Did you know that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the National Bird? It’s true. I know it seems weird, but if you know anything about wild turkeys, you know they are some pretty Bad Birds. They’re cagey, brave, and unafraid. Not at all like the domesticated birds we consume on Thanksgiving and Christmas. And they’re not at all easy to hunt. Even with a gun, it’s tough, but if you want a serious challenge, try hunting them with a bow.
Thankfully, we don’t have to do that today. If we did, I’d starve, and so would a lot of you, so stop laughing. Today, all we have to do is visit our Friendly Grocer and pick out a bird. That’s my kind of hunting.
Let’s be serious for a minute. This is important. It’s your holiday feast and you want it to come out perfect! So do I, so we’ll forego any further Tom-Foolery. Since leaving my parent’s home, I’ve sampled close to a hundred turkeys and I’m pretty sure every one of them was done a bit differently. Likewise, I’ve cooked a lot of my own birds. Over the years, I’ve perfected the recipe. And I’m pleased to say I’m ready to share it with you.
You’ll notice this time around I’m using fresh herbs. It’s true they’re more expensive, but this is a feast, a special occasion, a time to do our best and put as much love into it all as we possibly can. And that means fresh herbs. This is also going to take some time. If you’re using this recipe for Thanksgiving 2013, you should already have your turkey in the fridge defrosting. If you’re serving in the afternoon, you can expect to take up a slice of your morning. How early that slice has to be will depend on the size of your turkey and when you want to serve it. I’ll go into that in detail in the notes after the recipe. For now, let’s take a look at what you’ll need to roast a Manly Turkey and how you’ll get it done.
1 12-15 lb. turkey (fresh is best)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large bunch (each) fresh herbs:
Tops of 1 bunch of celery + 2 stalks
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
As noted above, fresh is best, but you can still do this with a frozen bird. If needed, defrost frozen turkey for several days. Plan on five hours of defrost time for every pound of turkey. Therefore, a 12 pound turkey requires 60 hours – two and a half days – to defrost. A fifteen pound bird takes at least three days, and a twenty pound bird will take another day at least. For twenty pounds, adjust amounts accordingly.
Let turkey rest in a large pan on the counter for two hours before cooking. This recipe is for a fifteen pound bird.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the juice of one lemon and 1 teaspoon each of chopped parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme leaves to the pan, stirring to get everything happy. Set aside. Yes, you can sing the song while you do this.
Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
He once was a true love of mine
There’s a great video of Celtic Women performing it here.
Get the turkey out of the package and remove everything from the cavities – mainly the giblets, but just check carefully to be certain. Remove any blobs of excess fat, and check the skin for any leftover pinfeathers. That stuff is nasty, and you don’t want it anywhere near your finished turkey.
Rinse the turkey thoroughly inside and out. VERY thoroughly. When you think you’re done, do it again just to be certain. Then pat the outside dry.
Cut a lemon in half, and rub the inside of the main cavity with one half. Sprinkle a good portion of salt and pepper in the cavity. Place turkey in a roasting pan (and a rack, if you have one) and set aside.
Roughly chop the onion, carrots, and celery. Cut the whole head of garlic in half, across the center (crosswise). Cut the two lemon halves into quarters. Put everything in large bowl. Add bunches of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme while singing the song again. Stir it all up so it’s all nice and happy.
Take everything in that bowl and pack the cavity of the turkey. There’s also a smaller cavity under the neck flap and you can pack that, too, if you like. I always do.
Tie the legs together, if needed. Some turkeys have the legs already tied or otherwise secured, in which case you don’t need to worry. For best results, use butcher’s string to truss the wings tight to the body, as well as the legs. I found a video that shows you how to do this: View it here.
Brush outside of turkey with butter mixture – everywhere you can.
For best results insert TWO thermometers – one if the thickest part of the breast, the other in the thickest part of the thigh – but nowhere near the bone. You’ll need these to determine when your turkey is done properly. Even if your bird has one of those little pop-up thingies to tell you when it’s done, use your own. I’ll explain in a paragraph or two.
Now, turn the entire turkey upside down, breasts on the bottom. I know! It’s weird, right? It also works really, really well. Place the bird in the oven and roast at 400° for just a half an hour – and no more! Baste the turkey with the butter again, and reduce heat to 350°. Roast for another two hours. Feel free to baste every thirty minutes. It will add a bit of time, but it’s worth it. After two hours at 350°, baste again and reduce heat again to 225° and roast another hour or so.
The turkey is done when the thigh reaches 170° and the breast reaches 160°. This is actually 5° lower for each reading than you want, but the meat will continue to cook and the temps will come up at least 5° in the next few minutes. But we want to flip the turkey over for the last few minutes so the skin is browned. What I do is to keep an eye on my thermometers and flip my turkey when temps reach 160° and 150°. When they get there, I take the turkey out of the oven, flip it over (using heat proof mitts), baste it and put it back in the oven at 500°. The temperature will come up very quickly and the skin will brown beautifully. Watch the skin! If it is browned up and you still haven’t reached final temps, baste heavily and tent with foil. Reduce heat to 350° and go for another few minutes to get to your final temperatures are 170° and 160°.
Remove turkey from oven and tent with foil (if you haven’t already done it). Let turkey sit for 15 to 20 minutes while you get everything else ready. This lets the juices reabsorb into the meat for the juiciest possible result. This is very important, so don’t just yank the poor thing out of the oven and start hacking away at it. You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create a masterpiece. Don’t mess it up by being impatient at the last minute.
After the turkey has rested, remove foil and carve. If you’re serving it to the table to carve there, I’m proud of you! I don’t, preferring to deal with this task on a counter with maximum room. I’ll still show off the turkey, but then I’ll take if back to the counter for carving. If, however, you’re going to do it at the table, it’s up to whether or not to empty the cavities of everything you put in there for roasting.
Serve with gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and all the rest.
As I mentioned in the list of ingredients, a fresh turkey is best. I strongly encourage you to investigate long before you’ll need to purchase. Some stores will allow you to reserve a turkey of the appropriate size.
Speaking of size, the general rule of thumb is one pound of turkey for every person to be served. If you’ll be feeding hearty appetites, plan on up to a pound and a half per person, and even more if you want to make certain you have a lot of leftovers. There are a ton of things you can do with the leftovers and I like to make as many as possible over the next several days. So, personally, I go with two pounds per person and I’m a Happy Boy!
The roasting times above are based on a fifteen pound bird. If you’re doing anything much larger, you’ll have to plan on a longer cooking time. Add time at 350° and 225°, but not at 400°.
The reason I turn the turkey upside down for most of its roasting is so that juices will collect in the breasts, making them extra juicy. I know it seems pretty strange, but try it! You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re going to make turkey soup out of the carcass, feel free to leave everything in the cavity right where it is when you put it in water. It will just add more flavor to your broth. If you prefer to take it out, that’s not a problem; just go with what makes the most sense to you.
I know this recipe is more complex than just plopping a bird on a rack and throwing it in the oven. It’s also far more flavorful, tender and juicy. It truly is a masterpiece when done with love and patience. Done correctly, it practically guarantees unbridled adoration from your guests and promises of undying love from your sweetheart. The sun will shine a little brighter; the birds will gather in your yard to serenade you, and the children down the street will stop teasing your dog.
Well, maybe not… but at the very least, everyone’s going to love it. So get in there and…
Play with your food!
I have more Poultry Recipes here.
Did you like this recipe? What recipes would you like to learn? Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts! (And don’t forget to LIKE this post!) Share it using the tiles below.