marge, their families, and my parents and sibs. We rotate houses and menu assignments each year, although the menu is loosely the same – and delicious. I’m so spoiled. My aunts and stepmom are amazing cooks and it is an elegant, gorgeous, fabulous feast, every year. I crave it, in fact. John and my stepdaughter A usually go to NYC to visit his parents and bro, but not this year. So instead of driving out to Willmar and back in a day (dinner is at Marge’s this year), we decided to hang here, the four of us, which we’ve never done before. Cook a pared- down, simple dinner, somewhat tailored to the quirks of my – frankly, weird! – children and husband, none of whom like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, stuffing, or pumpkin pie. Mashed potatoes! Pumpkin pie! Lord, how did this happen? Those are the traditional highlights! But there it is.

Therefore, our menu:

Herb-roasted turkey (I’m NOT making chicken for Thanksgiving, I do have my limits) with pan juices
Stuffing (a tiny amount, for me and whoever else might adventurously try a bite or two)
Crispy oven-roasted potatoes (these will be a huge hit)
Home-made challah bread
(as will this, akaRockin’ Challah, pictured below; I can in fact imagine both kids eating mostly bread and potatoes. Fine, because they’re on the menu. John actually made Apasta (!) the first year we hosted Thanksgiving – ah, the lessons of blending families. My aunts will never forget that – needless to say, kids in our, or most anyone else’s family, aren’t prepared their own separate Thanksgiving dinner! We’ve come a long way since then, thank goodness…)
Cranberry-orange relish

Crunchy cabbage salad with orange vinaigrette, pine nuts, and mint
Warm brownie “pie” with whipped cream
(basically, nothing more than brownies baked in a 9-inch round pan, ha; I’m going to use my Fudgy Passover Brownie recipe because it’s so good, my new fav brownie recipe, actually)

I have to admit that it’s nice to not plan appetizers – I figure I’ll make a big batch of popcorn at some point, and that’s about it. And to know that none of us will be stuffed after dinner – should be a relatively light affair. And hey, given the forecast of 55 degrees, we could go for a bike ride afterward! Crazy! But way cool. (Recipes posted in comments, below.)


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  1. By Stephanie on November 21, 2006 at 2:27PM

    Orange-Cranberry Relish
    Stephanie Levy
    Serves 10

    ¼ c. Marsala wine
    ¾ c. orange juice
    16 oz. fresh cranberries
    1 ½ c. brown sugar
    2 tsp. grated orange zest

    Combine wine, orange juice, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in cranberries and orange zest and simmer until berries are popped and relish is thickened, about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature, cover, and chill.

  2. By Stephanie on November 21, 2006 at 1:52PM

    YOU can check between its legs, although I don't think it'll help much, ha. I just checked the package (!)

  3. By Suz on November 21, 2006 at 1:43PM

    K, so that means I will be roasting mine 4 to 5 hours. Ha! Oh my, how does one know if one has a hen or not? Check between it's legs????

  4. By Stephanie on November 21, 2006 at 12:54PM

    Herb-Roasted Turkey
    Stephanie Levy
    Serves 8-10

    This is a flavorful recipe, starting on Tuesday to brine the turkey. The bird is not filled with stuffing, as brining a turkey tends to make the stuffing too salty.

    Brine:
    1 14-16 lb. natural turkey (not self-basted), fresh or thawed, giblets removed and reserved, rinsed
    2 gallons cold water
    2 c. kosher salt
    1 c. (packed) brown sugar
    bunches of fresh herbs (for instance, 1 each of thyme, sage, parsley and/or rosemary)
    ½ head garlic, cloves smashed
    1 small onion, quartered

    Turkey:
    bunches of fresh herbs (for instance, 1 each of thyme, sage, parsley and rosemary)
    ½ head garlic, cloves smashed
    1 small onion, quartered
    1-2 cans chicken broth

    Gravy:
    Reserved turkey neck and giblets (from above)
    4 cans (14 oz. each) low-sodium chicken broth
    1 onion, quartered
    2 bay leaves
    1/2 c. butter
    1/2 c. flour

    Herb butter baste:
    1 ½ sticks butter, melted,
    6 Tbsp. minced herbs (assortment of those used above)
    1 clove garlic, minced

    Tuesday evening: Brine the turkey
    Line a large bowl, stockpot, or other container with enough capacity to hold the turkey and brine and fit in the refrigerator with an XXL Ziploc bag or oven-roasting bag, also large enough to hold the turkey and brine. Add salt, sugar, herbs, garlic, and onion to the bag. Slowly pour in the cold water. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Lower the turkey into the brine and seal the bag with a twist-tie. Transfer the container to the refrigerator and set a skillet or heavy plate on top of the turkey to keep it submerged in the brine. Turn the turkey a few times so it soaks evenly.

    Wednesday evening: Dry the turkey
    Cover a large baking sheet with cookie racks, so that turkey won’t sit in moisture. Remove turkey from brine, discard brine. Rinse turkey thoroughly inside and out; pat dry. Place turkey on racks on baking sheet and refrigerate over night, uncovered. The goal is to dry the skin so that when roasted, the turkey will achieve a deep golden and crispy skin.

    Wednesday evening or Thursday morning: Start the gravy
    Combine turkey neck and giblets, broth, quartered onions, and bay leaves in saucepan. Simmer until reduced to 6 cups, skimming occasionally, about 1 hour. Strain and discard solids.

    Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add flour; stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in turkey stock. Boil until gravy thickens, stirring often, about 3 minutes. (If prepared one day ahead, cool to room temperature, then cover and chill. Reheat in a large saucepan before continuing.)

    Thursday: Roast the turkey
    The next day, to roast the turkey, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place turkey on rack in roasting pan. Pour 1 c. of chicken broth in the bottom of the pan. Stuff turkey with herbs, garlic, and onion. Melt butter in saucepan. Mix in minced herbs and garlic. (Herb butter can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill. Re-melt before continuing.) Brush butter over turkey. Tuck wing tips under turkey; tie legs together to hold shape. Cover breast loosely with foil. Roast turkey 1 hour. Baste with remaining herb butter. If there are not a lot of juices in the bottom of the pan, add more chicken broth, ½ c. at a time, so that drippings don’t burn. Roast another two hours, remove foil from breast (unless breast is browning nicely under the foil – if so, then keep foil in place, the shield it provides keeps the breast meat moist). Continue roasting turkey until thermometer inserted into thickest part of the thigh registers 170-175 degrees, (for a total of about 3¾ - 4 hours), basting every 30 minutes or so with herb butter.

    Finishing the turkey and gravy
    Transfer turkey to a large platter. Tent with foil. Pour juices from pan into large glass measuring cup and let sit for a few minutes so fat floats to the top; spoon off fat.

    Set roasting pan over medium heat and whisk in defatted pan juices, stirring up any browned bits. Stir in the gravy and simmer for a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  5. By Stephanie on November 21, 2006 at 11:37AM

    Simple Savory Stuffing
    Stephanie Levy
    Serves 10

    1-14 oz. package cubed seasoned stuffing (Pepperidge Farm, Brownberry, etc.)
    2 Tbsp. soft butter (for pan)
    1 ½ sticks butter
    1 medium onion, chopped
    6 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 tsp. each sage, savory, thyme
    ½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    2 ½ c. chicken broth

    Using the 2 Tbsp. of soft butter, generously butter a glass 9x13 pan and a piece of foil large enough to cover it.

    Melt ½ stick of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion (and mushrooms, if using) and sauté until very soft, 15 minutes (do not brown). Stir in garlic and herbs and sauté briefly, 2 minutes. Put croutons in a large bowl and toss with onion/herb mixture, then parmesan cheese.

    In a small saucepan, bring broth and remaining butter to a boil. Pour over croutons, tossing gently. Transfer to the buttered 9x13 pan and cover with buttered foil. (Can be prepared a day ahead; cover and chill.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, remove foil, and continue baking until crisped on top, another 15 minutes. (If baking cold from the refrigerator, plan an extra 15 minutes while covered.)

  6. By Stephanie on November 21, 2006 at 11:15AM

    Suz, here's what I found for you, for an 8-12 lb. turkey:

    stuffed: 3-3.5 hours
    unstuffed: 2.75-3 hours

    If it's a hen, what's her name? (Mine's a hen...)

  7. By Suz on November 19, 2006 at 7:51PM

    Ok, girlie, I may just forgo the usual turkey bag this year and try your suggestions....this is big for me! I just put my frozen bird the the fridge. My question is, how long shall I roast? I have an 11.53 lb bird---and you KNOW I want to over-roast to make sure it's a DONE DONE DONE Tom Turkey. :-) No salmonella with my tryptophan, thankyouverymuch.