With Thanksgiving only a little over a week away, I wanted to spend some time focusing on my favorite holiday. A couple of days ago, I posted some great resources for ordering an organic (maybe heirloom or heritage?) bird. I highly recommend you make the effort to order one of these more tender and flavorful turkeys. Heritage turkeys—like the Bourbon Red, White Holland, Standard Bronze, Naragansett, and Jersey Buff—are a few steps removed from what the pilgrims enjoyed, but they are also many rungs up the flavor and sustainability ladder from the breast-heavy, over-bred birds offered up by conventional sources. The turkeys that have been crafted to satisfy white-meat only, please Americans pale—literally—when compared to these real, old-fashioned birds.
To get you headed in the right direction with your investment in both this special day and a heritage bird, I’ll spend the next few days posting a foolproof turkey recipe, the best gravy, my grandmother’s stuffing, an assortment of great sides (both mine and others), and cranberry sauce (you’ll never buy this again).
Today, I’m including the basics: turkey and stuffing. Stay tuned for suggestions for everything else you’ll need for a delicious Thanksgiving meal that you can truly be thankful for.
Maple-Glazed Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
This method of preparing the year’s most traditional main dish is just simply the one! Because it’s cooked low and slow, suspended over flavorful liquids, it yields a juicy, crisp, golden bird every time. Even first-timers can follow these simple instructions and look like a Thanksgiving maven. Serve this delicious turkey with Caramelized Pan Gravy.
BEVERAGE TO ACCOMPANY: A buttery California Chardonnay or Sicilian Nero d’Avola
Makes 12 servings (plus leftovers)
- 14- to 16-pound turkey (completely defrosted in the refrigerator, if necessary)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1/4 cup natural maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 bay leaves (Call me! My bay tree is overloaded.)
- 4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 3 carrots, roughly chopped
- 10 cloves garlic (leave papery skin on)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or 1 can organic chicken broth)
Preheat the oven to 350° F. If the stuffing was refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before putting it into the bird.
- Remove any innards from the turkey. Remove any excess fat from the neck or chest cavity and rinse the cavities thoroughly with cool water and pat dry. Season liberally with salt and black pepper.
- Combine the butter, orange juice, maple syrup, thyme, salt, and black pepper in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat to melt, about 60 seconds.
- Stuff the turkey lightly with your desired stuffing; do not pack it in. This size bird will accommodate about 7 cups total. If there is skin to pull together to cover the stuffing, secure it with skewers. If this skin has been trimmed off, cover the exposed stuffing with foil.
- Add bay leaves, chopped vegetables, garlic, and 1 cup of stock (or water) to the roasting pan. Place a roasting rack in the pan (one that is high enough to hold the turkey above the liquids). Brush the turkey liberally with the melted thyme butter and place on the rack, breast side down.
- Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven to roast. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes with the thyme butter.
- After 1 hour, flip the turkey onto its back for the remaining cooking time. If any areas start to darken too quickly, cover lightly with foil. Continue to baste every 30 minutes. If the pan dries out, add additional stock or water. Never let the pan become dry.
- This size turkey will take about 4 hours to roast (about 20 minutes per pound). The turkey is done when a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 160° F; the juices should run clear when you pierce the thigh.
- Remove the turkey from the pan and place it on a carving board. Tent the turkey loosely with foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This gives you plenty of time to make the pan gravy.
Stuffing with Chestnuts and Smoked Bacon Recipe
This is basically the same turkey stuffing that my mother’s mother made. I have added the chestnuts because my husband loved them. The crunch of the nuts, the juicy apples, and the earthy herbs conspire to conjure up holiday memories for me of the great Thanksgiving dinners my Grandma Morgan turned out every year.
The smell of chestnuts roasting (even if it’s not over an open fire), always reminds me of the first time I tried them—in Paris. What a sensual, evocative treat they were, burning my hands through the newspaper cone while the rest of me froze in the December chill of the Rue du Bac.
Chestnuts can be kind of a pain to roast yourself, but it’s also fun once you get the hang of it. Especially if you have warm memories like mine. Do you have a story about the first time you ate or cooked chestnuts? I’d love to hear about it.
Makes 10 to 12 servings (plus leftovers)
- 1 cup roasted chestnut meat (about 15 large chestnuts)*
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 cups chopped yellow onion (about 3 large)
- 2 cups chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 pound smoked bacon, like that from Organic Prairie
- 1 1/2 cups chopped green apple, such as Pippin or Granny Smith
- 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted
- 6 to 8 cups cornbread cubes (packaged is fine as long as it is unseasoned)
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or store-bought, low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons dried sage
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- Kosher salt (to taste)
- 1/2 cup Madeira
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
- Cut an X in the flat side of the chestnuts, place them on a baking sheet, and roast them in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes (depending on their size), until knife tender. When cool, peel the chestnuts and coarsely chop the roasted chestnut meat.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the chopped onion, celery, and garlic. Sauté for about 4 to 5 minutes until the onions are soft. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a large bowl.
- Roughly chop the bacon and add it to the same pan. Sauté the bacon for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the chopped apple to the pan and continue to sauté for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the sausage is fully cooked. Transfer the bacon and apple to the same bowl as the vegetables. Reserve the liquid in the pan and set it aside.
- When all of the sautéed ingredients are cool, mix in the chestnuts, hazelnuts, cornbread, herbs, and spices.
- Drizzle the Madeira, pan drippings from the bacon, and stock over the mixture with a sparing hand, and toss again. The stuffing should be moist but not gooey or clumpy. It will pick up a great deal of moisture from the cavity of the turkey. If it is too wet now, your finished stuffing will be a sodden glop. Season to taste with salt.
- The stuffing can be covered and refrigerated up to 24 hours before using in the bird. If you want to bake the stuffing separately, place it in a covered casserole dish and bake at 350° F for about 45 minutes.
*Note: Chestnuts are available already roasted and peeled in jars at stores like Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods.