Year’s ago, I read Adelle Davis’ advice on how to cook a turkey, and I’ve been cooking it that way ever since. Now, that advice is more than half a century old, and it still makes for a great feast! Yes, you can brine. Yes, you can fry. Yes, you can smoke. But with this method, you don’t need specialized equipment, and you’re unlikely to set anything on fire. Plus, the breast meat doesn’t dry out, and you don’t need to worry about basting. Your turkey will be moist and flavorful. I promise. More about that method in a bit.
Make sure you’ve got the best quality turkey available, and if you’re reading this, maybe you’ve bought a turkey from us, so you’ve already done that.
You’re picking up your turkey the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It will be fresh. Maybe it’ll be ice-packed, and a little hard, but it won’t be frozen all the way through.
When you Get Home: T-Minus 24-48 hours
When you get home, remove turkey from the plastic. Wash it out under the tap. Pull out any remaining feather stubs out of the turkey skin. Remove neck and giblets (heart, gizzard, liver), which are usually in a little baggy inside the cavity. I broil the liver and eat it right away. You can freeze it, or even use it in some stuffing recipes. You can chop the giblets and gizzard for soup, or put those in the freezer, too, if you don’t want to be bothered at Thanksgiving. Pat the turkey dry (if you want a crispy skin, this is imperative!)
Even the most flavorful bird isn’t naturally… very flavorful! Not like beef, at any rate. So you want to add some flavor. Here, you can let your imagination run wild. Want a Persian turkey with sumac and cumin? Go for it!
But I’m a traditionalist. If you are, too, here’s what to do.
In a little bowl, mix a tablespoon or two each of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (I use dried herbs because it’s easier for me) together with about 8 crushed garlic cloves and ½ C olive oil. Rub inside and out turkey. Cut another few garlic bulbs into slivers and with a sharp knife make some inserts into the meaty portions of the turkey. Insert slivers everywhere. Put seasoned bird into pan and cover, or alternatively, put seasoned bird into a clean, plastic garbage bag. Store turkey in frig, or if the weather is cold enough, in garage or on a porch. [Editor’s note: beware wildlife!] If weather is too cold, store in frig so your turkey doesn’t freeze!
Of course remember to wash your work area with hot soapy water, and take the same care you do after working with and handling any poultry. Wash your hands too!
Allow turkey to mellow at room temp about two hours. Preheat oven to 400 F. You’ll want to cook your turkey breast-side down on the bottom of a rack over a sturdy roasting pan big enough to catch all the drippings. Cooking the turkey breast down means the skin over the breast won’t be so brown, but as your turkey roasts, juices will fall down and baste breast, so you don’t have to. (Of course you can turn turkey up towards the end so breast will brown.)
The Adelle Davis Method
Davis said to cook your turkey at 400 F for the first hour, and then turn the oven to warm (225 F). Walk away and leave your turkey in the oven the whole day. 6 hours, 8 hours, 9 hours. Same delicious result.
Cooking time is about 15 minutes for every pound. For a 15 lb turkey, put your bird into that 400 F for the first 1/2 hour. Then you can reduce the heat to 350 F for the next 2 hours. Then reduce the heat further to 225 F for the next hour to hour and a half. Baste every couple of hours with juice from pan. Either method, your turkey will be brown and succulent. Never dry. Best ever!
To brine a turkey
Our old head chef, Amanda, taught us to dissolve 1 C salt, 1 C natural sugar in warm water in a pot on stove. Add 2 oranges quartered, 2 lemons, 6 sprigs fresh thyme, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, 2 gallons water. Let this mixture sit overnight, or make a full day before you brine turkey in solution for six to thirty-six hours. On Thanksgiving, remove turkey from brine and roast either way above. When you remove your bird from the oven, let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Turn the turkey breast side up to carve.
Cook the turkey stuffing separately, if you make one (my family never did because my mom liked to roast potatoes, yams, parsnips, carrots instead, and make a separate lentil/wild rice or other whole grain pilaf on the stovetop. In any case, don’t put your stuffing in the turkey cavity because it’s easier without it inside to cook the turkey more evenly, and is less labor intensive to boot! While many people close up the turkey cavity with either string (not nylon string!) or metal skewers and tie the legs together, which does result, I have to admit, in a better looking bird for presentation, I can’t be bothered. I pop the whole thing into the roasting rack and let Mr. Turkey sit there comfortably.
How Big of a Bird?
Need help figuring out how big a turkey to get? Typically, plan on a pound and a half of turkey per person. I like to go with a larger turkey because it makes a fantastic presentation, and because I like leftovers. After the meal, when the turkey is still warm, it’s a snap to pull meat off the bones and put into baggies and then pop into the freezer for wonderful soups or sandwiches the rest of the winter.
I don’t use a meat thermometer. If you do, insert deep into the thickest part of the turkey breast or thigh. White meat in the breast should be 161° F. My method is to lightly spear breast with a knife. The juices should run clear, not pink. The most common mistake is over-cooking because a turkey keeps cooking for an hour after it’s out of the oven.
May your Thanksgiving be delicious and spent with those you love. May your home be fragrant, and may there be light, health and happiness. From all of us here at the store. Debra and the gang.