If you guys have never made a turkey, it may seem like a very daunting task. But trust me, it’s really pretty easy, even for a novice cook. Let me be your guide this Thanksgiving and I hope you’ll give this a shot, whether you’ve cooked a big bird before or not.
Basic Roast Turkey with Stuffing
1 12- to 15-pound fresh turkey (bigger if you’re having more than 10 people)
1 bag stuffing mix (I like the white and wheat combo)
1 onion and a few celery stalks
Chicken broth (amount may vary) and butter or margarine
Vegetable oil or olive oil
Cooking spray or melted butter
Spices such as thyme, paprika, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper
A word about turkeys:
I’m calling for fresh turkey in this recipe -- it saves time and trouble in the long run -- because you don’t have to defrost it. Fresh birds can be found in the refrigerated meat section of the grocery store or butcher shop. If you buy a frozen turkey, allow three days to defrost in your refrigerator (yes, really, move it from the freezer to the ‘fridge on Monday of Thanksgiving week).
First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Cook stuffing according to package directions in a large saucepan using butter or margarine and chicken broth. Sauté chopped onion and celery in oil in a separate skillet over medium heat for about five minutes, and then mix into the cooked stuffing. Set aside.
Open the turkey over a sink (trust me, you don’t want juice all over your kitchen floor). Remove the neck and gizzards from the cavity and set aside for gravy (or throw them out like I do; my feeling is, frankly, blech!). Rinse turkey inside and out and pat dry. Place in a large roasting pan, breast side up, and coat top with cooking spray or margarine. Sprinkle liberally with spices. Stuff with stuffing at both ends (from the breast side and the butt end), as much as you can fit in there, leaving a little room for expansion. To keep the stuffing from escaping the bird, close the openings using turkey “pins” (at this time of the year, they can be found in the grocery store near the turkeys or the roasting pans).
You should start early in the day, depending on when you plan to serve dinner. Roast for about 15 minutes per pound; this translates into three hours for a 12-pound turkey to almost four hours for a 15-pound bird. Put in the oven for the first 30 minutes uncovered to brown the turkey, and then cover with the lid of the roasting pan or use foil. After about an hour, the juices will start accumulating in the pan. It’s important to then start basting the turkey with the juices every 15 minutes or so to avoid drying out. The turkey is done when a meat thermometer placed in the center cavity (in the stuffing) registers 165 degrees; if the thermometer is placed in the thigh meat, the temperature should be 185 degrees.
Let rest about 10 minutes on a serving platter before slicing. While waiting, remove all the stuffing from the cavity of the bird (it’s a perfect medium for bacteria to grow in).
Pan drippings from the roasted turkey
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
2 to 3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Pour juice from roasting pan into a medium saucepan and add about a cup of chicken broth. (If you want, at this point add the neck and gizzard.) Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer (cook the neck and gizzard until the gizzard is fork-tender). Combine water and cornstarch in a small bowl and add slowly to the gravy to thicken. Take off heat immediately.
4 to 5 pounds potatoes, rinsed, and peeled (use red, white or Yukon Gold)
Milk (skim or low-fat is fine)
Butter or margarine
Salt and pepper
(Cooking mashed potatoes is done by “feel” – you’ll just know when it’s right. Remember, it’s best to add in small amounts at a time – you can’t “undo” a recipe.)
Cut potatoes into even-sized chunks and place in a large pot, covering with water by about two to three inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain most of the water out, but leave a small amount. Remove from heat and add a little milk (start with ½ cup or so) and a few tablespoons butter or margarine. Mash with a potato masher or large fork until blended, and it is the consistency of your mom’s mashed potatoes (okay, that’s a stretch!), adding in milk or butter a little at a time. Add salt and pepper to taste, and smother at the dinner table with the gravy you made.
Just don’t do this:
One of the Bullz-Eye editors routinely discards the “innards” when he cooks up the turkey, but one year decided to be “funny” and saved the heart. He snuck up on his wife carrying it in his hand, and used a finger to move it a little, while saying thump-thump, thump-thump. He never made that mistake again.