There are certain basic Thanksgiving recipes that, once mastered, need no adjusting from year to year. Here are the ones we turn to each November.
Rich Turkey Stock
Makes about 12 cups
A rich turkey stock makes for superior gravy or day-after soup. To achieve depth of flavor, simmer roasted rather than raw turkey parts. Adapted from the November 2003 issue of Food & Wine magazine:
In Advance: Turkey parts for stock, such as wings, drumsticks and thighs now available in many markets. May be made days or even weeks ahead of Thanksgiving and frozen.
7 pounds turkey parts, such as wings, thighs and drumsticks
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1 large carrot, thickly sliced
1 large stalk celery, thickly sliced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon salt
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
4 quarts (16 cups) water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the turkey parts in a single layer in a large roasting pan and roast for about 11/2 hours, until well browned.
Transfer the roasted turkey parts to a large pot. Reserve the roasting pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery (if using), garlic, salt and several pinches of pepper along with 12 cups water and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, place the roasting pan over 2 burners on the stovetop. Add the remaining 4 cups water to the roasting pan, turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cook, using a wooden spoon to stir and scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Carefully pour the liquid from the roasting pan into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially and simmer for about 21/2 hours. Strain the stock, discarding the solids or removing the turkey meat from the bones and reserving the meat for another use. Set the stock aside to cool slightly. Refrigerate for up to 3 days. Skim the fat from the surface before using. (May skim the fat, then freeze for up to 3 months.)
Ingredients too variable for meaningful analysis.
Before You Roast Turkey: In general, a 12- to-14-pound range is preferable, though it can sometimes be difficult to find birds that small.
A small unstuffed turkey in that weight range cooks in a reasonable amount of time (from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the temperature at which you choose to roast it). It also stays moist and tender.
Conversely, a larger turkey takes more time to cook, and the breast meat can become dry before the dark meat is done.
If You Have a Frozen Bird: Turkey should be kept properly chilled while thawing. Do not defrost a frozen turkey on the counter. Instead, place a frozen turkey on a tray in the refrigerator in its original wrapping. Allow 24 hours for each 5 pounds of turkey.
Look Inside: Turkeys have two cavities, one at the neck and one at the breast. The turkey parts -- neck, giblets, heart and liver -- are usually contained in small bags within those cavities. Be sure to remove them before roasting.
You can add the neck, giblets and heart to the stock, but not the liver (the darkest colored item); it will make the stock bitter.
8 servings plus plenty for leftovers
There's more than one way to roast a turkey, but from experience we've learned to start at a high temperature then turn it down for crisp skin and moist meat.
In Advance: Place the raw turkey in the refrigerator breast-side down so the juices flow to the white meat; this contributes to moist breast meat. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before roasting.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (do not add salt to a brined bird)
12- to 14-pound turkey, neck and giblets removed
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-third position.
In a small bowl, mash together the butter and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold running water, drain it and pat it dry with paper towels. Tuck the wing tips under the body.
Place the turkey in a roasting pan (fit with a rack, if desired). Generously season the inside and underside of the turkey with salt and pepper.
Using clean hands, loosen the skin over the breast by running your hands just under the skin. Reaching with your fingers as far as possible, carefully loosen the skin over the legs. Gently push about 6 tablespoons of the butter mixture under the skin, using your fingertips to carefully spread the butter over the breast and legs. Rub the remaining 2 tablespoons butter mixture evenly over the outside of the turkey skin.
Transfer the turkey to the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes. The turkey should begin to turn golden brown.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and loosely cover the turkey with a large piece of tented aluminum foil. Continue to roast the turkey. If desired, baste the turkey with the pan drippings every 30 minutes or so.
Start checking for doneness after about 2 hours. Remove the turkey from the oven when a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted in the breast. (The internal temperature will continue to rise a few degrees after you remove it from the oven. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the turkey is done when the breast meat reaches 170 degrees; the thigh meat 180 degrees.) The total cooking time should be 2 to 21/2 hours for a 12- to 14-pound bird.
Transfer the turkey to a carving board and set aside to rest for at least 20 minutes prior to carving. Reserve the drippings in the roasting pan for the Turkey Gravy (recipe follows).
Per serving (using meat and skin): 459 calories, 57 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 171 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 185 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber
Makes about 2 cups or 8 serving
Thick, flavorful, lump-free gravy is easier than you might think.
In Advance: Turkey stock can be made weeks ahead of time and frozen. But gravy cannot be made in advance. It demands both turkey fat and the defatted drippings from the turkey roasting pan, which are available only after the turkey comes out of the oven. (Use a fat separator cup to isolate the fat from the drippings.)
4 tablespoons turkey fat (from the drippings in the turkey roasting pan)
4 tablespoons flour
About 2 cups Rich Turkey Stock (see first recipe), chicken stock or broth, heated until almost boiling
Defatted juices (from the drippings in the turkey roasting pan)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium saute pan or pot over medium heat, heat the turkey fat until warm. Using a whisk or a fork, stir the flour into the fat and cook, whisking constantly, until a paste forms. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for 2 more minutes. Still whisking constantly, gradually add the hot stock or broth in 1/4-cup increments, whisking until the stock is completely incorporated after each addition. Continue to cook, whisking occasionally, until the gravy simmers and thickens, about 5 minutes. Slowly add the defatted juices and salt and pepper to taste and whisk to combine.
If desired, strain the gravy. If the gravy is thicker than you would like, thin it with a little more stock. Serve immediately.
Per 1/4-cup serving (using low-sodium chicken broth): 83 calories, 1 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 10 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Herbed Bread Dressing
Makes about 12 cups
This fragrant recipe is foolproof. From the November 1999 issue of Gourmet magazine:
In Advance: Mix the dressing and refrigerate for up to 1 day; bring to room temperature before baking.
10 cups 1-inch cubes crusty country-style bread (about 1 pound)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for the dish
3 medium onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced crosswise
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
About 11/2 cups chicken stock or broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and toast, shaking the sheet occasionally, just until bread is dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, celery, thyme, sage and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the toasted bread cubes, vegetable mixture (with all of the butter), stock or broth and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine. Set aside, uncovered, to cool completely.
Butter a 2-quart casserole dish. Add the dressing, cover with aluminum foil and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes at 325 degrees. If you wish to have a crunchy top, uncover the dressing for the last half of the cooking. You may also want to check that the dressing remains moist. If it seems dry, add additional broth or stock.
Per serving: 291 calories, 6 gm protein, 34 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 34 mg cholesterol, 8 gm saturated fat, 446 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber