Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Roast Turkey

Holy crap, it's Thanksgiving week already. Sorry for the long hiatus in posting recipes, life pretty much imploded from all angles, so I haven't had a chance to get posts up. Fear not, however -- I've still been baking and cooking, so hopefully I can get some recipes up rapid-fire.

This last weekend was the 3rd annual Thanksgiving dinner I've hosted with friends. I started this my first fall back in Iowa City, mostly because it always looked like so much fun when it happened on sitcoms. Dumb, I know, but occasionally dumb ideas turn out to be delicious traditions! Most family holidays have a milieu of undercurrents running through them and while you love them all, you can't pick your family. Close friends, however, are the family you do get to pick. This isn't a mushy, bffs never fight idea. In fact, this has been one of the most difficult few months I've been through with a few friends -- but at the end of the day, you still choose the family you want at the table and, despite the obstacles, every one of us was there.

Enough gooey sentimentalism, on to the star of most Thanksgiving tables: the turkey! This was the 3rd year I've been in charge of roasting the bird, but the first year I made it without a turkey bag. If you're at all skittish, buy a package of turkey bags and follow the directions -- it's fool-proof. Promise! This year I decided to roast it outside the bag, as warming plastic allows it to leach into your food, which isn't my thing. In addition to an aversion to serving plastic at my table, I also won't serve antibiotics and growth hormones. I dispense those during my clinical rotations, they can stay there. So I picked up my free-range, organic, 15-pound bird from the local co-op two days before the dinner.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure your bird turns out well is make sure it's totally thawed before you start messing with it the day of. While it makes some people nervous, I followed the suggestion of my father, which is to thaw the bird in a cooler with a spoon to prop the lid open just slightly. Terrelle the turkey was in the cooler for around 36 hours when I put him back in the fridge, and there were still crystals on the inside when I started rinsing him out the next day, so a far cry from risking salmonella. I'd recommend checking on the bird every 8 hours if you try this method, because once it's mostly thawed, the turkey needs to go back in the fridge (on a baking pan, if you don't want gross pink slime everywhere!).

There are around 8 bazillion recipes online for how to roast at turkey. After looking through roughly 1/4 of them, I decided on a cross between Alton Brown's and Ina Garten's roast turkeys. Alton's was very well reviewed, but requires brining, which was a little more work than I had time for and was going to require a lot more work to make the gravy. To combine the two, I used Ina's recipe for getting my bird ready and Alton's for cooking times and temperatures. A word of warning -- starting the bird at 500º gives it a beautiful golden brown look, but creates a lot of smoke, so have your range fan on high and a window open. My turkey took almost an hour longer than the time I allotted for it, so make sure to leave yourself plenty of time. Luckily nobody minded eating at 8:15 instead of 7:30.... but not a good idea if you're trying to impress people!

Thanksgiving Roast Turkey
Adapted from Ina Garten and Alton Brown

1 thawed turkey (15 pounds, for this recipe)
1/4 cup butter (1 stick)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 large bunch of thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 onion, quartered
3 heads garlic, halved crosswise
Salt and Pepper

1. Buy and thaw the turkey. Estimate 1-1.5lb/person, more for leftovers or very hungry guests.
2. Preheat oven to 500º
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan, adding the zest and juice of 1 lemon + 1tsp thyme leaves. Set aside.
*I probably used closer to 3 tsp thyme leaves and everyone loved the added flavor
4. Remove whatever is inside the turkey, rinse and pat the outside dry.
5. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan. Salt and pepper the inside of the turkey.
6. Stuff the turkey with a large bunch of thyme, the halved lemon, quartered onion and garlic.
7. Brush the outside of the turkey with the butter mixture, then sprinkle with salt and pepper
8. Roast the turkey for 30 minutes at 500º
9. Turn the oven down to 350º and cover the center of the bird with a double-thick sheet of tin foil (avoid overcooking the light meat!).
10. Roast the turkey until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 161º. A 14-16lb bird should take around 2-2.5 hours *total*.
11. Remove the turkey and let it rest in the pan or on a cutting board for 20 minutes before carving.

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