Turkey 101

This is your dependable, traditional turkey. There's a lot of room for variation, but don't expect something revolutionary here. What this recipe lacks in imagination, it makes up for in consistency and flavor. The holidays are not the time to experiment with some fancy new recipe that no one else will like anyway. You need to stick to what works and what will go over will with your hungry family and friends — and this turkey will deliver every time. Plus the basting liquid concentrates and becomes a fantastic base for gravy. And the vegetables roasted along with the turkey can be served as a side dish. That's called versatility, folks. Yield depends on the size of the turkey, anywhere from 6 to 15 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 10+ pound turkey, with neck and giblets
  • 2 stalks sage
  • 10 stalks thyme
  • 2 stalks rosemary
  • 2 stalks oregano
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 2 big carrots
  • 2 big parsnips
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2¼ cups white wine (I like a less dry wine), divided 2 cups and ¼ cup
  • 4¼ cups chicken, turkey, or vegetable stock, divided 4 cups and ¼ cup
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature, halved
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper or ½ tablespoon black pepper

Hardware:

  • Roasting pan with rack
  • Butcher's oven-safe twine, optional
  • A few feet of cheesecloth
  • Baster
  • Instant-read or digital thermometer
  • Aluminum foil
  • Very sharp knife for carving

Prepare the turkey:

  1. Choose a bird between 8 and 15 pounds. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator on a small sheet tray on the bottommost rack for 1 day per 4 pounds.
  2. The day of, remove the turkey from the bag, saving any giblets. Rise inside and out then dry very well. Let side on a small sheet tray on the countertop for 3 to 5 hours. Letting it come up to room temperature greatly reduces the roasting time and ensures more even cooking.

Prepare the basting liquid:

  1. Preheat an oven to 450°F with one rack in the bottommost or second-to-bottom position and the other in the top position or removed from the oven.
  2. Scatter the herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay) in the roasting pan.
  3. Top the carrots and cut into three pieces. Top the parsnips and slice in half lengthwise, then make two or three widthwise cuts. Cut the celery into three pieces. Peel and quarter the onions. Mix and scatter around the roasting pan.
  4. Place the turkey neck in the bottom of the roasting pan; it will add flavor and body to the basting liquid and gravy. Fit the rack into the pan by moving the vegetables this way and that until it sits in the pan correctly.
  5. Pour 2 cups of white wine and 4 cups of stock into the pan.

Prepare the turkey:

  1. Quarter the lemon and orange and stuff into the cavity.
  2. If the turkey's legs aren't already bound and it has a lot of excess skin at the back, cut a small horizontal slit in the center of the skin. Slip each drumstick bone through the skin, crisscrossing to help keep them in place. Alternatively, a square or slip knot of butcher's twine around the drumstick bones will keep them in place. Trussing the legs like this helps the dark meat to roast evenly.
  3. Working from the cavity side, slip two fingers in between the breast and the skin. Wriggle your fingers around to separate the two as much as you can, being careful not to rip the skin. Work half a stick of butter under each breast. I find it easiest to push the butter into the middle of the breast then massage it across the bird from outside of the skin. Cover as much of the breast as you can. This helps add some much-needed richness to the breast by melting over it and into the basting liquid. Rub a little butter over the outside of the breast and thighs.
  4. Season the bird evenly (sprinkling from a height helps) with salt and pepper, paying attention to the breast and the thighs.
  5. Combine the remaining ¼ cup wine and ¼ cup stock in a bowl. Cut two lengths of cheesecloth wide enough to cover the breast and long enough to extend from the bottom of the breast over the cavity. Set the cheesecloth in the bowl to absorb the liquid (any unabsorbed liquid can be poured into the roasting pan) and drape over the breast.

Roast the turkey:

  1. Be sure your oven is preheated to 450°F and one rack is in the bottommost or second-to-bottom position with the other rack in the topmost position or removed from the oven.
  2. Place the turkey onto the roasting pan rack and place the whole thing into the oven. Roast for 45 minutes.
  3. Reduce the oven to 350°F and baste the cheesecloth and the rest of the bird well. Roast 1 hour, basting every 15 minutes. If the cheesecloth is starting to burn in places, tent with foil — just remember not to baste the foil!
  4. After an hour, remove the cheesecloth and the foil, if using. Continue to baste every 15 minutes. If the breast gets too dark, cover with foil; but I encourage you to let it get very well browned and crispy. Also check its temperature every 15 minutes. Take the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh without the thermometer touching a bone. Once it reads 160°F, the turkey is done.
  5. Once done, remove the roasting pan from the oven, remove the roasting pan rack, and tent the bird with foil. Rest at least 20 minutes. Turkeys will stay very hot for a good hour.