Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Are you prepared for the biggest family meal of the year? Preparing a turkey can be daunting, resulting in a dry bird. Here are six easy steps to make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey!
1. Purchase your turkey. I generally recommend 12-20 pounds, so you have plenty of meat for the big meal and leftovers for sandwiches, other recipes, and adding to homemade soups. If you have a frozen turkey, defrost it in the original plastic wrapping in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. Allow 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey to thaw. If you are in a hurry, defrost in a large sink of cold water; make sure to turn the turkey and add fresh cold water often.
2. Remove the wrapping on the turkey and remove the neck and gizzards from inside the turkey. Do not rinse the bird. Instead, wipe the bird inside and out with a damp paper towel. Loosen the skin under the breasts, thighs, and legs to prepare for the marinade.
3. Next, prepare the marinade and mopping mixture. To do so, combine 3 oz. of canned frozen orange juice concentrate, 2 oz. water, 1-½ oz. honey, and 1 oz. cooking sherry. Smear the marinade on the inside loosened skin. (I usually do this with kitchen gloves, so I don’t have the marinade up to my elbows.) Use a food syringe and fill the bulb with the mixture. Inject the mixture into the breast and thighs, under the skin. Truss the turkey with the legs tied together using kitchen string.
4. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan with a dripping rack. Add at least 1 cup of liquid, such as chicken broth, to the bottom of the pan so it does not burn. Keep plenty of broth on hand to periodically replenish the liquid, as needed, throughout the cooking.
5. Preheat the oven and bake at 325 F for at least 20 minutes per pound until the meatiest part of the thigh, not touching bone, reads 180 degrees or the breast registers 165 F. Mop the outer skin with the marinade every 30 minutes and add drippings to the marinade as needed. Tent the turkey with foil to keep the skin from burning. If the turkey is taking longer to cook at these temperatures, be patient and continue to cook. Remove the foil during the last 30 minutes of cooking for the skin to brown. To test whether the turkey is done, cut into the leg joint to ensure there is no red meat.
6. For the final step, prepare the gravy. Gravy mixes are sold in packets or jars, but I prefer to make them from scratch. To do so, move the turkey to a cutting board and cover it with foil to keep it warm. Next, pour the drippings into a fat separator glass cup. If you do not have this type of cup, pour the drippings into a large measuring cup and place it in the freezer for 15 minutes. This will allow you to spoon off the fat from the top and discard it.
Place the roasting pan on the stovetop to cover 2 burners back to back. Pour the dripping from the spout of the separator cup (be careful not to let the fat at the top mix into the drippings). Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour into the pan. Whisk the mixture and bring the contents to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking sherry and/or red wine and 1 teaspoon of kitchen bouquet. Taste and continue to add wine/sherry and seasonings as necessary. Add additional broth as needed. Cook until thickened, adding more of the flour mixture if needed.
That’s it! Six steps to the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Now, slice and enjoy. Save the extra meat for sandwiches and soup, and never toss the carcass. Store it in a plastic bag in your freezer until you are ready to prepare stock, which is the perfect base for making homemade turkey broth for soups and cooking.
Don’t miss these recipes that will put the finishing touch to your perfect Thanksgiving turkey dinner: