Let’s Talk Turkey

A Thanksgiving feast is a blessing indeed! Of course, the first time one prepares this meal, the prospect may seem daunting. Here are step-by-step instructions for cooking a deliciously moist turkey with enough gravy to go around.

This traditional recipe came from my New England grandmother, who always prepared enough food for a colonial army. The Pilgrims would have been proud to offer this feast.

Ingredients

1 fresh or frozen turkey (Plan on a pound per person.)
2-3 packages of stuffing mix (or cubed/shredded bread)
2 cups chopped celery
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper
1 can turkey (or chicken) broth or 1 cup hot water
1 stick butter or margarine
1 cube of salt pork
1 cup Wondra or flour
1 large pitcher of warm water
1 bottle Gravy Master or Kitchen Bouquet

Thawing

If you purchased a frozen turkey, you will need to allow 3-7 days for refrigerator thawing. Generally, thawing takes 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of bird. A 20-pound turkey takes 4-5 days to thaw in the fridge, so the process must begin Sunday for a Thanksgiving feast.

Place the entire bird, still wrapped, in a large baking pan in the refrigerator. This will prevent drippings from contaminating your fridge and its contents.

For faster thawing, unwrap the turkey, and fill the pan with cool water. Replace the water every half an hour. Thawing poultry at room temperature is not considered safe.

Preparation

Unwrap the turkey. Remove the package of giblets and gizzards from the body cavity. (Save these for your gravy, or discard them.)

Wipe out the inside of the bird with paper towels.

Spray a large roasting pan with vegetable oil. Spray the rack as well, inside the pan. Place the turkey, round side up, in the pan.

Preheat your oven to 325 F degrees.

Mixing the dressing

Prepare your stuffing, using dried dressing mix. (If you prefer, you can tear or cut up your own crouton-sized bread hunks. Slightly stale or crusty bread works well. An electric carving knife is ideal for this purpose.)

In a huge bowl, combine the shredded or diced bread with chopped celery and onion. Add 2 tablespoons of poultry seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add broth (or hot water) and butter or margarine, and mix with two forks (as if you were tossing a salad).

Stuffing the turkey

Stuff the abdomen and neck by hand immediately before roasting. Do not overstuff, as the dressing with swell while cooking.

Use a heavy tapestry needle and white cotton string to tie the opening closed and prevent the stuffing from falling out while cooking.

Many people choose to bake their stuffing separately from the turkey, as this produces a crunchier dressing. If you mix your stuffing with water (instead of broth) and cook it apart from the bird, this dish may be considered vegetarian.)

A stuffed turkey will require a longer cooking time than an unstuffed one.

Trussing the turkey

Slice the salt pork into thick bacon-like slabs. It is difficult to cut, but slices need not be uniform, as they will be removed before serving.

Pin salt pork slices all over the turkey, right over the skin, with sturdy toothpicks. Pin these on the drumsticks too. When you are finished, the bird will resemble a lady in curlers.

Use heavy-duty aluminum foil to construct a tent over the turkey. Make it loose enough to fit over all of the toothpicks. Cinch the edges tightly around the edges of the pan.

Place a meat thermometer through the foil into the meaty breast area. The thermometer should not touch a bone, as this will prevent you from obtaining proper temperature readings during cooking.

Basting the turkey

One hour before the turkey is done, remove the tin foil and salt pork. Discard these. Use a turkey baster to soak up pan juices and drip these over the entire bird. Baste the drumsticks well too!

Roast the turkey for the final hour uncovered to brown the skin. Baste several times during this period.

Turkey is considered done when the internal temperature reaches 180 F degrees. Allow plenty of time for roasting your bird. Turkey always takes longer to cook than experts say it does.

Finishing the turkey

When the turkey is done, remove it from the roasting pan to a carving platter. Let it sit for at least half an hour before carving and serving. If you wish, you can tent it again with fresh aluminum foil to keep it hot.

Preparing the gravy

Remove the rack from the roasting pan. Put the entire pan over two burners on the stovetop. Cook on medium heat. (Be careful that your gravy does not become spitting hot or scorched.)

Stirring constantly with a whisk, sprinkle Wondra or flour on hot drippings. Stir unceasingly until mixture is pasty. Gradually thin with a pitcher of warm water. Add Gravy Master or Kitchen Bouquet to color gravy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Continue stirring, over low to medium heat, until gravy will be thinned to your desired consistency. Watch closely for this point, so it does not scorch or lump up.

If your gravy becomes too thin, do not add flour directly to the mix, or your gravy will become lumpy and doughy. Instead, remove a cupful to a shaker cup, and add flour to that. Once that is well-blended, you can incorporate it back into the gravy.

If you like giblet gravy, you can chop the giblets in a food processor or blender and add them at this point. (We usually divide the mixture and offer both giblet and plain gravy.)

Serving the turkey

Place your lovely browned bird on display, while you share the blessings. After this, you may remove it for carving and serving.

Storing leftovers

Be sure to remove all leftover stuffing from the bird before storing leftovers. Pack meat, stuffing, gravy and other dishes separately.

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