Top-notch turkey dinner
The Oklahoman’s Food Dude shares tips and recipes to turn out a perfect feast this Thanksgiving.
We don't eat turkey and dressing often, but when we do, we choose to do it on the fourth Thursday of November, which arrives next week.
Thanksgiving means families gathering to feast on fowl and the savory bread pudding that is dressing or stuffing. Whether you're roasting, frying or smoking your turkey, you've come to right place.
No centerpiece of fowl would be complete without dressing (cornbread-based in these parts). We prefer cooking dressing separate, as stuffing is better suited for smaller birds that cook faster. Our version, which is based on a recipe from Oklahoma chef emeritus John Bennett, is rich and decadent.
And, of course, we've got the goods on the gravy that binds the dynamic duo.
Today's section is packed with ideas for Thanksgiving, including alternative fowl from chef Sara Moulton, how to organize your kitchen and keep the kids occupied with constructive activities. We've also got recommendations for wine from a local expert.
Next week, we'll share pie recipes, some classic sides and what to do with the inevitable truckload of leftovers.
Turkeys must be purchased, thawed, dried, cleaned, seasoned and cooked. That equates to two or even three days of work.
Fresh turkeys are available at some stores, but if you want one you likely needed to order it at least a month ago. The vast majority are sold frozen, and because turkeys are so large, thawing one can take a couple of days and brining another.
Brine is a salt-based solution meant to add flavor to fat-averse fowl. If it sounds a lot like marinating, that's because it is a lot like marinating. Marinades are solutions founded on highly acidic liquids like vinegar or citrus juice.
When it comes to thawing, our great friend and longtime columnist Sherrel Jones always said to thaw turkeys in cold water, breast-side down, in its wrapper and completely submerged. If you can't find a vessel large enough to hold the bird, try a cooler. Of course, you never want to use that cooler for anything else.
Estimate at least 30 minutes per pound to thaw a whole turkey. Here are approximate thawing times for various weights of turkey, with times for refrigerator thawing and for coldwater thawing:
10 to 12 pounds: 2 days; 4 to 6 hours.
12 to 14 pounds: 3 days; 6 to 9 hours.
14 to 18 pounds: 4 days; 9 to 14 hours.
18 pounds plus: 4 to 5 days; 14 to 24 hours.
After your bird is thawed, clear the giblets and neck bone and prepare to brine. Once upon a time, the brine was simple. For years, here at The Oklahoman, we've been sharing the following brine recipe from Jones.
Turkey should be thawed or fresh for proper brining. Prebasted or injected turkeys may not require brining. Check ingredient list on turkey packaging for salt, saline or broth solution.
1 cup salt per 1 gallon brine 1 cup sugar per 1 gallon brine 1 to 2 gallons cool water
Mix salt and sugar with half of the water until dissolved. Place in clean ice chest, heavy-duty food-safe plastic bag or bucket large enough to submerge turkey. Pour brine mixture into container. Trim excess fat from cavity opening and around neck of turkey. Place turkey into brine, adding enough remaining water to cover turkey. It may be necessary to weight down turkey to keep it submerged. Place lid on ice chest. Allow turkey to remain in brine overnight or six to eight hours. Do not add additional salt to brined turkey.
Thanks to the rising popularity of brines in barbecue and for other lean meats like pork loin, brine recipes have expanded. Russ “The Smokin' Okie” Garrett shared his holiday brine last year:
SMOKIN' OKIE'S HOLIDAY TURKEY BRINE
½ gallon apple juice (can use all apple juice in place of any water)
½ gallon water
1 cup coarse kosher salt
¾ cup soy sauce
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup honey
½ cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped garlic 1 teaspoons allspice
Options: Try beer in place of some of the water and try a variety of spices
Mix ingredients together until sugar and salt are dissolved. Place thawed turkey in a container large enough for bird and brine. Depending on the size of bird, you may have to double. Brine for minimum 36 hours, preferably 48 hours. Keep brine below 40 F for food safety.
Ready to cook
Now that you’ve thawed and brined your bird, you must decide how you’d like to cook it. My personal favorite is smoked turkey. Not purchased smoked, heated and served, but smoked in a backyard smoker and served. But smoking a bird right means having a real smoker that maintains temperature for a long time, or having a wood-pellet smoker that allows you to sleep rather than wake up every few hours to make sure the fire hasn’t gone out. In other words, to get the best, you have to work the hardest.
My second favorite way to prepare turkey is in a deep-fryer. It takes a large amount of peanut oil and an even larger fryer, but the result is excellent if you don’t mind the added calories.
The easiest way to make turkey, roasted in the oven, which really is just a matter of trusting the process and paying attention.
What makes cooking the turkey most problematic is all the other things that must be done at the same time. The solution is to get the calendar pulled up and start planning what days you’ll tackle the necessary tasks to bring your Thanksgiving feast together.
Take a deep breath, have a good bottle of wine handy, and remember this is all in service of having a good time.
Remove turkey from brine, rinse and dry with paper towels. Allow to air dry in the refrigerator a few hours.
For more smoke, use a lower temperature to allow more smoke penetration. Build a fire to maintain 200 to 225 F.
Place brined, seasoned turkey in smoker and cook with indirect heat. For a 20-pound bird, plan on about 6 hours. Remove when breast measures 155 F and thigh measures 175 F using an internal meat thermometer. Do NOT use the pop-up timer that comes with turkey, as it will guarantee an overly dry turkey. If you want really crispy skin, crank the temperature up to at least 275 F for the last hour.
CLASSIC ROASTED TURKEY
1 brined and thawed turkey (Plan about 15 minutes roasting time per pound plus an additional 20 to 30 minutes resting time)
Chicken broth to fill roaster pan an inch deep Celery sticks to position in bottom of roaster as a rack for turkey
Fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme and sage leaves
Carrot sticks, onion slices and celery stalks to roast around turkey
¼ cup butter (2 tablespoons softened for first basting, 2 tablespoons reserved)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup sand plum jelly melted with reserved butter for final basting
Adjust oven racks to fit turkey and set temperature at 325 F.
Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Coat roaster with cooking spray or butter. Place turkey in prepared roaster. Tuck wings under themselves by bending end section behind larger section. Secure legs with butcher’s twine or silicone bands. Coat turkey’s surface with softened butter.
Surround turkey with slices of onion, carrot sections and celery stalks. Place sprigs of fresh herbs inside and around turkey, if desired.
Pour broth around turkey and vegetables to a depth of 2 inches.
Make a loose-fitting tent of foil, coating underside with cooking spray or butter. Secure tent over turkey so that liquids accumulating on foil will drip back into roaster. Use roaster lid if possible. Place turkey in oven.
Wash utensils with hot, soapy water and clean all surfaces that come into contact with the bird with bleach to eliminate risk of cross-contamination.
After an hour, baste turkey with pan juices using brush, spoon or turkey baster. Replace lid or foil tent. Do not baste again until about 30 minutes before turkey is done or when internal temperature is within 10 degrees of desired temperature in breast and thickest part of thigh. Melt jelly and combine with remaining butter and coat turkey. Continue roasting, uncovered, until turkey reaches internal temperature of 165 F and is golden brown.
Remove turkey from oven and allow to rest, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes before plating and carving. Use turkey-lifting forks or rolling pin inserted through body cavity to transfer turkey to serving platter.
Cook’s notes: Apple slices or orange wedges may be added to vegetables in roasting pan with a few inside the turkey. These are strained out of pan juices that will be used for gravy.
SOURCE: Sherrel Jones
1 12-14 pound turkey; thawed, brined and patted dry
3 to 5 gallons of peanut oil
For the rub
1 cup salt
½ cup black pepper
½ cup garlic powder
1-2 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper
1 pound brown sugar, optional
Before cooking, coat the propane line in soapy water, then turn on the gas. If water bubbles up, you might have a leak; go buy a smoked turkey ASAP.
Put the bird in your pot and fill it with water until the water is about 2 inches above the bird. Remove the bird. The amount of remaining water indicates how much peanut oil you’ll need.
Dry out the pot and fill with the oil based on the water test. Heat the oil to 350 F; takes about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on your temperature and adjust it accordingly to maintain 350 F.
Wash the bird thoroughly and pat dry, then season with salt, pepper and chile. When the oil is ready, lower the bird into the oil and cook for about 3 minutes per pound.
Raise the bird and test its temperature with a meat thermometer. It’s ready once you reach 165 F. Let cool 15 to 20 minutes.
Source: Dave Cathey
CORNBREAD DRESSING WITH TOASTED PECANS
1 cup unsalted butter (2 full sticks)
2 cups onion, finely diced
2 cups celery, finely diced
6 to 8 leaves fresh sage, minced
2 leaves from two sprigs of thyme, minced 2 cloves garlic, mashed in 2 teaspoons salt 2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 package Shawnee Mills buttermilk cornbread 2/3 cup buttermilk
15-20 pecans halves, optional
1-2 red jalapeno or Fresno peppers, optional ½ loaf Italian bread
Make the cornbread batter via instructions on the package then pour it into a greased pan or skillet. Place pecan halves on top of the batter and bake according to package instructions.
Cut the halved Italian loaf in slices and toast on a sheet pan in the rack below the cornbread for about 5 minutes, making sure not to let it darken.
When the breads are ready, set them aside in a large mixing bowl.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, celery, and peppers (if using.) Simmer 5 minutes and add the garlic and herbs. Simmer another 5 minutes, lowering the temperature to medium-low to make sure the ingredients don’t darken too much as they will cook again in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Combine the breads, onion-celery mixture and broth in the mixing bowl. Combine thoroughly and place in a loaf pan for a fluffy dressing, a large skillet for a crispier version.
Source: Chef John Bennett as told to Dave Cathey
Servings: 12 (makes 5 cups)
This rich gravy is mostly done in advance, which makes it potluck-friendly. The secret to its depth of flavor is a very dark roux. Madeira adds complexity.
The gravy can be made a day in advance; reheat over medium-low heat, with fresh roast turkey drippings stirred in just before serving.
2 to 3 pounds raw turkey necks and/or wings (not smoked)
6 cups homemade chicken broth (see headnote) 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 small red onion, minced
6 tablespoons Madeira
8 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1 cup strained, defatted turkey drippings (may substitute 1 more cup of broth)
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Place the turkey necks and/or wings on a baking sheet; roast for about 1 hour or until dark brown.
Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the roasted turkey parts, then reduce the heat to low and cook, partially covered, for 2 hours. Strain, discarding the solids. The yield is 4 cups.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook for about 6 minutes or until it softens. Increase the heat to medium-high; add 2 tablespoons of the Madeira and cook for about 2 minutes or until it has evaporated. Transfer the onion to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium; add the remaining 7 tablespoons of butter. Once that has melted, stir in the flour. Cook for about 30 minutes to develop a very dark brown roux with perhaps a few black flecks, stirring occasionally.
Quickly whisk in 1 cup of the broth; as soon as that is incorporated, whisk in the remaining 3 cups of broth. Return the onion to the pan, whisking to incorporate. Increase the heat to medium-high, whisking to form a thickened gravy. Add the teaspoon each of salt and pepper and the remaining 4 tablespoons of Madeira, whisking until smooth. Remove from the heat.
At this point, the gravy base can be refrigerated.
Just before serving, reheat over medium heat, stirring a few times to keep the gravy from scorching. Whisk in the cup of drippings. Taste, and add salt and/or pepper, as needed. Serve warm.
Nutrition | Per serving: 110 calories, 2 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
SOURCE: Based on a recipe from chef Ian Boden of the Shack in Staunton, Virginia, by Jim Webster, who is co-author with chef Mario Batali of “Big American Cookbook: 250 Favorite Recipes From Across the USA.”