How to Roast a Turkey
It occurred to me that many of you who are new to the United States have probably never roasted a turkey. In fact, I suspect many native Americans haven’t done it either! So, just in case that’s something you’d like to do…
Choosing a turkey: You can buy turkeys frozen or fresh from the supermarket, often at a very attractive price around Thanksgiving. You can also buy fresh organic, Kosher, Halal or Amish turkeys. These birds are more expensive and some have to be ordered in advance. I have tried all different kinds, and I like a fresh turkey, usually Amish, often from Knight’s Market in Ann Arbor, but I also like to buy one of the cheap turkeys to put in the freezer for later.
Once you’ve figured out what kind of turkey to buy, you have to decide what size. The common wisdom is that you need 1.25 pounds of turkey per person (because of the bones, fat, etc.), which means for 12 people you need a 15-pound turkey. I’ll base my instructions on that size turkey. If you buy a frozen turkey, you’ll have to thaw it. Most experts recommend thawing in the refrigerator, which will take 3-4 days for a 15-pound bird. Before cooking, you need to remove the neck and giblets usually found inside the cavity of the turkey or possibly under the neck flap. I use these parts to make turkey broth for the stuffing and to add to the gravy.
Making the stuffing: Most people make bread stuffing to accompany the turkey, which can be stuffed into the cavity of the turkey or baked separately; I stuff the turkey. There are lots of recipes for stuffing, using all sorts of ingredients from oysters to sausage. This is the recipe I use:
12 cups dried bread cubes 1 cup dried cornbread
4 tablespoons butter 2 cups sliced celery
1 onion, diced 8 ounces fresh mushrooms
2 teaspoons dried sage 2 teaspoons dried thyme
½ cup dried cranberries 1 cup turkey broth
1 ½ teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon pepper
Sautee onions, celery and mushrooms in melted butter. Combine with rest of ingredients. The stuffing will be quite dry, but it will pick up moisture from the turkey while it roasts. Pack the stuffing firmly inside the cavity of the turkey and under the neck flap. Alternatively, if you plan to bake the stuffing separately, you will need to add more moisture to the mixture, place it in a casserole dish and bake alongside the turkey for about the last hour of roasting.
Roasting the turkey: There are lots of ways to roast a turkey, but this is the way I do it. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place stuffed turkey in a roasting pan. Add moisture to the bottom of the pan. I start with about 1 cup cider and 2 tablespoons maple syrup, but you can use whatever you like. I don’t recommend skipping this step, because the turkey drippings can burn if there’s no liquid in the pan. The liquid may need to be replenished if the bottom of the pan becomes dry
I also make a basting sauce with about 1 cup cider and 2 tablespoons maple syrup, which I simmer for a while until it’s slightly thickened. I then add about 3 tablespoons butter, and keep the pan warm while the turkey is roasting. I baste about every hour or so at first, and more often near the end of the cooking time; I use any leftover liquid in the gravy. A 15-pound turkey will need to roast for about 4 hours. If the skin starts to get too dark, you can tent the turkey with foil. If there is a doneness indicator inserted into the breast of the turkey when you buy it, don’t assume the turkey is done when it pops up; those timers are unreliable. Instead, use a meat timer; the turkey is assumed to be done when the breast is 170 degrees and the thigh is 180, although I usually roast until the temperatures are higher.
Serving the turkey: Remove from roasting pan and place on a platter or cookie sheet. Let rest for about 30 minutes while you make the gravy, using the drippings and any leftover broth and basting liquid. Let the liquid boil down for a few minutes to intensify the flavor, then thicken with flour or cornstarch mixed with a little broth or water. Remove stuffing into a serving bowl and keep warm. I like to carve the turkey in the kitchen, but some prefer to present the whole, beautifully browned turkey at the table and carve it there. Traditional accompaniments are mashed potatoes, a fall vegetable like squash or Brussel sprouts, and a cranberry relish, with pumpkin and apple pies for dessert. However, you can serve it with whatever you like.
A different way to cook turkey:
Butterflied Turkey with Apple-Cranberry Glaze
12-pound turkey, butterflied (cut turkey in half along the backbone, either remove the back section or flatten it, and spread turkey out on a cookie sheet breast side up)
3 cups apple cider 1 2-inch piece ginger, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries 1 to 3 dried red chili peppers, optional
1/2 cup maple syrup 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt 4 tablespoons butter, diced
Bring the cider, ginger, cranberries, chiles, maple syrup and vinegar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until thick, whisking occasionally, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375º and roast turkey 1 ½ hours. Continue roasting, brushing with the glaze every 10 minutes, until brown and crisp, about 30 minutes more. Let rest 15 minutes before carving. Heat the remaining glaze with any pan drippings in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the butter. Carve the turkey and serve with the extra glaze.