Whether it’s an elaborate feast with the perfect roast turkey or a simple supper, Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks for our abundant blessings, and to remember it’s not just about the food, but who shares it with you. The people who occupy the chairs at your table come for the appreciation of food and the camaraderie of family and friends.
So try not to stress about having everything perfect. I know it’s hard and I have to remind myself of the same thing. I’ve hosted many Thanksgiving dinners, and have learned a few tips along the way.
The recipes I’m sharing for perfect roast turkey, do-ahead mashed potatoes and the best do-ahead gravy you’ll ever make will free up valuable time. And what cook doesn’t cherish that?
Perfect Roast Turkey
When my friend Rosie was raising turkeys for meat, I was privileged each year to get a fresh heritage turkey from her. Rosie raised happy, hormone-free turkeys. What does hormone-free mean? Well, exactly what it says. No injected hormones to affect the bird’s natural size, flavor, and quality. Well worth the price if you are able to get one.
Professionally, the recommendation is to make the dressing/stuffing, on the side. That calls for putting aromatics inside the cavity to infuse the turkey with flavor and that’s the recipe I’m sharing. The aromatics don’t overwhelm, so you still get that perfect roast turkey with traditional turkey flavor.
- 1 fresh turkey, about 12 pounds
Herbed Butter (For brushing on turkey.)
- 1-1/2 sticks butter
- Juice from 1 lemon
- Herbs: Palmful minced fresh thyme or favorite herbs
- Salt and pepper
Aromatics (To stuff inside the bird.)
- 6 sprigs thyme, 3 inches each
- Handful fresh parsley sprigs
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
- 2 cups low sodium, fat-free chicken broth or 1 cup broth and 1 cup dry white wine.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Melt butter in a saucepan, add lemon juice, herbs, and seasonings. Set aside.
- Remove giblets and rinse the turkey. Pat outside dry.
- Place turkey in roasting pan, breast side up, and sprinkle cavity with salt and pepper.
- Stuff cavity with thyme, parsley, lemon half, onion and garlic.
- Brush outside of turkey with butter mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Pour broth or broth and wine in the bottom.
- Roast two and a half to three hours, or until juices run clear between the leg and thigh. When juices run clear between the leg and thigh, you’ve assured the turkey is cooked to the proper temperature. The temperature there will be approximately 175 degrees F.
- Tent with foil and let rest 20 minutes.
- Remove aromatics from cavity before serving.
Adapted from Ina Garten.
Unstuffed vs. Stuffed: How Many Minutes Per Pound?
- A good rule of thumb is approximately 13 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey.
- For a turkey that’s stuffed, count on 20 minutes per pound. (Stuffing is safely cooked when it registers 165 degrees F in the center).
Does Turkey Need to Roast on a Rack?
That’s up to you. A rack allows the air to circulate and will produce a crisper skinned bottom.
Don’t Pitch the Carcass!
Chop it up into large pieces, put in a stockpot and cover with half water and half chicken broth. Add a splash of organic cider vinegar, this helps pull the calcium out of the bones and into the broth. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until remaining meat falls from bones. Strain and you have the best bone broth ever!
Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
Your perfect roast turkey needs flavorful gravy. This can be frozen up to a month ahead of time.
- 3 to 4 pounds turkey wings
- 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
- 1 cup water
- 2 quarts low sodium chicken broth, divided
- 1 medium carrot, unpeeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 3/4 teaspoon dried
- 3/4 cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Arrange wings in a single layer in a large sprayed roasting pan.
- Scatter onions over top.
- Roast about one hour and 20 minutes or until wings are browned.
- Put wings and onions in large pot.
- Add water to roasting pan and stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom. Add the brown bits to the pot.
- Add six cups broth, carrots, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for one hour and 20 minutes.
- Remove wings and save meat for another use.
- Strain broth into a saucepan, pressing vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard vegetables.
- Refrigerate overnight if you have time so that you can skim the fat off the top easily. If not, do your best to skim it after straining broth.
- Whisk flour into remaining two cups broth until well blended. Set aside.
- Bring broth in pot to a gentle boil.
- Whisk in broth/flour mixture and boil several minutes to thicken the gravy.
- Stir butter in. Season to taste.
- Refrigerate up to three days or freeze up to one month.
- When reheating, add defatted drippings from the roasted turkey to the gravy.
Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
I like to use baking or Yukon gold potatoes for this dish.
- 4 pounds medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place potatoes in a pan; add water to cover, stir in a little salt, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.
- Beat cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Add potatoes and beat until light and fluffy.
- Beat in butter and seasoning.
- Transfer to a sprayed 9 x 13 dish. Refrigerate, covered, overnight or up to two days.
To Reheat in the Oven: Remove from refrigerator an hour ahead of time. Dot top with butter. Cover and reheat anywhere from 325 to 375 degrees F until heated through — about 45 minutes or so.
To Reheat in the Microwave: Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before heating. Microwave, uncovered, on high 10 minutes, stirring once. Stir in two tablespoons milk and two tablespoons softened butter. Microwave until heated through.
Gilding the Lily: Shower the top with a little Parmesan cheese right before reheating.
What are your tips for a hassle-free Thanksgiving?