Herb-Buttered Roast Turkey: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Obviously the centerpiece of Friendsgiving was the turkey. And it turned out pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.

Since I didn’t use one set recipe to cook the turkey, I needed a full-on guide, with every single step laid out beforehand. (And yes, I still missed one or two things … ) But too much information is always more useful to me than not enough, so: a step-by-step guide to making roast turkey.

STEP ONE: GET YO BIRD.

When buying a turkey, you start with two options: fresh or frozen. Frozen is cheaper, but requires a bit more pre-planning, since a turkey takes serious time to thaw (ideally 1 day in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds). Also, you need to prepare enough fridge space to house a potentially giant turkey for a few days. And some say the flavor isn’t as “turkey-ish” as fresh, but that’s why we slather it herbed butter and gravy and cranberry sauce.

If you go the fresh route, bear in mind that it can only stay in the fridge for 1-2 days, so you can’t buy it too much ahead of time. There are usually more options for types of turkey: organic or pasture-raised or heritage breeds, etc. This is a great explainer on the different varieties, and what you choose can affect how you cook the bird.

I went with frozen, since it fit my schedule and my budget best.

STEP TWO: SUPPLIES.

Beyond the bird itself, there a few essential supplies for roasting a turkey. Obviously, a pan — there are a plethora of roasting pans out there (this is a good buying guide). But I went with a heavy-duty foil one from the supermarket because a) I didn’t want to spend the money on a roasting pan; b) I don’t have space to keep a roasting pan; and c) I don’t want to clean said roasting pan.

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Sitting the meat on a roasting rack ensures that the heat circulates better around the turkey and the skin stays crispy on all sides. Most roasting pans come with racks, but if you don’t have one, there a few ways to hack a rack. I went with a “vegetable trivet” instead (totally co-opted from Jamie Oliver): piling the turkey on a crisscross of carrots and celery, with some onion halves and a potato or two thrown in for good measure. It’s inexpensive, adds a ton of flavor to the meat and especially to the gravy.

You’ll also need twine to tie the turkey legs together, a meat thermometer to check for doneness, and an oven thermometer if your oven is like mine and has ZERO temperature markings.

STEP THREE: PREPARE YOUR TURKEY.

To brine or not to brine? The eternal question. It wasn’t an option for me, since I could barely fit my teeny 10-pound turkey in the fridge, much less a multi-gallon bucket. And, truth be told, we didn’t miss it in the end.

I also wanted to air-dry my turkey, removing the turkey from its wrappings and sitting it in the fridge uncovered for 24 hours, so that the skin would dry up and get extra-crispy when it roasted. But I couldn’t really do this in a way that didn’t contaminate the entire fridge, so c’est la vie.

Once the bird is thawed and you’re ready to cook, the first step is unwrap the turkey (if you haven’t already) and remove the giblets from inside the main cavity. You should really save them to use for turkey stock or gravy, but you can also toss them. And DON’T WASH YOUR TURKEY! Cooking the turkey to the correct temperature (which you should do anyway) will kill off any surface bacteria, and you’re just risking contamination of your sink / kitchen by trying to rinse a 20-pound turkey.

Pat the skin of the turkey dry with paper towels — the drier the skin, the crispier it will be.

STEP FOUR: FLAVOR THE MEAT.

Now we get to the good part: herb butter. One of the many ways to keep a turkey from drying out is by slathering the meat with flavored butter, both under and over the skin. I followed Tom Colicchio’s instructions on this, sliding my hand between the meat and the skin to loosen it up, then rubbing butter all over the meat. (There is no way to say that without it sounding dirty. I’ve tried.) I used a combo of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme, with a bit of minced shallot thrown in.

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Since this was a potluck Friendsgiving, I wasn’t making any stuffing, so no stuffing the bird (also, there’s all sorts of cooking and food safety concerns with stuffing a bird, so it seems like a lot of trouble for something that tastes equally good when baked separately). Instead, I filled the cavity with more carrots and celery, a whole lemon, a half-head of garlic and some fresh herbs. The aromatics add an extra boost of flavor to the turkey.

STEP FIVE: GET YOUR TURKEY IN PLACE.

Make sure your oven is preheated and the roasting pan / rack / vegetable trivet / whatever else you may use is set up. Then place the bird in the center. Most people roast breast-side up, but after reading this, I decided to try roasting it upside down. The meat basically self-bastes, keeping the breasts from drying out and ensuring that all the different parts cook evenly.

STEP SIX: ROAST.

I followed the roasting instructions for the upside-down turkey, but whatever recipe you’re following, there are three important things to remember:

1) Don’t keep opening the oven door to check on the roast, since that can change the oven temperature and mess up the heat circulation around the turkey. Since I buttered my turkey, I didn’t need to baste it, so I just checked on it once to flip the turkey and once or twice when I thought it might be done.

2) How long to roast for? Plan for about 12-15 minutes per pound for an unstuffed bird. My two-pounder took a little over 2 hours.

3) Cook your turkey to 165F. That’s the temperature at which all bacteria is killed. A good instant-read thermometer is a godsend here — insert it into the thickest part of the thigh. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can cut into the meat (it should not be pink), but honestly a thermometer saves a lot of guesswork and costs $10. No point spending hours and days cooking something only to have it make everyone sick.

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4) Let your bird rest. Once it’s hit 165F, take it out of the oven, tent tin foil over it and set it aside for at least 30 minutes, or definitely longer if your turkey is huge. That allows the juices to redistribute, so they don’t leak out when you carve (a juice-less turkey = a dry turkey). Rejoice in this rest period — it gives you time to finish your gravy, heat up the rest of your sides and get everyone to the table.

STEP SEVEN: CARVE.

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A sharp knife and a large fork are your best friends here. I had neither, so I had to hack at my bird a bit. At the end of the day, this is just about looks — the turkey will be delicious regardless of how you carve it.

Aaaaand now that I’ve written nearly 1,200 words, let’s get to the recipe, shall we?

Herb-Buttered Roast Turkey
Adapted from Tom Colicchio, with tips from Epicurious

– 6 sprigs fresh rosemary (divided)

– 8 sprigs fresh thyme (divided)

– 10-12 fresh sage leaves (divided)

– 1 small shallot, minced

– 12 ounces (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

– salt, to taste

– 7 celery stalks, trimmed

– 7 whole carrots, scrubbed

– 2 yellow onions, peeled, trimmed and halved

– 1 large red potato, scrubbed and quartered

– 1 10-pound turkey, thawed and patted dry (giblets removed)

– freshly cracked pepper, to taste

– 1 lemon

– 1/2 head of garlic

1) Make the herb butter: stem 3 sprigs of rosemary and 4 sprigs of thyme. Combine with 5-6 sage leaves and chop very finely. In a small bowl, stir together the chopped herbs, minced shallots, softened butter and salt. (You can make this a few days in advance and store, covered, in the refrigerator. You could also wrap the butter tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months.)

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2) Slide your hand between the skin and the flesh of the turkey to loosen the skin. Rub half of the butter directly onto the flesh, then rub the remaining herb butter on the outside of the skin.

3) Preheat the oven to 325F. Make your vegetable trivet: line up 5 of the carrots and 5 of the celery sticks on the bottom of your roasting pan. Scatter the potatoes and onions around.

4) Sprinkle salt and pepper into the main cavity of the turkey. Stuff the turkey cavity with the remaining 2 carrots and celery sticks, rosemary, thyme, sage, and the lemon. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs of the turkey together, securing the aromatics in place.

5) Place the bird breast-side down on the trivet. Roast for 1 hour, then flip the turkey carefully using tongs (try not to tear the skin). Turn up the oven to 400F, and cook for an additional 60-65 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer into the fattest part of the thigh — when it reads 165F, the turkey is done.

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6) Remove the turkey from the oven and place it on a cutting board. Tent a piece of tin foil over it, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. (Use this time to make the gravy and finish preparing the rest of the meal.) Then carve the turkey and serve.

Boozy Cranberry-Pinot Sauce

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I think we all know how I feel about Thanksgiving — no need to rehash it here. But, though there have been a multitude of sides and some desserts and a few appetizers thrown in, I’ve never blogged about the main event: the turkey.

Simple reason: I’ve never made one. (If we’re being honest, I’ve never roasted any kind of whole fowl before.) But I wanted to host a “Friends-giving,” as a chance for friends to test out their holiday recipes before the big day and for me to actually try my hand at turkey, so here we are. Or actually, where we will be tomorrow, when I actually roast the bird. Today, let’s talk cranberries.

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In my opinion, cranberry sauce is a must-have at any Thanksgiving table: something tart and a little fruity to balance out all of the rich, heavy side dishes, a piquant relish for turkey, a tangy spread for leftover-filled sandwiches the next day. I don’t like sweet cranberry sauce and I definitely don’t like anything that resembles the shape of a can. I want fresh, bright, snappy.

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I also want a hint of orange and some spices. This cranberry-Pinot sauce is basically mulled wine with sugar and cranberries tossed in. A cinnamon stick, whole cloves and some peppercorns add warmth, an undercurrent of fall, if you will. But the best part of this recipe is that you can make it ahead of time,* and refrigerate for a few days. And when you’ve got a million things to make, that is a godsend.

To get ready for the holidays, I’m going to try to post a new recipe every day leading up to Thanksgiving, including the TURKEY.

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*Another bonus: it’s so easy that you could theoretically make it at 7 a.m. while packing your lunch and getting ready for work. Not that I would know from experience or anything … Continue reading

Ribollita (Italian Bread Stew)

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The dirty secret no one ever talks about during the holidays is … that shizz is expensive. Between the gifts and the travel and the ungodly amounts of food (if you’re hosting) and the dozens of fancier-than-you’d-ever-drink-at-home wine bottles (if you’re “guest”-ing), it can all really add up. I end up spending so much for the special occasion nights that regular nights call for especially humble meals.

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But “humble” doesn’t necessarily equal “boring” or “lame.” There are a plethora of budget-friendly recipes that are both delicious and hearty enough to keep you full for a long time (essential when trying to keep costs down). Most cheap meals combine some form of starch with a vegetable protein — think rice and beans, or my favorite, kitcheree, a rice-and-lentil stew that was a staple in our house growing up, especially on cold, rainy nights.

Since my mom’s recipe is mostly a “throw some of this in and a little of that and maybe this, but I can’t remember” situation, I went with ribollita, an Italian bread stew, instead. Ribollita relies on stale bread and canned beans for its starch + protein combo, and gets additional bulk from frozen vegetables and canned tomatoes. I contemplated throwing in a wee bit of crumbled sausage, but this soup doesn’t need it — it’s a perfect reminder that vegetarian fare can be just as hearty and heart-warming as a meat-laden stew, often for a fraction of the cost.

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The one bit of luxury I added to the pot? A few pieces of Parmeggiano rind, which, to be fair, you can totally buy for cheap-ish and freeze forever. (Or ask the person at the cheese counter if they have any extras they’d like to “donate.”) The rind adds a bit of salty, nutty depth to the soup — it’s optional though, and the soup has plenty of flavor without it.

This recipe makes a gigantic batch of ribollita, which is perfect for freezing and re-heating throughout the holidays. And since you’re saving a few bucks on dinner, you can splurge a bit on holiday merriment.

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Continue reading

Slow Cooker Pork, Chinese-Style

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This year for her birthday (which just coincidentally happens to be the day before mine), my roommate got a slow cooker. She used it once, wasn’t impressed and since then, I’ve used it 100,273 times. My favorite use so far has been for oatmeal — I discovered that throwing in steel-cut oats, diced apples, cinnamon, almond milk, ground flax, walnuts and the teensiest bit of maple syrup overnight in the slow cooker produces the most autumnal hunger-inducing aroma the next morning. Like MUCH better than any fall-scented candle. It’s unreal.

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Basically, I’m a little obsessed. You simply toss a bunch of ingredients in, put on the lid, turn it on and then … watch TV, go for a run, take a nap, read Amy Poehler’s new memoir, listen to my new favorite obsession, do laundry, go shopping, tinker with your fantasy football team … the possibilities are endless. I made this Chinese-style pork on a Sunday, set the slow cooker up and then watched football, Gilmore Girls, The Voice and an SVU marathon. (But you know, didn’t actually leave my apartment, because who does that on a Sunday?)

The pork is ridiculously easy, and makes a ton. Rather than put all of the meat into the noodle soup below, I kept part of it separate. So far, in addition to the noodles, I’ve eaten it with fried rice, eggs, tortilla chips (hello, fusion-ish nachos) and in a salad. I also have some in the freezer, reserved for those rare nights when I have no food and no desire to order Seamless. (As I said, this makes a ton of food.)

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When you add the pork to the noodles and broth, it becomes the perfect pseudo-ramen-totally-restorative soup that everyone needs by the vat-full from November to March. Thankfully you’ll have enough pork to make at least 8 bowls of soup, and when you run out … well it takes no work to make more. Continue reading

Stuffed Acorn Squash

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Continuing in the spirit of Whole Foods picnic collection or from Yankee Stadium.)

Every now and then, I try to fancy up my 8-year-old cheap dinnerware, which is why you’ve seen so many stuffed-vegetable recipes here recently. Filling a vegetable with some combination of grains, meat and cheese not only makes it a (delicious, hearty) meal, but also creates its own bowl of sorts. Sure, this stuffed acorn squash is sitting on a plate. But between the wild rice-sausage-mushroom mixture and the bright orange squash, you hardly notice the chipped white plate covered in scratches. Pretty genius, if I say so myself.

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Aesthetics aside, this squash is perfect fall fare. The flavors–fennel-y sausage, sage, caramelized onions–are exactly what one imagines when they think “Thanksgiving,” and since it is November, we should all be thinking Thanksgiving all the time. (Or is this just me? As you full well know, I’m OBSESSED.)

The filling can be made ahead, and is delicious on its own, as a side or very seasonal lunch. The only work is cutting through the squash, which actually shouldn’t be too hard if your knife collection wasn’t also from college. (Don’t forget to save the seeds!) These stuffed squash were so perfect that I was bummed when I finished it all, so much so that I may break the cardinal rule of blogging and make them again.

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