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Holiday Roast Turkey with Gravy

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

This Thanksgiving bird is as good as it gets thanks to technique, not torture!

Holiday Roast Turkey with Gravy

Bathed in butter on the outside and infused with fresh herbs on the inside, the turkey is golden brown, moist, and savory. When it comes to salt and pepper, the inside of the bird must be seasoned just as much as the outside because the flavors infuse from within during cooking. Rub the cavity with lots of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper before filling it with herbs. If you need to feed more than 8-12 people, roast two birds instead of one giant bird. It is easier to cook a smaller turkey, and fewer people have to fight over the legs! While the turkey rests, you have plenty of time to prepare fresh pan gravy – and gather all the wonderful flavors from the drippings.

Equipment: cutting board, chef’s knife; measuring spoons; dry and wet measuring cups; small bowl or small saucepan; cheesecloth; pastry brush; roasting pan with a rack; twine; meat thermometer (optional); turkey lifters (optional); medium saucepan; whisk; wooden spoon

Turkey Ingredients: 12-14-pound whole turkey, plus the neck kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 garlic cloves smashed ½ bunch each fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary 3 medium carrots, cut in chunks 3 medium celery stalks, cut in chunks 3 medium onions, cut in chunks

½ cup (1 stick) + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Gravy Ingredients: ¼ cup fat from the pan drippings

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 quart chicken stock

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

ILOC tip: before preheating the oven, make sure that the oven rack is on the lowest or second lowest rung so that the turkey can fit in the oven.

2. Wash the turkey well under cold running water. Pat it thoroughly dry. Remove any excess fat from cavity, along with the neck and any other parts like the livers or heart (reserve the neck and set aside; discard or reserve the other parts for later use). Set the cleaned bird on a tray lined heavy with paper towels to air dry for 30-60 minutes.

3. Season the outside and inside cavity of the turkey heavily with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, in every nook and cranny. Stuff the turkey cavity with the fresh herbs, stems and all. Cross the legs and tie together with twine.

4. Place the chopped carrots, celery, and onions in the bottom of a roasting pan along with the neck and smashed garlic cloves. Place the rack on top of the vegetables. Then put the turkey, breast side up, on the rack. If desired, tuck the wings underneath the body.

ILOC tip: there is no need to peel the carrots or trim the celery of its leaves. These vegetables are being used as mirepoix to flavor and fortify the pan drippings. Save time and simply chop them. It's about technique, not torture.

5. Melt ½ cup butter in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove. Cut a piece of cheesecloth the approximate size of the surface area of the turkeys so that the cloth covers the breast and drapes over the legs. Soak the cheesecloth in the melted butter and then drape it over the turkey. Drizzle any remaining melted butter over the top and sides of turkey.

6. Put the turkey in the oven and immediately lower the heat to 325°F. Roast the turkey for two hours undisturbed. After two hours, remove the turkey from the oven (shut the oven door!), and confirm that there are drippings in the bottom of the pan and that the skin is beginning to brown. If the bottom of the pan does not have much liquid, add 1/3-½ cup of chicken or turkey stock.

Do not open the oven door!

“It is imperative to keep the oven heat at a consistent temperature. Good technique—the ILOC way— leads to great results.”

7. Return the turkey to the oven and continue roasting for approximately 1½ hours more (15 minutes per pound total cooking time). In the final half hour, remove the cheesecloth and discard. Rub the remaining butter on the breast and legs, and season with more salt and pepper. Finish cooking in the oven until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the thigh measures 180°F or the breast measures 170°F.

8. Remove the turkey from the oven and lift the rack from the roasting pan. Tent the turkey with aluminum foil and set aside in a draft-free area.

"Once the turkey is done and spends at least 20 minutes resting, it’s time to make the gravy. Perfect timing, just the way the culinary gods intended."

9. While the turkey rests, prepare the gravy. Carefully pour off all the liquid in the roasting pan, into a wet measuring cup through a strainer, straining the vegetables and chicken neck. There will likely be fat and drippings, not just fat. Whatever the measurement reads for the fat, measure the same amount of flour in a dry measuring cup. Set the fat/drippings and flour aside.

ILOC tip: don't worry what the drippings measurement is. You can approximate and subtract that amount from the quantity of stock you use to make the gravy.

10. Place the roasting pan over two burners on a medium flame. Add the chicken stock to the pan, and scrape up all the drippings (sucs) using a wooden spoon. Continue scraping until the pan is fully deglazed. Transfer the liquid back to a large measuring cup or other pouring vessel.

ILOC tip: "reinforcing" store-bought chicken stock by deglazing the roasting pan on the stovetop adds tremendous depth of flavor. If that process proves too cumbersome, simply warm the quart of chicken stock as-is before making the gravy.

11. Using a whisk, combine the flour and fat/pan drippings in a large saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. While whisking and in a very slow steady stream, pour in the warm, reinforced chicken stock from deglazing the roasting pan. Continue whisking until the mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Add more chicken stock or water, if the mixture becomes too thick too quickly. Lower the heat and cook for a few minutes more, then season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Set aside.

ILOC tip: the gravy is ready when it coats the back of a spoon and leaves no trace when you run your clean finger through it.

12. Carve the turkey. Once carved and plated, pour some of the juices into the gravy, if desired. Season again, and serve.

Makes 8-12 servings.

To Brine or Not to Brine

The Thanksgiving turkey is perhaps the greatest source of insecurity and anxiety for America’s home cooks. The competition, it seems, is not for the moistest turkey, but unfortunately for being able to make the bird moist in the first place. You don’t need to brine to have a moist bird. That being said, brining is an excellent technique that helps to produce a moist and tasty turkey.

Brining is placing food in a strong solution of water and salt (a brine) in order to season pickle, or preserve it. Other ingredients can be added to this solution for flavor or color, such as sugar or molasses. Specifically, brining a turkey helps the bird to retain moisture and impart flavor throughout the meat. Brining can take anywhere from 4 hours to overnight, depending on your schedule and needs. The longer you plan on brining the turkey, however, the less salt you should use. For example, if you have a 15-pound turkey and you plan to brine it in 2 gallons of water for 4-6 hours, use up to 4 cups of kosher salt. If you will eat an early dinner Thanksgiving day and wish to begin brining the night before, use only 2 cups of kosher salt.

When the bird is removed from the brine to be put in the oven, it first must be rinsed thoroughly inside and out, and then pat dry inside and out. These are two critical steps to ensure that the turkey is neither unpleasantly salty nor damp before being cooked.

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1 Comment

Nov 18, 2020

Hey Lauren! It's Dave Taliaferro, Colgate class of 82. I was on your zoom presentation last night. Nice job! So I'm thinking of trying your roast turkey recipe next week. I've never done the cheesecloth technique. I was also thinking of spatchcocking the bird. Ever try that? I'm wondering if it would affect how much drippings I have for gravy.

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