My friend Kyra, already an acclaimed cooking teacher and baker in Dallas, recently moved to a northern suburb and immediately began writing a food column for the local paper. Her editor, a single man who had nary boiled an egg, appealed for help after he had agreed to provide the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's home. Here's Kyra's equally practical and humorous reply, originally written as an open letter to the paper:
I understand you have volunteered to prepare the turkey for Thanksgiving.
The good news is that it is the easiest part of the menu – the bad news is that it is also the star of the meal – so if you mess up your “goose” is “cooked.”
Here, at your request, are step by step instructions for roasting the BIRD.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
- Check that your refrigerator will accommodate the BIRD which will have to languish there for up to three days awaiting its fate. This probably means that you will either have to eat everything already in the refrigerator, find a friend willing to accommodate your stuff in his/her refrigerator, or buy a second refrigerator. Oh! and check that the bird will fit in your oven. Don’t laugh - some of these new ovens have never heard of Thanksgiving…
- You will need a large roasting pan; if you are not planning on returning to the kitchen anytime soon, buy the disposable foil turkey roasting pan available in most supermarkets.
- You SHOULD use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat is cooked properly unless you buy a turkey with a pop up thermometer - see Purchases, below.
- Buy a lifting rack so that you can lift the roasted bird out of the pan…
- …and you will need a baster.
Buy those NOW – not the day before Thanksgiving
And while you are at it, purchase the BIRD at least 3 days before the Thanksgiving Day .
You have a choice of a frozen bird, the cheapest (remember it needs at least 3 days to defrost in the refrigerator), or you can buy the turkey with the pop up thermometer (a little more expensive but cheaper than a thermometer), or you could invest in a fresh turkey which is best, but will cost you an arm and a leg (actually a wing and a leg).
Have on hand or buy: 2 large onions, carrots, celery, some fresh herbs of your choice, a couple of cans of good chicken stock, and a package of Wondra flour.
PREPARING THE BIRD
Lug the bird home and leave it to thaw (if frozen) in the refrigerator. The day before Thanksgiving, set it in the sink and remove the wrapping. Before throwing away the wrapping make a note of the weight – you will need to know that later.
Look inside the cavities (both ends) and stop wrinkling your nose at the little messy bags of turkey parts you discover hiding in there. Remove the parts from the bags and set them aside – we are going to use them later
Now we name the bird. You cannot do what you are going to do to it without at least giving it a name. And, no, Tom is not very imaginative. How about Bernie this year?
Rinse Bernie inside and out and thoroughly pat dry. A wet bird will not take kindly to all the stuff you are now going to add.
Sprinkle the inside of the cavity with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. You season the inside of the bird since the flavor is absorbed into the carcass. If you season the outside you are just seasoning the skin. Insert the onions halved (leave skin on), 4-5 large carrots, and a 3-4 celery stalks. You can also add a few stalks of the fresh herbs of your choice, which then transforms your bird from “down home” to “gourmet.”
DO NOT PUT STUFFING INSIDE THE BIRD. You run the risk of it never reaching a high enough temperature to kill all bacteria, and it also takes longer for the bird to roast. Bake the stuffing separately.
Return Bernie to the refrigerator.
Thanksgiving morning force yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour and prepare for the last lap:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Be sure you have removed all the oven racks except one, which should be on the lowest rung.
Set BERNIE breast side up on the rack lifter (which you are now glad you bought) and place the whole thing in the roasting pan.
Pour 1/2 cup chicken stock into the pan. Place all the parts, EXCEPT the liver and heart, that came in those messy little bags in the roasting pan to roast along with the bird. The vegetables that are inside the bird, and those "parts," will serve as the base for the excellent gravy you will be making. Much as it grieves me to say this, discard the Bernie’s heart and liver (see Note below). Rub the outside of the bird with oil or butter. If you are using a meat thermometer insert it inside the thigh.
Place a tent of foil loosely on top to ensure the bird roasts evenly.
Roast Bernie for
2 3/4 - 3 hours for 8-12 pounds
3 - 3 3/4 hours for 12-14 pounds
3 3/4 - 4 1/4 hours for 14-18 pounds
Remove the foil tent after 1 1/2 hours and, using the baster, baste Bernie frequently (every 15 minutes) with the pan juices. Add more chicken stock if the liquid is evaporating too fast. The bird should end up with a beautiful, glowing George Hamilton tan.
When Bernie is done (the thermometer temperature should register at least 165 degrees or the little pop up thermometer should have popped up) remove from the oven. Using the lifter (oh boy, you are now REALLY glad you bought that) transfer Bernie to the serving platter and let him rest for 20 minutes.
While Bernie is resting, remove the vegetables and herbs from cavity, chop the vegetables up coarsely, and add them all to the bits in the roasting pan. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon WONDRA flour (which does not lump) into the roasting pan and add another cup of stock to the liquid already in the pan. Using a large spoon, scrape all that good stuff off the bottom of the pan (this is called deglazing if you want to impress the guests) stirring everything together until it is well blended.
Strain the gravy into a saucepan, bring to the boil, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. At this point you can let your culinary talents loose and add some wine or orange juice, correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, and bring back up to the boil.
Serve Bernie up with pride and gravy.
Accept the compliments gracefully and remember that he who does a good job, gets to do it again next year.
Note: If you have a dog, sizzle the heart and liver in a pan and let HIM have a Happy Thanksgiving too.