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Need some turkey tips to get you started this holiday season? Use this guide to learn how to thaw, brine, and roast your turkey, with help from chef Molly Stevens. We also include ideas on using local vegetables in your side dishes and a recipe for turkey soup!
Pre-Salting is the Key to a Juicy Bird
Bring your fresh bird home at least two days before Thanksgiving. This will allow time to pre-salt, a simple step that keeps the turkey juicy and intensifies its natural flavors. The salt will gently permeate the meat, improving the water-holding ability of the muscle cells so that, when cooked, the turkey stays juicy yet does not become overly salty.
- (One or two days before Thanksgiving) Remove the giblets from the turkey, and refrigerate them for later use (such as making giblet gravy).
- Pat the turkey dry with towels.
- For a 14 lb bird, sprinkle two tablespoons of kosher salt and one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper liberally all over the turkey, spreading a little in the cavity and being sure to season the back, the breasts, and the meaty thighs. Note: If you’ve never pre-salted before, this may look like too much salt, but it’s not. There is no need to rub the salt under the skin, it will work its way through the meat.
- Cover and return the turkey to the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. If possible, leave the turkey uncovered for the last 8 to 12 hours in the refrigerator to help the skin dry.
Note: when you pull the turkey from the fridge after its salt treatment, the skin will be taut and dry with no trace of salt.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff
Molly is a firm believer not stuffing the turkey: It roasts more quickly and evenly when its cavity isn’t filled. Roast stuffing separately. Of course the choice is yours.
Thawing a Frozen Bird
To thaw in the refrigerator: keep the turkey wrapped and place it in a pan. Let it stand in the refrigerator 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. The giblets and the neck may be removed from the bird near the end of the thawing period. If interested in using the giblets and neck for gravy, refrigerate until you are ready to use.
To thaw in cold water: make sure the turkey is packaged in a leak proof bag to prevent bacteria from being introduced from the surrounding environment and so the turkey does not absorb any water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. Approximately 30 minutes per pound of turkey is required to thaw. After thawing, cook immediately
Molly has tested every single roasting method out there, from roasting at very high heat to flipping the turkey to distribute its juices; and she stands by this reliable method, which requires placing the turkey in a very hot oven, then roasting it at a moderate temperature the whole way through.
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator two hours before roasting to take the chill off and help it cook more evenly.
- Heat the oven to 450°F.
- Tuck the wings behind the neck and tie the tips of the drumsticks together with kitchen string. Arrange the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a sturdy roasting pan.
- Pour 1½ cups of turkey or chicken broth into the pan, and slide the turkey into the oven.
- Immediately lower the heat to 325°F.
- Then let it do its thing, rotating the pan after about one and a quarter hours, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours total. Turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. To check the temperature, insert a food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
- Let stand at least 30 minutes to allow juices to set, making carving easier.
Turkey Roasting Timetable
325°F oven temperature. Times are approximate.
8 – 12 lbs 2 ¾ – 3 hours
12 – 14 lbs 3 – 3 ¾ hours
14 – 18 lbs 3 ¾ – 4 ¼ hours
18 – 20 lbs 4 ¼ – 4 ½ hours
20 – 24 lbs 4 ½ – 5 hours
8 – 12 lbs 3 – 3 ½ hours
12 – 14 lbs 3 ½ – 4 hours
14 – 18 lbs 4 – 4 ¼ hours
18 – 20 lbs 4 ¼ – 4 ¾ hours
20 – 24 lbs 4 ¾ – 5 ¼ hours
Molly’s Homemade Turkey Broth
The secret to good gravy is starting with richly flavored broth. Molly recommends making plenty of roasted turkey broth several days (or weeks, as it freezes well) ahead of time. You’ll need five to six pounds of turkey parts — ideally a mix of necks, wings, and legs — to make enough gravy for 10 to 12 people.
- Pat the parts dry with towels and arrange them in a single layer in a large flameproof roasting pan (use the same one you plan to use for the turkey), and roast in a 450°F oven, flipping them with tongs after 30 minutes, for an hour total, until nicely browned.
- Transfer the roasted parts to a four- or five-quart saucepan.
- Place the original roasting pan over your largest burner (you can use two burners if that’s a better fit), turn the heat to high, and add two cups of water. Bring to a boil, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to dissolve any cookedon drippings, and then pour the liquid into the saucepan.
- Add enough additional water to the saucepan to just cover the turkey pieces; any more can result in a diluted broth. Depending on the shape and size of your pot and turkey parts, you’ll probably need about seven to eight cups of water total. Bring to just below a boil over medium high heat, and immediately lower the heat to a very gentle simmer.
- Skim any foam or scum that rises to the top, and add one large coarsely chopped carrot; one large coarsely chopped yellow onion; one coarsely chopped rib of celery; one-half teaspoon of kosher salt; one-half teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, and one bay leaf. It’s awkward to skim once you’ve added the vegetables and seasonings — since they tend to float to the surface — so don’t bother. As long as you don’t let the broth boil aggressively, it will be clear. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until it has a sweet, rich turkey flavor, 2 ½ – 3 hours.
- When the broth is done, set a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl. (If you don’t have a fine-mesh strainer, line a colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth.) Strain the broth, pushing gently on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can but not so hard as to mash the vegetables—this will cloud the stock and give it a murky flavor.
- Let the broth sit on the counter until it cools to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate for up to four days (or freeze for up to 3 months).
Molly's Turkey Gravy
- When the turkey is done roasting, grab both sides of the roasting rack with oven mitts to lift and tilt the turkey, and let the juices pour from the cavity into the pan. Set the turkey aside, tenting it very loosely with foil, to rest for at least 30 minutes while you tend to making the gravy. (This resting period allows the proteins to cool and firm up, so the turkey better retains its juices when carved).
- Pour all the pan drippings from the roasting pan into a heatproof bowl or 1-quart glass measuring cup, and set it aside. Set the roasting pan over two burners at medium-high heat, and add three-quarters of a cup of dry white wine or dry vermouth and two tablespoons of brandy. Bring to a boil, scraping with a wooden spoon to dissolve any flavorful cooked-on bits, and return the reserved pan drippings to the roasting pan. Simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is reduced by nearly half, about eight minutes. Turn off the heat, and set aside.
- Once the liquid in the roasting pan has settled, spoon off and transfer the surface fat to a medium saucepan, measuring as you go, to make a roux for your gravy. You’ll need about four tablespoons of fat, but every turkey is different, so if you’re short add enough butter to make up the difference. Heat the fat over medium-low heat, and whisk in one third cup of flour until smooth. Cook for about four minutes, until the roux has a light amber color, and then gradually whisk in the reserved pan drippings. Bring to a simmer, and slowly whisk in four cups of warm turkey broth. Let the gravy simmer and thicken, whisking occasionally for about 15 minutes (or more for thicker gravy). Add more broth if needed to get the consistency you like. For a giblet gravy, finely chop the cooked neck meat along with the cooked gizzard and heart, and stir into the finished gravy. Season the gravy with salt and pepper to taste, and keep it warm as you carve the turkey.
Tips for Cooking with Fresh and Local Produce this Thanksgiving
Cranberries 1 pound 4 cups
Fennel 1 pound 3 cups sliced
Mushrooms 1 pound 6 cups sliced
Potatoes 1 pound 2 cups mashed or 3 cups sliced
Pumpkin 1 pound 1 cup
Best pie apples: Baldwin, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, Cortland, Greening’s Rhode Island, Late Belle, Newtown Pippin, Northern Spy, Roxbury Russet
Boil in water with sugar until they pop and the surrounding liquid thickens. Try adding fresh ginger or citrus for extra zip. Cranberries make a great addition to apple pie and other baked goods
Herbs and Other Flavorings
- Herbs to flavor squash or turkey = tarragon, rosemary, fennel
- Herbs to flavor stuffing = thyme, sage, walnuts, chestnuts or try our pre-made “bouquet garni” made with rosemary, thyme and sage.
- Other herbs to consider: mint, oregano, chives, marjoram and basil.
- Jewel sweet potatoes are great for roasting and baking. For added flavor, try roasting with parsnips, turnips, celeriac and rosemary.
- Garnet sweet potatoes are sweeter and darker than Jewels and are great for mashing.
- Best potatoes for mashing: Yukon, Chef, Yellow Finn, German Butterball
- Try mashing turnips, celeriac or parsnips with your potatoes for a savory change of taste
- Winter squash absorbs water readily so better to steam or roast then boil
- For hard-to-peel squash and pie pumpkins: cut in half, cut-side-down on baking sheet, scoop out insides.
- Try using maple syrup, cider or ginger jack as a flavoring for winter squash.
This Thanksgiving, don’t miss the chance to savor yet another meal from the day’s plentiful food by making turkey soup. It’s delicious and easily made with leftovers.
1 meaty turkey carcass
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, sliced
2 large carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, sliced or ½ diced celeriac root
¼ cup brown or white rice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Put turkey in a 5 or 6-quart pot and add enough cold water to cover by 3 inches (break up the bones, if necessary). Add vinegar and plenty of salt and pepper (to taste). Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam. Reduce heat and simmer gently, partially covered, for 3 to 4 hours, or as much time as allows. Allow broth to cool. Pour broth through a colander into a large bowl. Remove meat and add to broth and discard bones. Reheat, adding onions, carrots, celery, and rice and simmer until vegetables are tender and rice is cooked, about 30 minutes for brown rice or 20 minutes for white. Just before serving, test for seasoning and stir in chopped parsley.
Variation: For an Asian-style soup, add to the broth 1 ½ cups coconut milk, ¼ teaspoons dried chili flakes, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, and cilantro instead of parsley.