I was amazed to learn some otherwise kitchen competent peeps are intimidated by cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. Always a guest and never the hostess, why? It’s not that hard. Here is how to pull it off with ease. So, How do I cook a Thanksgiving Dinner? Let’s talk Turkey!
I’m starting with the basics here. Sure I make chutneys, fancy roasted veggies but for this article let’s cater to the kitchen wizard in training, To make life easier I recommend starting your shopping ahead of time. Most things can be purchased well in advance. It helps to avoid the crowds and spreads the cost out over a few weeks.
For the last few years I’ve bought the expnsive fresh turkeys. Last year my 23 pounder rang in at a whopping $69 buckeroobys. After years of flushing my hard earned cash I’ve come to the conclusion that Butterball is as good as any. They claim to be always fresh, never frozen. From their website:
Tender and juicy, Butterball Fresh Whole Turkeys are all natural, never frozen, gluten free, and raised without hormones on American farms, giving you the highest quality turkey for your holiday meal.
Buy your fresh turkey up to three days before the big day. If by chance you are buying a frozen bird, remember that it takes many days to unthaw a big bird. Allow 1 day for every four pounds of bird. Never thaw a turkey in room temperature, it must be thawed in the refridgerator
Shopping List 1
- Cranberry Sauce – two cans, one each of jellied and whole prepared
- Potatoes -Yukon Gold are best 5 pounds is quite enough for a group of 12
- Garlic 6 bulbs
- Sweet Potatoes 5 pounds
- 3 Pounds of Butter
- 1 Celery Bunch
- 3 Pounds of Onions
- Bell Seasoning comes in a tiny box
- Large box of Bell Stuffing Mix some people like the Stove Top brand, I use the Bell
- 2 Jimmy Dean Sausage Rolls (I buy the hot but sweet is acceptable as well)
- Lipton White tea, peach mango flavor available at Walmart.com, perhaps in your local superstore.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Brown Sugar
- Kosher Salt
- 1 orange
A few words about turkey size.
I find the most tender birds to be in the 13 pound range. Anything much under doesn’t have enough meat. The larger toms, while they feed more people, I don’t find to be as tender. If I were feeding a large group, I prefer two of the smaller hens to one 26 pounder. A 26 pound bird, when you add the stuffing and the weight of the pan…that’s a heavy thing to manage. This is of course largely influenced by the size of your oven or if you have 2 ovens.
Stuffing inside the bird or cooked separately
I like the stuffing inside the bird. The juices from the turkey drip into the cavity and makes the stuffing so tasty. Since I cook the meat ingredients thoroughly prior to stuffing the bird, I don’t worry about uncooked meat. If you feel cooking it separately is more your choice, you can always top the pan with some small chicken thighs and achieve about the same effect.
Shopping List 2
- Fresh Butterball Turkey – Figure on about one pound per person for this recipe I am preparing a 13 pound bird
- Olives, pickles or any of these little extras you enjoy
- 2 pkgs of McCormick Turkey Gravy Mix
- 2 Pommagranets
- Bottle of white drinking wine (avoid the cooking wines on supermarket shelves) If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it into your food.
- 2 cans of chicken broth, with less sodium
- A good loaf of bakery bread for serving with the meal.
- Small pkg of heavy-duty aluminum foil
- Pick up a pie of choice at your local bakery
- Make sure you have coffee/cream and sugar on hand for desert
Tuesday Ingredient List
Thanksgiving is always on Thursday thankfully (no pun intended.) So:
Chop your onions and celery for the stuffing. Cover tightly and refrigerate.
Fry your sausage, crumbled and browned, let cool and cover/refrigerate this too.
Prep Sweet Potatoes
Wash sweet potatoes, pierce each with a fork several times, wrap in foil and roast for about an hour until soft, Let cool. (this depends on how large the potatoes are, so test) When they are cool enough to handle, peel them, cut them up and then mash them. Add butter and salt. Cover and refrigerate, these are ready to just heat and eat on the big day.
Peel potatoes and cut into pieces. Make them approximately the same size so they will all cook at the same time. Place raw potatoes in a container, cover with water and refridgerate. (this will prevent them from turning black. (any part of the potatoes that are not under the water will turn black, so be sure they are covered. If you need to, put the weight of a smaller dish to keep them submerged.
Wednesday Ingredient List
Turkey, 13 pound Fresh Butterball Turkey For Brine (not everyone brines so if it looks intimidating to you, you can forgo it)
Green Beans and Garlic
Clean and prep turkey
By now your bird should be thawed. Unwrap in sink and rinse thoroughly. Remember to look inside both cavities. The one between the drumsticks and the other is at the neck. Look for the package of giblets squirreled away inside. I’ve heard more than one story about this bag turning up still inside the bird at dinner. You can discard these but that would be a shame. I simmer them in a saucepan and water slowly for several hours until the tusks are tender. If they make it long enough, it’s a great addition to the after Turkey Day soup. (except the liver) Usually I eat them all up before the dinner hits the table.
Prepare brine Heat water and all ingredients to a boil dissolving sugars and salt. The other aromatics will not dissolve. Let cool and submerge turkey into the brine. Make sure it is covered completely and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Take cut onions and celery place in large fry pan with 1 1/2 sticks of butter and saute until soft. Keep a watchful eye, stir regularly so as not to burn the onions. Add remaining butter as the veggies are cooking. Add the Bell Seasoning and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Now stir in the sausage.
In another bowl, pour boxes of the Bell Stuffing mix and add the sausage/vegetable mix to the bowl, stir well. Now add your chicken stock alternately mixing until stuffing is the consistency you like. There is nothing more effective than your clean hands to do this mixing. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Check it again, more liquid may be required as the bread will have likely soaked up moisture. When it’s the consistency you like, cover and set aside. When totally cool, refrigerate.
In a medium sized stock pot melt 3 sticks of butter together with the bottle of white wine reserving one cup. Cover and leave on stove overnight. This is for basting the bird, one less thing to do in the morning.
Green Beans and Garlic
Trim your green beans by snipping off the ends. Steam in a little water and salt until just softened, place in a wide bowl.
Heat olive oil to a moderate heat and put in the garlic. Carefully brown the garlic being very careful not to burn it. Slow and steady, watching and stirring constantly. Now toss in with the beans.
Let cool and then cover and refrigerate.
Have on hand:
- A giant stock pot or bowl for brining. One that is large enough to accommodate your bird. You can purchase plastic brining bags for this purpose but I always like the added safety measure of putting everything inside a pot. +++3+
- Very sharp knife for carving
- Turkey lifters (you are going to have to lift that big boy out of the pan.)
- Turkey trussing kit with spears and kitchen twine
- Roasting pan (large enough to accommodate your bird but not so deep that the turkey won’t brown properly)
- A good meat thermometer I like the kind that has the reader in the bird and the meter on the counter so I can watch constantly. They do cost about $40 though. I said it would be easy, I never hinted at inexpensive.
- A good basting brush
- It’s handy to have some oven/microwave safe bowls for reheating your side dishes.
Thursday, the big day
Here’s the good news. Everything is pretty much done.
Remove beans and sweet potatoes from fridge and let come up to room temperature. Set aside. Do this because they will require less reheating time.
Remove your bird from its brine and dry thoroughly. Stuff both cavities jam packed full. Fold neck skin over stuffing in that cavity. Tie legs with twine an tuck under the butt. Stick your tressing skewers across the opening and use remaining twine to lace the opening up. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
Place stuffed turkey into roasting pan. Peel and cut onion into quarters, put in pan surrounding turkey. Cut pommegranet into quarters and add to pan. Toss in the carrots and the garlic cloves. No need to peel these. Put your meat thermometer into the breast. Put it in about half way through the breast. Don’t let it touch the bone, as the conducted heat in the bone with throw off the reading.
Place into preheated 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. (This is to give it a good sear start) Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and Cook 10-15 minutes per pound. Baste every 20-30 minutes by brushing the wine and butter mixture onto the bird. Approximately 3 hours for a 13 pound bird.
Cooking time is approximate, if your meat thermometer is one that can stay inside the meat while you can measure reading on counter top. All the better. Otherwise you will have to open the oven to get your readings. See more about readings and temperatures below.
Note: If toward the end you begin to notice the turkey getting too brown before the cooking time is up, loosely cover the bird with some heavy duty aluminum foil.
Loose ends to tie together while the bird cooks.
While turkey is cooking, whisk 2 Tbsp cornstarch into ¼ cup water so here are no lumps. Cover and set aside. Mix the two packages of turkey gravy mix with 1 cup water and 1 cup of the reserved white wine. Save these two mixtures for making the gravy later.
Next boil potatoes in salted water with garlic until soft. Drain and mash with potato masher. Mix in milk and butter, salt and pepper to taste. Place in microwave-safe serving bowl, cover and set aside.
Open can of cranberries and put into a serving dish and refrigerate. I keep the can in the fridge so in case I forget this step, it’s always cold. Now if you like, you can have both a dish of the jellied and a dish of the whole prepared berries. People usually have a preference.
Now you can set the table
You can do this as simply or elite as you choose. Just in case, here is how the silverware should be placed. See image on left.
You can use a centerpiece of a fresh fruit bowl, candles and that should do it. You can get quite elaborate if it suits you. Remember to put the butter out now, and salt/pepper.
Slice your bread
Put it into your serving basket, tuck it into a plastic bag and set on the table.
Turkey is done when the breast temperature measures 150-155 degrees. After you remove it from the oven, tent with foil for ½ hour. The temperature will continue to rise to about 160 which is perfect. Herein lies the problem that the dark meat cooks slower so you may find that the dark meat isn’t quite cooked enough.
Julia Childs and Jacques Pepin came up with a solution to this dilemma by splitting the bird, and reassembling it after cooking. This is genius, but I’ve got enough work to do, thanks but no thanks. Maybe some day when I have a sous chef.
Here is what I do. When you take the turkey out of the oven, don’t shut it off. Put your sides into the oven to reheat for about 20 minutes, remove, cover and put in a warm place. Boost the temperature up to 400.
By now the bird has rested for 30 minutes under a foil tent remove it to carving board. Carve the leg quarters carefully off the bird and put into the oven on another pan. If you have extra stuffing, this is a good place to put it and place the leg quarters on top of it.
Now take your roasting pan with the onions and vegetables and put it across two burners on your stove.
Turn on high to get started, when you start to see bubbling, turn heat down and whisk cornstarch mixture and gravy mixture into pan until thickened. Strain and set aside.
Pull out the dark meat and if you feel the need, reassemble them with the bird, garnish with some fresh sage leaves to camouflage where the cuts are and place platter out on display. (Otherwise just carve it into serving size pieces and arrange on a platter. )
Assemble all heated side dishes, gravy, onto counter top so that people can help themselves buffet style. Put the turkey at the end. Now you can place the cut bread and cranberries on the table.
Stand at the end of the buffet line and carve/serve the turkey asking each guest if they want white or dark.