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Simply Delicious Roast Turkey & Gravy

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Simply Delicious Roast Turkey & Gravy

 Thanksgiving will be here soon and with it comes a restful afternoon of family, friends, and touch football games in the crisp November air. It's a favorite holiday for our family, and it's great fun to host a large group of extended family for dinner.

    Yet for some reason the prospect of hosting Thanksgiving dinner and preparing a roast turkey can strike fear into the heart of even the most well seasoned home chef.   

    Perhaps it is because some people look at the sheer size of the animal, are unable to accept the simple truth that it is easy to deliver a well-prepared turkey, and screw it up with extraneous effort. While for others, memories of too many dull Thanksgiving dinners featuring bland, dry, tasteless turkeys may dissuade them from roasting a turkey, less they too serve a disappointing meal. Whatever the reason, we feel that while Thanksgiving anxiety is common, and even understandable, it is largely unnecessary.

    The truth is that there are few culinary feats that  are as easily executed as a perfect roast turkey, and there is no reason why you can't cook a turkey that looks like it belongs in a Norman Rockwell painting and tastes delicious. All you need is the right equipment, a fool-proof step by step guide to turkey and gravy, and a firm, deeply-rooted commitment to moist, flavorful turkey that will impress and satisfy your guests, and provide copious sandwiches for days after Thanksgiving.

     We want your holidays to be memorable, beautiful, and stress-free. As such, we're sharing our favorite tips, tricks and recipes for success.  The following post outlines our step-by-step process for selecting, brining,  and roasting a succulent, tender turkey. In addition ,we recommend our favorite equipment and teaching you how to make a savory, velvety gravy to top it all off.  Ready?

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want"

First Things First....A Word on the Bird

    The number of guests invited to dinner will determine how big a turkey you need. In general, you should plan on about a pound of uncooked meat per person; a little more if you're inviting big eaters, a little less for persons with smaller appetites. Further, we advise that you factor in a few extra pounds so that you have plenty of leftovers.  

    Remember that not all turkeys are created equal: in our experience, fresh, vegetarian-fed, free range turkeys taste the best. Thankfully, we have a super local resource for the best turkeys on the market, Willie Birds. Petaluma Market carries these beautiful turkeys every season. To order, call: 707.762.5464. 

Tools of the Trade

    "Always use the right tool for the job" is one of Nancy Leoni's most oft-used maxims. These are words to live by---especially in the kitchen. The utilization of good cookware and kitchen supplies can make or break you. It's a good idea to gather everything up before you start cooking--ideally a day or two in advance.

Here is our list of favorites: Essential Thanksgiving Tools

First Things First....A Word on the Bird

    The number of guests invited to dinner will determine how big a turkey you need. In general, you should plan on about a pound of uncooked meat per person; a little more if you're inviting big eaters, a little less for persons with smaller appetites. Further, we advise that you factor in a few extra pounds so that you have plenty of leftovers.  

    Remember that not all turkeys are created equal: in our experience, fresh, vegetarian-fed, free range turkeys taste the best. Thankfully, we have a super local resource for the best turkeys on the market, Willie Birds. Petaluma Market carries these beautiful turkeys every season. To order, call: 707.762.5464. 

Tools of the Trade

    "Always use the right tool for the job" is one of Nancy Leoni's most oft-used maxims. These are words to live by---especially in the kitchen. The utilization of good cookware and kitchen supplies can make or break you. It's a good idea to gather everything up before you start cooking--ideally a day or two in advance.

    Here's a brief list of what we used to brine and roast our turkey and make our stock and gravy. They're all available at i Leoni.

  • Le Creuset Roasting Pan-Don't make the mistake of  using the flimsy, disposable aluminum pans. They have no structural integrity and will collapse. 
  • Kitchen Twine
  • Le Creuset Stock Pot-Great for brining a 13-16 pound turkey.
  • Cheese Cloth-a large enough piece to completely cover your turkey.
  • Fat Separator
  • Leave-in Oven Proof Meat Thermometer
  • Shun Cutlery Carving Set
  • J.K Adams Carving Board with Well-Great for resting and carving yoru turkey
  • Juliska Large Serving Platter
  • Juliska Sauce Boat

To Brine or Not to Brine?

    Brine your turkey. It virtually guarantees a moist, flavorful final product. It's really easy too. Here's what we do:

Ingredients--Brines a 15 pound turkey. Doubles or triples easily.

  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 gallon (4 quarts) vegetable stock
  • 1 gallon water
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot, bring to to a simmer and stir occasionally until until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Turn off the heat, and allow the brine to come to room temperature. 
  2. Clear enough space in your refrigerator to accommodate your brining turkey; this may present a challenge.  Remove the gizzard and all entrails from the turkey, set them aside if you wish to use them for stock. If you purchased a previously frozen bird, make sure that it is completely thawed. Submerge the turkey in the brine, cover, refrigerate, and allow the turkey to brine for at least eight hours and up to two days.

Perfect Timing

    The right amount of time spent roasting and resting your turkey spells the difference between success and failure. Executed properly, you'll serve a warm succulent bird. Improper execution means either an insipid, dry turkey, or---gasp!---an embarrassing uncooked turkey--possibly resulting in hospitalization for some members of your dinner party. 

    The trick to avoiding either of the aforementioned scenarios is to properly roast your bird, and to do so as simply as possible. For this reason, we choose to serve our dressing on the side and not stuff the turkey.  A stuffed turkey too easily lends itself to dry breast meat or undercooked, unsafe stuffing.

    A good rule of thumb for roasting an unstuffed, fresh, room temperature turkey is that it spends thirteen minutes per pound in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, a fifteen pound bird would be in the oven for about three hours fifteen minutes.

    However, this can vary.  To make sure the turkey reaches the right temperature insert  a large dial leave-in meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh before your place the bird in the oven. Be sure that the tip of the thermometer isn't touching the bone--it'll lead to a false reading. A turkey is thoroughly cooked once the thigh meat reaches 165 degrees. After two and a half hours in the oven, check the thermometer, and briefly check it every fifteen minutes to half hour thereafter. Try to do this without opening the oven door--and losing heat--if possible. Once the thermometer reads 165 degrees, the turkey is thoroughly cooked.  To err on the side of caution, take an additional reading right underneath the wing. If that reads 165 too, you're good to go.

    After the roasting, you want to rest your bird. Resting lends to juicier meat once you carve the turkey. Set your turkey on a carving board with a well and loosely tent it with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for twenty minutes before serving. 

Ready to Roast! 

    OK,  on to the main event. By now you've brined your turkey, assembled your necessary cooking supplies, and set up a time table for roasting. You're ready to roast. 

Ingredients

  • 1 raw, brined, room-temperature turkey. Innards removed. 
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved
  • 1 head of garlic, halved
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 large bunch fresh sage
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper.
  1. Set your oven rack on the lowest level of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375. Set the turkey rack into your roasting pan.
  2. Rinse the turkey. Pat it dry with paper towels.

  •  Melt the butter. Pour it in a medium bowl, add the white wine. Pour yourself a glass of wine to drink while your turkey is roasting. Soak your cheesecloth in the melted butter and wine.
  • Liberally salt and pepper the entire bird, both inside and out. Place the aromatics inside the cavity.
  • Fold the wing tips underneath the turkey. Truss the legs with the kitchen twine.
  • Pick up the turkey and place it on the turkey rack, breast side up, make sure that the wing tips stay beneath the bird. 
  • Take the soaked cheese cloth and drape it over the bird. Reserve the remaining liquid. 
  • Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.
  • Place the turkey in the oven, close the door, and set your timer for 45 minutes.
  • After 45 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350. Baste the turkey with some of the reserved butter and wine. Reset your timer for 1 hour 45 minutes.  

  • Once the time has elapsed, open the oven again to check the temperature and remove the cheesecloth from the turkey. Discard the cheesecloth. Baste the turkey with the remaining  melted butter and wine. 
  • Continue to roast until the thigh temperature registers 165 degrees. 

It's All Gravy...

    Now that your turkey's golden brown roasted perfection, it's time for the tour de force: velvety, savory gravy built from the turkey pan sauces. Here's what you do:

Ingredients

  • Reserved pan juices
  • Reserved pan drippings
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 cups warm turkey or chicken stock
  • extra sprig or two of thyme, if you have it
  1. Pour any pan juices into the fat separator and allow it to sit. The lipids will rise to the top, separating from the turkey juice.
  2. Place your roasting pan over two burners. Set the burners to medium heat. Pour the wine into the pan and begin to deglaze the pan using your flat whisk, scraping any caramelized bits off the bottom or sides of the pan. The pan should start to look clean. Reduce by 1/2. 

  • Whisk 1 cup of your warm stock and the three tablespoons flour together, until there are no lumps. Pour it into the pan, and stir for two to three minutes. 
  • Carefully pour the reserved turkey juices into the pan, taking care not to accidentally pour the fat in as well. Discard the fat.
  • Add the optional thyme sprigs, and cook the gravy over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally,  until it reaches the desired thickness. If the gravy becomes too thick, thin it with some of the reserved stock.

  1. Remove the thyme sprigs before serving. Pour the gravy through a fine mesh strainer if you wish to remove the small turkey bits before serving. 

 

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  • Regina Leoni
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