I was probably 40 years old before I cooked my first Turkey Dinner. Up until that point, Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey dinner was something my Mom did. When she announced one year that she was tired of doing the dinner, I knew it was my time to step up and do it.
As fate would have it, as I faced the challenge of my first turkey dinner, my monthly subscription to Canadian Living arrived and featured a wonderful “Turkey 101” article. I followed it to the letter and produced (if I do say so myself) a pretty impressive turkey (and dressing and gravy).
In the years since, I’ve pulled out the stained, printed copy of these instructions every time I do the turkey and I’m never disappointed. These instructions make a wonderful, traditional turkey and I’m documenting them here just in case I ever lose those stained instructions and for the benefit of anyone else facing their first turkey challenge.
Roast Turkey 101
15 lb (6.75 kg) turkey
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup butter
2-1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup each chopped celery and fennel (or 2 cups just celery, which is what I use)
4 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried savory
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp.dried thyme
14 cups cubed white bread (I usually buy a day-old, unsliced bakery white bread)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
4-1/2 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 cups dry white wine or water (approx)
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper
(Makes 8 to 10 servings. Calculate about 1 lb. of turkey per person to allow for shrinkage and bones — a little more if you’re intent on leftovers.)
If you have bought a frozen turkey, make sure you take it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator 2 days before you plan to cook it. It takes a surprisingly long time for turkeys to thaw and this is best done in the fridge. If you need to speed up the process, the only safe way to thaw it is to place it in it’s wrapping in a sink full of cold water, changing the water frequently.
Prepare the Stuffing:
(I like to do this the night before I plan on cooking the turkey. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to stuff the turkey).
Tear bread into small pieces (about 1 inch x 1 inch) and place in a large bowl.
In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onions, celery and all the spices and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Take the pan off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Pour the mixture over the cubed bread and stir to distribute with the bread. This is where you need to get your hands dirty! Dig in with your hands and “squeeze” the mixture together, so that the butter mixture gets right in to the bread.
If making ahead, place mixture in a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to stuff. If not, let cool before stuffing turkey.
Stuffing the Turkey:
When you’re ready to stuff and cook the turkey, remove the wrapping. Pull out the neck from one cavity and place it in a large saucepan. From the other cavity, remove the bag of giblets. Cut open the package and place organs into the saucepan with the neck.
Rinse turkey inside and out and pat dry. Place in large, shallow roasting pan (with sides only 2 to 3 inches high). Do not use a lid! That would produce a “steamed” turkey, not a roast one. Roasting is cooking with dry heat, which is why it should be covered as little as possible. The foil only prevents over- browning of the skin.
Stuff the neck opening (try not to pack too tightly) and when full, tuck the legs back under the neck flap. You can also place any leftover stuffing in the back cavity or put in foil to cook separately (add a bit of chicken stock to the packet for moisture).
Combine butter, sage and thyme and brush over turkey. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tent the turkey with foil (dull side out) leaving the sides open.
(Make stock once turkey is in the oven. See instructions below).
Roast in a 325° F. oven for 4 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Remove foil and roast for 1 hour more or until thermometer in thigh reads 180° F. and stuffing reaches 165° F. I don’t have a thermometer, but I find a good test of done-ness is to wiggle the wing. If it “resists” it needs more time. If it’s very loose (and seems you could easily pull it off), it’s done!
Remove from oven and transfer to serving plate. Tent loosely with foil and let stand 30 minutes.
Once turkey is in the oven, add stock to saucepan with turkey parts. Add wine, onions, celery, carrots and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 hours, skimming off any fat. Strain in to a measuring cup. Add enough wine or water to make 3 cups and set aside until turkey is removed from oven.
Once turkey is cooked and removed to the serving plate, allow pan and drippings to cool (the secret to lump-free gravy is to start with a cool mixture before adding flour). Skim off fat or use a gravy separator to return just the drippings to the pan. Add flour to pan and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. Whisk in stock and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Whisk in butter and salt and pepper to taste. Strain, if desired.
Photos Canadian Living Magazine