How to Roast the Juiciest Thanksgiving Turkey
BY TOM YATES
Over the river and through the woods… But maybe not this year. When my family moved to Kentucky and settled in with my grandparents on their remote rural farm, the notion of Thanksgiving was completely new to me. It just wasn’t a thing in Austria, Germany, or Africa. There were no turkeys, dressings, or casseroles to share. No football. Our large family was thousands of miles away. Thanksgiving never happened.
Life on the farm was a different kind of life. On Thanksgiving morning, my grandmother’s demeanor changed. Through the flurry and hubbub, she’d quietly and serenely crank out countless sweet potato pies, chess pies, transparent pies, and pumpkin pies. By midmorning, the family started piling in. Choreographed like a country version of Swan Lake, the array of sides and fixings were laid out over every inch of counter space, including a makeshift cover over the kitchen sink. Always feeling like an awkward interloper, I swooned with awe.
After my grandmother filled her milkwood punch bowl with Cola Lemonade iced down with lemonade ice cubes, the Thanksgiving blessing opened the buffet.
Those early Thanksgivings made me realize I had missed something that I didn’t even know was missing in my life — family, friends, and even Thanksgiving.
During these times, it’s ok to miss all the hoopla when you hold close what is missing. There’s a simple joy in knowing that our friends and family share the missing. No doubt, this year will be different than any other. Although smaller, simpler, safer, and softer this year, hold fast to the missing and embrace the present.
Heaven knows, over the years I’ve done just about anything and everything you can do with a turkey. Depending on how fancified or low brow I wanted to go, I’ve deep fried, spatchcocked, brined, smoked, braised, buttered, herbed, stuffed, unstuffed, deboned, and ruined quite a few turkeys. Each and every method had its pros and cons. ALL of them were fussy and labor intensive….because…well….isn’t that the point? We go overboard for the sake of those we love.
These days are different. Overboard is overboard. Simple wins.
Surprisingly, I snagged a very small 11 pound fresh turkey. Big enough to feel festive, yet small enough to feed a few close friends. With adjusted cooking times, this simple method works with any sized turkey.
After melting 1 cup unsalted butter and letting it cool, I added 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup white wine, 2 tablespoons sorghum, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon ground poultry seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage, and 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme. I whisked to combine, and loaded an injection syringe with the mix before carefully injecting the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks under the skin in several locations, pushing the marinade and pulling the needle to evenly distribute the marinade throughout the flesh. After liberally salting the skin of the turkey, I massaged softened butter over every square inch of the skin and slid it into the refrigerator (uncovered) to dry out and marinate overnight.
To keep things less fussy, I braised vegetables along with the turkey. Like any good roast, that method benefits from a two-step process. In lieu of a roasting rack, I scattered unpeeled carrots, Madison County purple onions, trimmed celery stalks, Scott County cleaned leeks, and unpeeled parsnips into the bottom of a medium sized roasting pan. After stuffing the turkey with 1 halved lemon, 1 halved blood orange, 1 sliced celery stalk, onion, fresh sage, fresh rosemary, and 2 peeled garlic cloves, I tied the turkey legs together with kitchen twine, and nestled the turkey onto the vegetables. I poured 1 1/2 cups chicken stock into the roasting pan, let the turkey rest on the counter for 20 minutes to take the chill off, covered the breast with aluminum foil, and slid it into a preheated 335 oven.
I basted the turkey with the pan juices every 30 minutes or so. Midway ( 1 1/2 hours in), I added an additional 1 cup stock, removed the foil from the breast meat, and covered the legs with the foil to prevent overbrowning. At the 2 hour mark, I removed most of the spent vegetables before adding fresh peeled carrots, sliced fresh celery, sliced onions, and 2 seeded and sliced Casey County acorn squash. After basting the skin every 20 minutes during the last hour, I finished with a whisper thin glaze of 2 tablespoons sorghum mixed with 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice. When the internal temp hit 165 degrees, I pulled the turkey from the oven, tented it, and let it rest for 30 minutes before nestling it onto a bed of fresh sage and fresh bay leaves along with apples, blood oranges, pears, and roasted acorn squash.
This article also appears on page 18 of the November 2020 print edition of ace magazine lex.
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