What do you traditionally serve for dinner at Thanksgiving and Christmas? In many houses across America the answer is turkey.
Thanksgiving is always at my house and the whole gang is in attendance. I have been cooking the meal for years and have experimented plenty. We've grilled the turkey, fried it, smoked it and roasted it. We've done it all. It's always fun because everyone want to partake and help with the meal.
And thank goodness for helpers. It's the one time of the year that "too many cooks in the kitchen" is no problem. The potatoes need to be mashed, rolls need to be baked, the gravy needs to thicken, the beer and wine need to be opened. I'm lying...it's already opened. We've been enjoying the day with a few cocktails and shrimp appetizers.
Christmas is another story. I have the night off. My sister and her husband handle the culinary duties and I get to be the taste tester. Turkey is customary at Thanksgiving but not always at Christmas which is why turkey duty falls to me.
My family loves it because turkey day starts the night before with the brine. It continues the next morning with preparing the turkey and giblet gravy. I have perfected the gravy over the years with the help of my family members who have shown me their skills in the kitchen. I have learned from the best.
If Christmas were celebrated at my house I'm certain I would be on turkey duty. After all, I do make a yummy turkey. My methods can be used any time of the year. Many times I will opt for a fresh turkey breast if I don't want to cook the entire bird.
So let's get started. First you'll need a fresh turkey. You may even need to order one from the grocer to be sure you get one big enough to feed all your guests. It's better to have too much turkey than too little. Plus there always need to be leftovers. A great rule of thumb is - one pound of turkey per person.
Starting with the brine, pick up a few items at the grocery store to make brining super easy. Pick up Reynolds oven cooking bags and a 12-bottle box from the wine department for the brining supplies.
Here is what you'll need:
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- Cold water
On the stove top heat two cups of water, the salt, sugar, cinnamon stick and bay leaves until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove the brine from the heat.
Line the wine box with a large Reynolds oven cooking bag. Remove the giblets from inside the turkey and set aside. Place the turkey in the cooking bag and add the brine and enough water to cover the bird. Add a layer of ice cubes, about two cups. Tie up the cooking bag.
Place the turkey outside overnight if the temperature is between 30 and 35°. Otherwise use the crisper drawer of your refrigerator instead of the wine box. Let the turkey brine for at least eight hours or overnight. Once the turkey is done brining, rinse the bird and pat dry with a few paper towels and place it in a roasting pan.
To prepare the turkey: You'll need a fresh turkey. Choose a large enough size to feed your family leftovers. Here's what else you need:
- 3 cups turkey stock
- 1/2 apple, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- Handful fresh parsley
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Dried sage, thyme, and poultry seasoning
Make sure you have a large enough pan to roast the turkey. I have a high-quality roasting pan that fits about a 12-pound turkey. I always buy a disposable pan at the grocery store when picking up my turkey and other supplies. Nobody wants to have to clean up their oven in addition to all the other dishes that need to be cleaned up. Always make sure your roasting pan is big enough for your turkey.
Adjust your oven racks accordingly and preheat your oven to 350°F. Fill the cavity of your turkey with sliced onion, fresh parsley and apple quarters. Melt a quarter stick of butter and brush the top of your bird using a pastry brush. Sprinkle dried sage, thyme, poultry seasoning, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper over the bird.
Place your turkey in the oven and cook accordingly based on the size your turkey. A 20-pound turkey will take 3.5 hours in a convection oven or 4 hours in a standard oven. Also, if your turkey has an instant popper, it's a pretty good indication your turkey is done if the popper has popped. I always tent the top of the turkey with foil once it has browned for about an hour.
Always check the temperature of your turkey with a thermometer in the deepest part of the thigh. The temperature should register at 160°F. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
For the stock, you'll need:
- 2 cups cups of water
- 2 cups turkey stock
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 rib of celery
- 1 handful parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns
- 1 carrot, sliced
- turkey neck & giblets
On the stove top, heat to medium-size pot to a gentle boil with the above ingredients. Reduce heat to a low, and let the stock simmer for about an hour.
Strain the stock and remove the solids, saving the liquid and the chopped meat from the neck.
Makes 1 1/2 cups of stock
To prepare the gravy you'll need:
- 6 tablespoons of flour
- 3 cups of canned turkey stock
- 6 tablespoons of turkey fat
After the turkey has finished cooking transfer it to a cutting board and let the turkey rest before carving. Now let's make the gravy.
Pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a large measuring cup or fat separator if you have one. The fat should float to the top of the cup. If using a regular measuring cup you'll use a spoon to skim off all the fat reserving it in a separate bowl.
Return the drippings and the prepared stock to the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan over two burners and use a wooden spoon to scrape all the bits from the bottom of the roasting pan. Add enough canned turkey stock to the pan to measure 6 cups.
Heat 6 tablespoons of the reserved fat in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to create a roux, about 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the juices from the roasting pan. Boil until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the gravy with the turkey.
Enjoy dinner and if you can have someone else do the dishes. Happy Holidays!
Makes 6 cups of gravy. Serves 12 or more.