Top-notch turkey din­ner

The Oklahoman’s Food Dude shares tips and recipes to turn out a per­fect feast this Thanks­giv­ing.

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - Dave Cathey

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.

The bird

Turkeys must be pur­chased, thawed, dried, cleaned, sea­soned and cooked. That equates to two or even three days of work.

Thaw­ing, brin­ing

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:


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.

Smoked Turkey

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.


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


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.”

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