Every year I entertain the idea of preparing something new and different for our Thanksgiving entrée, besides the traditional roast turkey. Daydreams of slow roasted ham or slow roasting a whole salmon stuffed with fennel and oranges speaks loudly to my culinary senses.
However, I am always met with adamant opposition about such an idea. My family loves a traditional roast turkey dinner with all the traditional side dishes that this holiday brings. I can certainly understand their longing for a roasted turkey. I don’t prepare roast turkey but twice a year. So when Thanksgiving holiday arrives, my family is ready to dine.
How to Make The Perfect Roast Turkey
Although there are standard preparations for roasting a turkey, it’s always fun to lend our own creative flair to the process. Over the years I’ve experimented with several methods, most of which work fairly well, but one method I’ve continued to use seems to produce the juiciest and most perfect roast turkey every time. Here are a few tips for the perfect roast turkey.
Fresh or Frozen? I prefer a fresh turkey but if I can’t find one, I will purchase a frozen turkey. Just remember, the frozen turkey can take up to a week to thaw in your refrigerator.
One of the most important factors in purchasing a turkey is how it was raised. I know, I sound “Portlandia” here but how your turkey was raised, free range or stuffed in small quarters, and what type of feed it was given will make a huge difference in texture and taste.
I like to purchase my turkey from a local farmer. We have several turkey farmers that free range their turkeys here in the valley and a few that raise heritage breeds. The heritage breeds are quite delicious with a bit more dark meat and rich in flavor.
If buying local isn’t an option, purchase a high quality brand. Make sure it’s free range and not just organic. Organic only means it’s eaten organic feed, but may not have been free ranged. One of my preferred commercial turkeys is from Diestel. The turkeys are slow grown and free ranged which allows for premium taste and texture. You can find many of these quality brands at your local natural markets, Kosher markets, Whole Foods and local Co-op’s.
Count on 1 – 1 ½ lbs of turkey per person. Especially if you’d like a few leftovers. If I’m serving 8 guests, I usually purchase a 14lb turkey. If I’m serving 6 guests I’ll purchase a 10-12lb turkey.
Now that you have purchased your turkey, there are a few simple steps to preparing and roasting your turkey. I have to warn you, I don’t get terribly fancy with my turkey. There is so much going on during Thanksgiving, including loads of side dishes and desserts to be prepared, that I keep my turkey prep and roasting as simple as possible. I don’t truss my turkey (gasp!), I simply tie the legs together and I roast the turkey breast side down to keep the breast meat moist. Along with my Grandmothers favorite condiment and poultry rub, mayonnaise, which keeps the bird moist and tasty. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
- 1 14lb turkey, neck and giblets removed and set aside
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, oregano, Italian parsley chive)
- 1 handful fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, Italian parsley, chive)
- 1 onion quartered
- 1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
- 1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator at least one hour prior to roasting.
- Pre-heat the oven to 425F.
- Remove the neck and giblets (heart and liver if included) and place them in a pot with a little salt and cover with water. Bring it to a boil and then simmer uncovered for about an hour. This will make a nice stock for the pan gravy.
- Dry the turkey with paper towels and place it in the baking pan breast side up. It’s easier to prep the turkey while it’s in the baking pan.
- Season the inside of the turkey with about two teaspoons salt and then stuff with the fresh herbs, onion, celery and carrot. Fold up any remaining loose skin and then tie the turkey legs together with kitchen twine.
- Mix together the dry herbs with the mayonnaise. (This was always my grandmothers favorite way to prepare her chicken and turkey).
- Rub the herbed mayonnaise all over the turkey, including under the skin onto the breast meat. This will nicely season the breast meat and keep it moist.
- Season the turkey with salt and pepper and then turn the turkey breast side down. This is an important step. It will allow the breast meat to self baste and maintain moisture. Place the baking pan on the middle rack in the oven.
- Let the turkey roast at 425F for 15 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 325F. Cooking time for a turkey is about 15 minutes per pound. Total cooking time for a 14lb turkey is about 3 ½ hours. Check the cooking temperature at 3 hours just to be sure as each oven is different. The breast should be 165F and the leg/thigh should be about 175F.
- Once the turkey is done, if you’d like the breast to be brown, just place it under the broiler at 500F to brown the breast. Be careful not to leave it in too long or it will dry out the breast meat. Let the turkey rest for 15 minutes prior to carving.
- To make the pan gravy, remove the drippings from the turkey pan and place them in a sauté or sauce pan. Warm 2 cups of chicken stock or use 2 cups of stock from the neck and giblets.
- Heat the drippings over medium heat. You will need at least 2-3 tablespoons of drippings. If your turkey didn't produce that much then add a pat of butter to the drippings.
- Next, whisk in 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Once the flour has been incorporated, whisk in 1 cup of stock, adding the second cup of stock ½ cup at a time until the gravy is at the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Strain the gravy through a sieve or mesh strainer into a serving bowl.