This is not a recipe. This is just an overview of how I make roasted turkey, with tips gleaned from decades of doing it up to three times a year. This might be (is) more work than many people can afford to put into a meal, but I hope there are ideas and guidelines everyone can use.
I take all food seriously, but I take a roast turkey more seriously than most other foods. And I take my Christmas turkey as gospel. So, after multiple requests (ok, one, but it got recommends!) I am here to discuss my ultimate-ish turkey. I am not here to discuss fancy turkey buying options or exotic ingredients, but I am talking some pretty serious dedication to the full turkey meal. A great turkey has fabulous stuffing, marvellous gravy, and makes many many meals.
2 weeks before: Think. Plan. Read this through several times. What kind of stuffing* do you want? What vegetables will you make? Check your cupboards for: wide foil, good roasting pan, a really BIG bowl, a baster, herbs (see below), skewers, butchers string, potato masher, a platter, sharpen your knives (don’t just hone them, get them sharpened), a stock pot (if you make turkey stock, which you should) and anything else. A jar with a lid, for gravy. A meat thermometer.
*my stuffing varies every time, but always consists of
A little bread (torn, not cubed. It makes a better textured stuffing)
A little meat (sausage, turkey liver, bacon, nut meats like chestnut or walnuts or pecans)
Something savoury (onions, herbs etc.)
Something sweet (apples, dried apples, craisins, white wine, apple juice)
1 week before: make your shopping list. Turkey, onions, carrots, celery, herbs, bread, butter, mayonnaise maybe, vegetables, potatoes, maybe cream, cranberries, an orange, stuffing ingredients, stock if needed, wine etc. Think hard. Clear some space in your fridge.
5 days before: buy frozen turkey and 2 loaves unsliced bread, onions, carrots, celery, potatoes . . . everything you need except sandwich bread. You are planning to have sandwiches, right? Also, buy cranberries and an orange with good peel. And a really good chicken or turkey stock, if there’s none in your freezer already. Put the turkey BREAST DOWN on newspaper on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Leave it that way until the day you cook, it will help keep the breast moist.
4 days before: Make cranberry sauce. Wash the orange and zest it. Squeeze the juice into a measuring cup, and fill to one cup with water. Dump cranberries, liquid and 3/4 cup sugar in a pot. Cook on medium until it boils and the berries make a popping sound. Stir all the time. Mash up a bit with potato masher. After five minutes, take off the heat and stir in orange zest. Let cool, and refrigerate.
3 days before: Make poultry seasoning. Seriously. Using fresh or whole leaf dried herbs (never the ground ones) mix 2 parts sage, 1 part rosemary , 1 part thyme, 1/2 part oregano and a pinch each of nutmeg and fresh ground black pepper. If using fresh herbs, finely mince everything and refrigerate it. If using dried leaf herbs, grind it in a mortar and pestle and save it in a bag or covered plastic container.
2 days before: check how the bird is thawing. If it is still solid, put it on the counter for a few hours BUT DO NOT FORGET IT OR LEAVE IT OUT LONG. Break your bread loaves into large chunks and loosely cover the bowl. You want your bread stale enough to tear so it doesn’t form pellets
1 day before: thaw up to six cups of stock (for stuffing and for great gravy). Get out that huge bowl you made sure you have and tear (do not cube) the now stale bread into pieces. Loosely cover it. Chop say 2 medium onions, 1 rib celery, etc. for your stuffing. If using dried fruit in your stuffing, put a cup or so in a half cup of white wine to get plump and oh so very tasty. Chop your nuts, about a half cup if you use them. Or make sure your sausage or bacon is thawed. Serve a meal with mashed potatoes, make enough for two meals (they microwave hot really well, and you wouldn’t believe how much easier this makes the turkey meal go!) prep your vegetables if they are fresh and not frozen. Buy bread and other necessities for leftover sandwiches.
Day of: IMPORTANT NOTE!!! ALL TIMES ARE FOR A 12-13 POUND STUFFED TURKEY AND A PROJECTED MEAL TIME OF ABOUT 6PM
11:30-1pm Prepare kitchen, clear and clean counters and sink. Get out butchers cord, skewers, cutting board and knife, roasting pan, big fry pan. Take the turkey out of the fridge. Cut the metal closure off and upend the bird in your sink to drain. Get a small bowl ready. Cut open the rest of the wrapper and reach inside the turkey for the neck and giblets. Put the liver on your cutting board and the neck, heart and gizzard in the bowl. Set aside.
Make the stuffing: Cut the liver into tiny pieces and start it sautéing in butter. Or chop and cook your sausage or bacon. Add most of the onion/celery mix (saving some for the gravy stock to follow). Cook until the liver (or other meat) is no longer pink and your vegetables are soft. Toss in a pinch of salt, fresh ground pepper and about a tablespoon of poultry seasoning. Add the wine soaked fruit and cook for a minute until the harsh alcohol scent is gone, but most of the liquid remains. Now get your big bowl of breadcrumbs. Add the nuts, another tablespoon of poultry seasoning and your cooked mix. Toss really well. If it seems a bit too dry, carefully sprinkle in some stock. Smell it. If you can just sense the seasoning, you’ve got enough and you’re ready to stuff the bird.
Preheat oven to 325F. Check your turkey and remove any stray feather quills. Remove any large chunks of fat, and rub them on your roaster, PARTICULARLY on the sides where the wings might touch. Leave them in the pan. Stuff some of your stuffing up under the neck skin, and skewer the skin to the bird. Turn it breast side up and stuff the main cavity. Ties up the legs and if needed “sew” any skin gap with skewers. Tuck the wing tips underneath and place the turkey in the oven. It should be almost 1pm.
1-1:30 Make great gravy stock. Heat some (just a splash, maybe a tablespoon) of oil in a large pot (not a stockpot, just what you’d make mashed potatoes in). Brown the neck, heart and gizzard on all sides. Turn down to low and add the rest of your celery and onions, some carrots or parsnips if you have some, and all the rest (6 cups or so) of your stock. Yes, you are making double stock. Yes, it is absolutely worth it. Once that is at a low simmer, look to see if your turkey needs basting. Put any extra stuffing in a greased casserole and refrigerate.
1:30-4:30. Tidy kitchen, baste the turkey every 30 minutes, wash and put away dishes, disinfect counters, taps, fridge handle etc with good soap or hydrogen peroxide. Set table.
4:30-5:30 Strain the neck and stuff out of your double stock. Set stock aside to cool, and wash the pot. You’ll need it for gravy. Get yesterday’s mashed potatoes ready to microwave, and your vegetables ready to cook. Keep a good eye on the turkey, checking it with a meat thermometer every baste. It should be ready by 5-5:15. Take it out. Put your stuffing casserole in the oven. Let the bird rest for 15 minutes.
5:30 WHIRLWIND TIME, FORTIFY YOURSELF WITH WINE!!!
Carefully move your turkey from the pan to a big cutting board (or foil on the counter if you need to). Tent it loosely with wide foil. Pour all the juices into your gravy pan. Pour all but 1 cup of your stock into the roaster and scrape up all the gooby bits. (This has the side benefit of starting to clean your roaster). Pour this into your gravy pot and start it on a very low boil. Put the last cup of stock and 1/4 cup of flour (I use Robin Hood Easy Blend because it seldom lumps) in a clean jar, and shake the dickens out if it. There, I knew I’d work Dickens into this somewhere! Slowly stir your flour mix into your gravy and quickly whisk out any lumps. Stir until it thickens, then turn it to low and stir occasionally while you remember everything else. Get a big dish ready for the stuffing. Cut the skin and stuffing part off the back, and scrape the stuffing into the bowl. Cut the legs apart and get ALL the stuffing out of the cavity. Stir the gravy. Cook your vegetables. Reheat your mashed potatoes in the microwave. Leave the potatoes and veg in the microwave (it’s insulated and it’s out of your way) to keep warm for a minute while you get the last of the stuffing out of the oven and mix it with the rest, carve turkey, fill the gravy boat, get the cranberry sauce, light candles and pour wine. I plate the food in the kitchen and bring gravy and sauce to the table.
Sometimes, I even have enough energy left to eat. And then I coast for two-three days.