Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Turkey 101

Succulent, tender turkey.

Tart, tangy, cranberry sauce.

Sweet Potato, Pear, Casserole.

I do realize I'm preaching to the choir here, but I thought I would hop on the Thanksgiving bandwagon and offer my two cents on how to roast a turkey.   Here are my few tricks that guarantee a succulent, tender, mouthwatering turkey. Plus a couple of favorite sides,  Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m not really a kitchen gadget junkie but there are three items that I find indispensable when roasting a turkey.

1.     An appropriately sized roasting pan with a rack is essential. Please forget any ideas of using a heavy duty foil pan, it won’t work. I highly recommend a rack to sit your turkey on, the heat circulates around the bird and will help cook it more evenly, you really don’t want your beautiful turkey stewing in its own juices. I have a large roasting pan I keep only for the Thanksgiving turkey.  It sits in my basement all year long waiting for its moment of glory. 

2.     A reliable meat thermometer.  Many ovens now come with their own thermometer probes and these are wonderful, no more guess work.  If your oven doesn’t have this PLEASE go and buy the best meat thermometer you can find.  I will take the edge of any worry and you’ll use it again and again.  Think of it as a wise investment.

3.     A turkey baster. So much easier than messing around with a large spoon and splashing yourself with hot juices.  It’s not expensive and it’s rather fun.

When in possession of your roasting pan, rack, thermometer and baster you are ready for action.

For the perfect roast turkey and gravy you will need;

1, 14-16lb turkey, preferably fresh and free range
1 stick of butter, very soft
1 onion, peeled and halved
2 lemons, quartered
4 cloves of garlic

1 cup chicken or turkey stock
1 very large bunch of:
          Rosemary, thyme and sage, about 1 tablespoon of each minced, to be rubbed on the turkey, the rest to go inside the turkey cavity.
Salt and pepper

I would recommend a fresh bird.  There are so many great quality options around, from the farmer’s market to the supermarket.  If you do choose to go with a frozen bird, make sure you give it enough time to thoroughly defrost before the big day.  Take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge four days before you plan to cook it or allow at least 5 hours per lb to thaw. Place it on a large tray, you don’t want turkey juice all over the fridge. 

Heat the oven to 375 F

Take your turkey out of the fridge and bring to room temperature before you prepare it which should take about an hour or so, depending on the size.  Please remember to take out the giblets and the neck.  I know, we’ve all done it! 

The next thing to consider is whether you’re going to stuff the turkey or cook the stuffing separately in the oven.  I advise cooking it separately, I find it’s less greasy and the breast meat is less likely to be overcooked.

Mix the butter up with the minced rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper, rub all over the turkey.  Place the onion, garlic, bunches of rosemary, thyme, and chopped up lemons in the cavity. 

Place it on the rack in the roasting pan, pour 1 cup of chicken or turkey stock in the bottom of the pan and place in the pre heated oven.  A turkey of this size usually takes about 3 ½ hours.  Allow 15 minutes per lb of turkey.  Baste throughout the process which will help keep the breast moist.  If the breast seems to be getting a little too golden, tent with some aluminum foil. 

The turkey is done when the breast meat reaches 165 degrees and the thigh meat reaches 175.  The turkey will continue cooking to at least another 5 degrees while resting.   Do NOT pierce it with a knife to see if the juices run clear, this is a sure way to dry out your turkey, use the meat thermometer. The resting process is absolutely essential, it allows the juices to settle into the meat so that your turkey will be succulent.  Remove the turkey to a large warm platter, tent it with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

While the turkey is resting start on the gravy. 

For the gravy;

The pan drippings
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-4 tablespoons of all purpose flour
A healthy dash of Worcestershire sauce
3 – 4 cups of chicken or turkey stock
Salt and pepper

Drain off any excess fat from the roasting pan but be sure to leave the drippings in. 

Heat 3-4 cups of turkey or chicken stock in a measuring cup in the microwave.

Place the pan on a low heat, add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter, let it melt then add 3-4 tablespoons of all purpose flour, mix together and cook for a minute or two until you have a thick golden paste.

Slowly add the stock, whisking well with each addition.  Add the sprig of rosemary and a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce to give it some “bite”.

Simmer for a few minutes for the gravy to thicken and thoroughly cook through.

Strain the gravy through a sieve, season with black pepper and a little sea salt.  Pour into a warmed gravy boat and serve with the carved turkey.

Sweet Potato and Pear Casserole.
A lovely way to cook sweet potatoes, the fresh pear and crumble topping gives it a little added interest and sweetness.

6 Sweet potatoes
¼ cup of maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoons of cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Zest and juice of 1orange
3 tablespoons of butter
A splash of half and half


1 medium sized pear
3 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
¼ cup of pecans
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
3 tablespoons of white whole wheat flour

Peel and boil the sweet potatoes until tender. Drain, add the maple syrup, butter, cinnamon, zest and juice of the orange and mash well.  Place into an oven proof dish.

Peel, slice and core the pear and arrange in a decorative pattern over the top of the sweet potatoes.

Crush the pecans, place in a bowl, add the flour and sugar, rub in the butter.  Scatter over the sweet potato mixture.  Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden and potato bubbling.

Cranberry Sauce.

Cranberry sauce can be cooked 3 days ahead of the big day.

1, 12oz bag of fresh cranberries
¼ cup of maple syrup (or more to taste)
Zest and juice of an orange
1 ¼ cup of water

Place all the ingredients in a medium pan, bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the cranberries are soft. Remove from heat, place into a container and store until needed. They will happily sit in the oven for 4-5 days.


  1. mmm that turkey looks delicious! We are having just turkey breast. It's easier to cook and we enjoy it better than the dark meat. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  2. Everything looks absolutely delicious! Love your touches to the gravy--and the sweet potato pear casserole looks divine! Thanks for all you share, my friend!

    Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving week!


  3. GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS! I do wish that we celebrated Thanksgiving here!
    Have a beautiful Thanksgiving!

  4. It wouldn't be a Tuesday if I didn't stick in my two cents (or any other day of the week for that matter). I know it would be a pain in the neck, but the only thing to improve your recipe is 4 hours in brine. That's why I now dismantle my turkey into component parts, which also allows for better monitoring of breast meat versus dark meat. Have a wonderful holiday.

  5. I can smell the turkey! Looks scrumptious! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Mary!

  6. Wow that looks delicious.. I loved the colors of cranberry sauce.. yummy

  7. Mary, I adore everything about your post! The recipes sound delicious, your presentation is perfect and I love your beautiful plates and burgundy glass serving dish! Just fabulous!

    Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving on Thursday and what an amazing menu too.....LOVELY Mary! Karen

  9. You are a such a great cook, Mary, I am sure we can all benefit and enjoy any of your recipes. I love your sweet potato and pear dish, have to try that one time. Only thing, you keep your cranberry sauce in the oven? xo

  10. Thanks for sharing your lovely recipe. I particularly like your cranberry sauce, other recipes I've tried seem to call for a lot more sugar/sweetening.

  11. What an original take on sweet potatoes, and I love the idea of a crumble topping. I'm going to pick up some lemons and the fresh herbs and try your method, Mary. I love the photo with the sliced turkey, cranberry sauce on the platter with the fresh sage. Also have to mention, my mother had one of those glass turkey compote containers. I wish I knew what had happened to hers. Not being greedy, but any desert suggestions? My daughter and I were discussing how we'd love to try something different, but we keep going 'round in circles on the subject.

  12. What an original take on sweet potatoes, and I love the idea of a crumble topping. I'm going to pick up some lemons and the fresh herbs and try your method, Mary. I love the photo with the sliced turkey, cranberry sauce on the platter with the fresh sage. Also have to mention, my mother had one of those glass turkey compote containers. I wish I knew what had happened to hers. Not being greedy, but any desert suggestions? My daughter and I were discussing how we'd love to try something different, but we keep going 'round in circles on the subject.

  13. Hi Mary! I love all your turkey tips. I honestly am a bit scared when it comes to cooking a turkey. My husband usually handles that portion of Thanksgiving dinner. I am the sides and dessert gal. We're actually not doing the traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year. My kids are not big stuffing fans nor turkey fans. It's just the 4 of us, so were going to hike early in the morning and have a nice simple meal. I'm making a dark chocolate and coconut pie, kale salad, honey baked ham (all we do is re-heat that), and double baked potatoes. My daughter said that this is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever because it's a meal she is actually looking forward to!

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

  14. Everything looks so amazing. These are great tips. I always look so forward to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and always make lots of delicious sides and desserts to costar with the turkey:-) I bet your cranberry sauce is AMAZING! Maple always adds such a great flavor note.

  15. looks delish! I'm looking forward to the smell of the house on Thursday! :)

  16. What a wonderful meal, Mary! One little thing....did you mean to say "fridge" instead of "oven" for storing the cranberry sauce? May you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

  17. I would love to have Thanksgiving here in Britain just so I could eat something like that. But I will have to wait until Christmas. The cranberry sauce looks yum!

  18. Oh my goodness Mary....my tummy is growling right now! Just looking at the photos of your wonderful dishes, is what is causing my stomach to talk.
    Hope you all enjoy a Blessed Thanksgiving..

  19. Great how-to Mary! Always love hearing the different ways people make their turkeys each year. Gives me ideas for the future!! :)
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  20. Thanks for the tips! Your turkey looks fantastic.

  21. Love all these tips Mary as my mother-in-law always did the turkey but now she's getting a bit too old so it's left to me and I feel like a bit of a turkey-moron. Your dinner looks amazing! Hope mine looks as good! :)

  22. Wow - delicious and what stunning photos. As we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in England, I shall just have to note these tips for my Christmas lunch!

  23. What a gorgeous spread you had for your Thanksgiving table. Isn't it fun to jump into another cultures holidays and have fun with it. Many Europeans look at the sweet potato casserole and can't figure out why we put dessert on the table with the dinner! So glad you and your family enjoyed the day! And...I agree with all of your tips. Never can have enough tips.

  24. Beautiful! A gorgeous and delicious Thanksgiving dinner!
    Wish you and your family a blessed and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  25. i never cooked a turkey before! thanks for sharing your tips on that. This looks very good and that cranberry sauce is simply amazing!

  26. Such a lovely Thanksgiving dinner! I have the same glass turkey that you have and I use mine for cranberry sauce too! Love those sweet potatoes with pears on top…yummy!


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