Cooking a turkey is a lot easier than frying an egg. And a much more impressive accomplishment.
For one thing, it's bigger. Which means guest and family think it must be difficult. For another, unless it has been totally dried out, turkey always tastes good. And the kitchen smells so warm and honey - like a Norman Rockwell painting if scratch n' sniff had been invented then.
Why would anyone want to serve anything but turkey on Thanksgiving? Some people succumb to a "creative urge" and serve fancy fowls or game. But what about leftovers? Who ever heard of a roast goose sandwich on soft bread slathered with mayonnaise and lots of salt and pepper? Or rabbit tettrazini?
Handling a turkey, however, is another story. What happens to the bird before it goes into the oven - and after the leftovers have been stored in the refrigerator - can be a problem. Always place stuffing inside cavity immediately before roasting, and remove it before refrigeration for separate storage. The inside cavity of the turkey (and all fowl) is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. For frozen stuffed turkeys, follow cooking directions given on the package.
Fresh turkeys will be available in most stores the week of Thanksgiving. Smaller markets advise placing an order in advance, not only to reserve the turkey, but to allow you to choose the size you want. Allow 3/4-pound per serving for turkey under 12 pounds, 1/2 to 3/4-pound per serving over 12 punds.
Remove the bag of innards and wash fresh turkeys inside and out. Pat dry and allow bird to come to room temperature before being stuffed and cooked. Never cook a stuffed bird at a low temperature for an extra long period of time as it may become contaminated.
Frozen unstuffed turkeys should be washed, inside and out (after removing bag of innards to be kept refrigerated) and brought to room temperature by any one of the following methods:
Thaw the bird in it's wrapper on a tray in the refrigerator, allowing 24 to 48 hours for turkeys under 12 pounds; 48 to 72 hours if between 12 and 20 pounds. Turkeys over 20 pounds will take up to four days to thaw, so plan ahead.
A faster method is to partially thaw a turkey at room temperature, then finish the process in the refrigerator. For a bird under 12 pounds, leave out for 6 hours then return it to the refrigerator for another 12 hours. For turkey 12 to 18 pounds, leave out 8 hours and return to the refrigerator for another 12 hours. Turkeys over 20 pounds should be left out 10 hours and put back in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
The third way is to keep the turkey in its wrapper and thaw completely at room temperature, stored in a cool place. For turkeys less than 12 pounds, thawing will take approximately 12 hours. For larger birds, it could take up to 20 hours.
Turkeys should never be thawed by running water over them.
Now comes the easy part. Rub the bird inside and out with salt and pepper, and pack the cavity loosely with stuffing. Any remaininig stuffing can be cooked separately by pilling into a buttered shallow baking dish and baked during tha last hour of cooking time.
If you want, sew up the cavity opening, truss the turkey and rub with melted butter, shortening or oil. A neat trick to insure a golden, smooth skin is to soak a piece of cheesecloth in 1/2 cup of melted butter and place over the bird's breast.
Place turkey, breast side up,on a rack in a shallow pan and roast (uncovered) following the timetable. Baste every 20 minutes. Do not add water to the pan, as it will cause steam and the meat will become soggy. A tent of aluminium foil may be place over the bird, or just covering the breast and the drumsticks, to prevent scorched skin. A meat thermometer, placed in the thigh but not touching the bone, is recommended for larger birds.
When done, remove and discard cheesecloth. Untruss the turkey and transfer to a heated platter for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juice to set. Cover with a foil tent to keep surface warm.
Pour off most of the fat from the roasting pan. Add flour, cook and stir until brown, then add sherry, wine or broth and scrape up bits from the bottom and sides of pan.Simmer gravy. If you prefer, omit flour and thicken at this point with arrowroot or constarch softened in water and strain into sauceboat.
To carve a turkey, remove drumsticks and thigh to be cut separately. Thigh meat should be sliced parellel to the bone. For the breast, place knife as close to the wing as possible, keeping it parallel. Make a deep cut into the breast to the bone. This is called "the base cut." Begin to slice, carving downward, and ending at the base cut.
Each new cut should begin higher up than the last.
Then, "Please pass the creamed onions". . .