Sunday, November 18, 2007

Perfect Roast Turkey

In honor of the Thanksgiving "panic" that has suddenly developed at all the stores over the weekend, and which will only get worse and culminate with Mad Wednesday (where people shop as if there were an impending snowstorm or turkeys were endangered species), here is the turkey recipe I use when I am assigned the Thanksgiving hosting duties.

Warning - you will need cheesecloth for this recipe! And I never buy it the week of Thanksgiving since it is hard to find. Stock up!

My partner and I used this recipe for our first Thanksgiving and I nearly burned the house down. I had the beast all ready to go into the oven in his apartment stove (electric - feh!) which had never been used in two years. Can you say single and bachelor? Anyway, I follow the directions as to temperature and all of a sudden there are flames coming out of the oven. The knob for Bake/Broil/Pre-heat had been placed incorrectly so that Bake was really Broil.

This is basically a recipe that Martha Stewart published many years ago. To me it is the best way to make turkey - especially if you like that photo op of having perfectly brown beast on your holiday table.


1 twenty- to-twenty-one-pound fresh whole turkey, giblets and neck removed from cavity and reserved
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 bottle 750-ml dry white wine (chardonnay or poiully fuisse - not sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 small onions
1 lemon
1 orange
2 celery stalks
Sage, rosemary or other fresh herbs


1. Rinse turkey with cool water, and dry with paper towels. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature.

2. Place rack on lowest level in oven. Heat oven to 450°. Combine melted butter and white wine in a bowl. Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into quarters and cut it into a 17-inch, four-layer square. Immerse cheesecloth in the butter and wine; let soak.

3. Place turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack in a heavy metal roasting pan. If the turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it; an instant-read thermometer is a much more accurate indication of doneness. Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper inside turkey. Fill large cavity and neck cavity loosely with whole onions, quartered lemon and orange, whole celery stalks and the herbs; do not pack tightly. Tie legs together loosely with kitchen string (a bow will be easy to untie later). Fold neck flap under, and secure with toothpicks. Rub turkey with the softened butter, and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper.

4. Lift cheesecloth out of liquid, and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, baste cheesecloth and exposed parts of turkey with butter and wine. Reduce oven temperature to 350°, and continue to cook for 2 1/2 more hours, basting every 30 minutes and watching pan juices; if the pan gets too full, spoon out juices, reserving them for gravy.

5. After this third hour of cooking, carefully remove and discard cheesecloth. Turn roasting pan so that the breast is facing the back of the oven. Baste turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices, continue to use butter and wine. The skin gets fragile as it browns, so baste carefully. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes.

6. After this fourth hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not poke into a bone. The temperature should reach 180° and the turkey should be golden brown. The breast does not need to be checked for temperature. If legs are not yet fully cooked, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.

7. When fully cooked, transfer turkey to a serving platter, and let rest for about 30 minutes.