“For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
My friend, Thistle, asked me to help him host a Christmas party over the holiday season, and elicited my input on the roasting of the turkey. I include it, herewith, for your own edification and enjoyment.
I’ve always found that simplest is best concerning Ben Franklin’s choice for the national bird, and one incarnation that’s never failed me is what I like to call “Mrs Robinson’s Turkey.” I suppose that it must rightfully be called “Scarborough Fair Turkey,” but I much prefer Anne Bancroft to a Yorkish canticle of the middle ages. It’s perfectly easy to make!
You simply create a compound butter with minced parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme to taste. I usually toss in a minced shallot, in honour of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and, of course, some salt and pepper. All that gets slid both under the skin and around the breasts and thighs, and massaged over the outside of the impeccably dried skin of the bird. It’s always nice to bung an onion, a carrot, and some of the leafiest part of the celery (which no one really eats anyway) into the cavity, with a little more salt and pepper. You may truss the bird or not, according to your fancy.
Lovingly place the bird breast down upon a roasting pan fitted with a rack. The bird should fit inside the pan.
By now, you will have preheated your oven at 425 degrees fahrenheit, for at least 30 minutes. Put the turkey in the oven, and let it roast undisturbed for 30 minutes. If you feel that the oven begins to smoke, fortify the roasting pan with a dry white wine, or stock, or water.
You will, of course, have removed the neck and giblets from the cavity before putting the bird in the oven. This is your opportunity to create a stock for the gravy, composed of the neck and giblets and, of course, water. Bring it to a boil, skim off the scum, reduce it to a simmer, and add onion, celery, carrots, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Allow it to simmer, adding more water as needed, while you roast the turkey.
After the turkey has roasted for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Baste the turkey, sprinkle it with salt, and let it roast for another 30 minutes; turn the oven down to 325 degrees, and baste again, sprinkling it with a little more salt. Let it roast undisturbed for 30 minutes, and baste and salt again.
At this time, the turkey will have roasted for 2 hours. It is time to turn it. A pair of turkey turners is helpful at this point, but if those are not at hand, a pair of oven mitts (make sure these are not your only ones) will do. Turn the turkey breast side up, baste and salt it, and return it to the oven. Allow it to roast a further 30 minutes, baste and salt. Continue this process until the turkey has roasted for 4 hours total, sprinkling it with freshly ground pepper for its final basting. If the breast begins to look over brown, enshroud it in cheesecloth.
During its final hour, you will periodically take the turkey’s temperature; when it is 175 degrees fahrenheit in the inner thigh it is done! Remove the bird from the oven, and using either your turkey turners or your previously soiled oven mitts, place the turkey breast down upon an overturned saucer on a carving board. Cover the turkey with 1-2 layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil and let it rest undisturbed for 30 minutes to an hour, the longer the better, so that the juices may be redistributed.
While the turkey is resting, it is time to make the gravy, possibly the most exciting part of the experience!
By this time, you will have strained your stock, pressing out as much liquid from the reserved vegetables as possible. If you enjoy a giblet gravy, reserve the offal and mince it. Pour the contents (fat and juice) from the roasting pan into a gravy separator (if you have one) or a measuring cup. Deglaze your pan with dry white wine or vermouth. Now it is time to make the roux: toss a little rendered fat back in the pan with some flour, and whisk until it has become a beautiful brown, somewhere between mahogany and walnut in colour. Slowly pour in your pan juices, if you do not have a gravy separator, skim the fat off, first. Whisk the roux and juices together, then add the stock you have made, stirring to blend. Allow it to simmer and thicken. You will, of course, have some extra stock on hand, in case you’re unable to make enough from the neck and giblets. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Carve the turkey, and place upon a warmed and garnished platter. Serve with gravy to pass at the table.
I have found this to be the easiest way of roasting turkey; as long as it’s well buttered and well basted, there’s no need for brining.
More on the dinner party in a separate post.