In the Kitchen

Preparing the perfect turkey


The real centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dinners is the turkey. While some people might wish for a different entree, for the majority, the holiday would simply not be Thanksgiving without a turkey. I remember my mother waking before dawn to begin the cooking process, which meant the rest of us woke to the aroma of onions, sage and celery as she sautéed the ingredients for the stuffing.

Cooking in stages in our single oven, my mother turned out dish after dish. Part of the fun was joining in to help set the table in anticipation of the comforting familiar menu, and gasping with delight when the turkey was finally pulled out of the oven and served. Childhood memories like these arewhat we hope to recreate for our own families.

I'd like to share a turkey roasting technique that promises your turkey comes out succulent and never dry. The type of turkey you cook depends on personal preference. If you buy a frozen turkey, please give yourself at least 3 days to slowly defrost it in the refrigerator. Once defrosted and ready to roast, the turkey must be washed thoroughly, and dried with paper towels. Loosen the breast skin, and slide fresh sage, thyme and rosemary under the skin. Salt and pepper the turkey inside and out, and place on a rack in a sturdy roasting pan. Top the meaty parts with small branches of rosemary, sage and thyme. If you wish, throw more herbs and half an onion into the cavity before roasting.

I know that some people still like to stuff their Thanksgiving turkey. But I opt for baking the dressing in a dish and serving it on the side. My cooking times are for an unstuffed turkey. Roasting the turkey unstuffed is the first part of the key to its success. This safeguards that the turkey cooks evenly, and that there are no hidden undercooked pockets deep in the cavity. Also, cooking a turkey unstuffed means you can cook it for less time, ensuring that the breast is not overdone, producing mouth-watering meat and crispy skin.

But there is a second secret to keeping the turkey moist as it roasts for hours in the oven. Soak a length of cheesecloth in butter and drape over the top of the turkey. This foolproof technique allows you to forget about it for a few hours, giving you plenty of time to attend to other details or even just relax! Baste once or twice with the pan drippings if you think of it. The butter and fat drip away, and the meat stays juicy. You simply pull off the cheesecloth during the last 30 minutes to finish browning the skin.

The final touch for the perfect turkey is a first-rate gravy. I learned how to make mine from my mother-in- law, who is a master at cooking for a crowd. She starts by simmering a flavorful giblet broth which will be used later to deglaze the roasting pan.

Then, while the turkey is removed from the oven and rests on a platter, she pours off most of the fat in the pan, adds flour to the rest of the drippings, and makes a roux. The strained turkey broth is added slowly while whisking and heating until all the brown bits have been incorporated. A rich dark delicious gravy is the guaranteed result.

I like to bring the turkey whole to the table for some "oohs and aahs," but then spirit it away for slicing. Then everyone can serve themselves, whether at the table or buffet. This way, I can sit and enjoy the meal and the pleasure of everyone's company.

An inviting holiday home, and turkey and all the trimmings. Loved ones to share the meal. What else could anybody want? Happy Thanksgiving!