Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tasty Turkey

Yum. This year's Thanksgiving(s) involved some great turkey. My parents upped the ante this year and made two grilled rotisserie turkeys that were just fabulous. Smokey, moist, and tender, it was everything a great piece of poultry should be.

I made my first ever roast turkey, and as nervous as I was about over-cooking it, or under-cooking it, it turned out magnificent. I can only assume all the butter I stuffed under the skin had something to do with that. Oh yeah, and the bacon. More on that later though.

My friends here in Chicago decided we should have a Chicago Thanksgiving the weekend before the real thing. Steve and I hosted, and everyone brought a dish to share. There was WAY too much food, and way too much wine, oh but it sure was fun.

So back to the bird. When I found out I was going to be hosting Thanksgiving, and therefore making the turkey, I pulled out all my back issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, and scoured them for the perfect turkey recipe. Well I think I may have found it. It wasn't too hard as long as you prepare a few days in advance, and it made for a pretty fool-proof way to get a golden brown, juicy, tender turkey with a boat load of flavor. Butter + Herbs + Bacon + Turkey = YUM. The gravy was equally delicious, and was pretty easy since I made the base a few days ahead of time. There were also mashed potatoes with the gravy, cranberry-pomegranate sauce, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, corn pudding, and of course dressing. And about four desserts. I don't even remember dessert because I was in food delirium from the main meal, I just remember it was good.

I learned a lot about putting on a big meal. I learned that one oven is not enough, and hosting a thanksgiving for 8 in an apartment with no dinner table is challenging. Nevertheless, everything came together, and came out hot, and we all made due snuggled around the coffee table. Getting all the dishes out at the same time and carving a turkey unfortunately meant that I did a horrible job taking pictures of all the side dishes. I pretty much only got pictures of the turkey and the rolls. Oh well, better luck next year huh?

Roast Turkey with Bacon Dijon Herb Butter and Cider Gravy
From Bon Appetit November 2008

Bacon Dijon Herb Butter

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces apple wood smoked bacon (or if your grocery store sucks like mine does, just get the highest quality Oscar Meyer bacon you can find)
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon lemon zest

This is the goodness that will go under the skin of the turkey the day prior to roasting. You can make this up to three days in advance, but you want to make it at least a few hours before putting it in the turkey to give it time to firm up in the fridge.

Put all ingredients into food processor and pulse until bacon is finely chopped.

Transfer butter mixture to a long sheet of plastic wrap. Using the plastic as an aid, roll the butter into a 2 inch diameter log, and seal the plastic wrap to enclose, twisting the ends shut. Place in fridge for at least a few hours and up to three days.

Cider Gravy Base

Neck reserved from turkey (I used a 15 pound turkey, but the recipe is for an 18 pounder)
1/4 cup fat from cavity of turkey
1 whole turkey leg, thigh and drumstick (purchase this separately when you buy your turkey, my butcher only had drumsticks, so I used two)
2 1/2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
6 large thyme sprigs
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
8 cups chicken stock (make sure to use the good stuff here, I used homemade chicken stock, but if you don't have it, spring an extra dollar for the Kitchen Basics boxed chicken stock, its much better than broth)
4 whole sage leaves

This base can be made up to two days in advance. As soon as you pick up your turkey, clean it out and get the neck and the reserved fat out to make the gravy base. It will save you tons of time and a headache on thanksgiving day.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place turkey neck, leg (or legs), and reserved fat into roasting pan and roast until deep golden brown, about an hour and a half, turning once. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup fat for gravy, and returning 1 tablespoon fat back to the pan. Along with the turkey parts, add the celery, onions, thyme, and peppercorns, and roast for 10 minutes. Add the cider and the vinegar, and roast for another 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and sage and cook uncovered for an hour and a half. Strain through a fine sieve and discard solids. You should end up with about 4-5 cups gravy base. Put in a air tight container and chill until ready to use.


1 15-16 pound turkey (again the recipe calls for an 18 pounder, so whatever you end up with will work just fine here, your cooking times may vary depending on the weight)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped fresh fennel bulbs
2 cups chopped peeled carrots
2 cups chopped unpeeled apples (I used granny smith)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup all purpose flour

The preparation for the turkey needs to be done at least one day ahead, and can be done up to two days ahead of time.

Cut the bacon butter log into 1/4 inch slices.

Rinse the turkey inside and out, and pat completely dry with paper towels. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Starting at the neck end, use fingers to gently separate the skin from the meat of the bird. Slide the butter slices under the skin to cover the leg thigh and breast meat. There will be A LOT of butter, this is a good thing, just keep shoving it in being careful not to tear the skin.

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of pepper on outside of bird, and the remaining salt and pepper inside the cavity. Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and chill for at least 24 hours.

Go time! When you are ready to cook the turkey, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine the celery, onions, fennel, carrots, apples, oil, and bay leaves. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place the turkey on top of the vegetable mixture, tuck wings underneath the body, and tie the legs together to hold its shape. Roast turkey until cooked through, about 3.5 hours, or until a thermometer reads 170 degrees when placed in the thickest part of the thigh. Baste every 30 minutes with pan drippings, and if the turkey is browning too much, tent with tin foil.

When the turkey is done, take out of oven and move to a platter, tenting with foil to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Oh the carnage!

Strain what is remaining in the roasting pan through a fine sieve and set aside solids (or serve them as a side dish, my friends were picking at the veggies while we were getting the meal together, also they didn't let me toss them when we were finished, so I threw them into the pot when I made stock the next day. I am glad I didn't throw them away). Separate the fat from the pan drippings (this is when I wish I had a fat separator). Discard fat, and reserve de-greased pan drippings for gravy.

Now its time to get out your gravy base and reserved fat from a few days ago. Re-warm gravy base in microwave. Melt reserved fat in large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until incorporated, about 3 minutes. Gradually add cider gravy base and reserved pan drippings. Simmer until smooth, thick, and reduced to about 5 cups. Season with salt and pepper. Pour all over everything. Yes it is THAT good.

Now dig in!! Who says turkey is only for thanksgiving? Make this for Christmas or any other special dinner event. I am usually not a huge turkey person, but this year has made me reconsider. A thanksgiving turkey CAN be moist, well-seasoned, and deservedly the center of attention at the dinner table. Hope your turkey was as fantastic as ours was! Gobble Gobble!

1 comment:

Martin said...

Bacon + Butter
I can't think of anything more decadent.

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