Chosen Bites: A drama-free Thanksgiving

With all the family in town and the kitchen crowded, use Laura Frankel's recipes to help make the day a little smoother.

Turkey 311 (photo credit: ajc)
Turkey 311
(photo credit: ajc)
Serve a Holiday Feast-Drama Free Roast and Carve Like a Pro As a child I watched in fascination and wonderment at the preparation of the Thanksgiving Turkey. It seems that each year, my mother tried some newfangled way to ready the bird for the oven, all in an effort to produce a moist, juicy final result. I remember yards of greasy, herb flecked cheesecloth that seemed to have a life of its own and I think my mother ended up wearing it as she attempted to drape it across the turkey’s breast. It looked like a cross between a mummy and a toga party.
I also remember the year she tried to cram the turkey into a paper bag and then had to somehow baste it while in the bag. OY VAY! What a mess with drippings shooting around the oven while she aimed into the bag with the turkey baster like some bizarre carnival game. My mother and my grandmother would both peer into the oven, through the impossibly small, dripping stained window, hoping that this year-the bird would magically be cooked all the way through and not be dry, dry, dry.
I can hardly even speak about the drama of carving the bird. My father got that job and took it upon himself to use every gadget known to mankind including knives, electric knives, shears, and all with the agony and urgency of a doctor in an ER as he fumbled with a bird that was twice the size of the average household cutting board. Bird and bones flying everywhere, they did get a feast on the table, but who needs all of that? It is no wonder I cook for a living, I just could not go through all of that.
Here are professional tips for a delicious feast-Drama Free!
For the turkey:
  • 1 12-14 pound whole turkey, thawed
  • ½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 large Spanish onions, roughly chopped
  • 6 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 bulbs of garlic, cut in half
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper 
1. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey. Place the neck in a separate roasting pan. Rinse turkey with cool water, and dry with paper towels. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature (the bird will cook evenly if it is at room temperature). Combine the chopped herbs and set aside.
2. Place rack on lowest level in oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
3. Place the chopped vegetables on the bottom of a heavy metal roasting pan (you want the vegetables to cover the bottom of the pan to keep the turkey from sitting in its own juices and getting soggy). Place the giblets in the pan with the vegetables. Place turkey, breast side up, on top of the bed of chopped vegetables in the roasting pan. If the turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it; an instant-read thermometer is a much more accurate. Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper inside turkey. Tie legs together loosely with kitchen string. Rub turkey with olive oil and sprinkle generously with fresh herb mixture and salt and pepper.
4. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Place the neck in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, baste the exposed parts of turkey with the juices that will gather in the bottom of the pan. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to cook for 1 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Remove the neck and set aside for making the gravy.
5. Turn roasting pan so that the breast is facing the back of the oven. Baste turkey with pan juices. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes.
6. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not poke into a bone. The temperature should be between 140-160 degrees and the turkey should be golden brown. The breast does not need to be checked for temperature. If legs are not yet fully cooked, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.
7. When fully cooked, transfer the turkey to a serving platter-lightly tent the turkey with foil (tear a large piece of foil lightly cover the turkey and let it rest.)
For the Gravy:
  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper 
8. To make the gravy. Pour all the pan juices into a glass measuring cup and pour the vegetables into a mesh strainer placed over a saucepan. Press on the vegetables to gather all of the juices for the gravy. Discard the vegetables-reserve the giblets! Let stand until grease rises to the surface then skim it off reserving 2 tablespoons.
9. Place the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the turkey fat back to the pan. Add chopped shallots and mushrooms and using a wooden spoon, scrape the pan until all the brown bits are gathered from pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over the mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Cook the roux for 2 minutes to remove the raw flour flavor. Add one cup white wine and one cup of degreased pan juices plus stock if needed to equal one cup. Chop the cooled giblets. Add the roasted neck and chopped giblets to the gravy mixture and slowly simmer for 30 minutes.
10. Remove the neck and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper
Carving the Bird-Drama Free:
Place the rested turkey, breast side up and with the legs pointing towards you, on a large carving board.
With a sharp knife, cut the leg and thigh free by cutting through the skin and wiggling the knife through the joint where the thigh is attached to the body.
Cut the remaining leg and thigh off of the bird. Cut the thighs off of the legs, by cutting through the leg and thigh joint.
Cut off the breast by cutting a line on one side of the breast bone that runs along the top of the bird. Gently run your knife down one side of the breast bone all the way down to the bottom of the bird.
Do the same for the other breast.
Slice the breast meat into slices across the length of the breast. Cut even, thin slices (the skin may fall off- and you can just lay it across the meat). Arrange the meat on the platter and drizzle with gravy. Pass additional gravy at the table.Chef Laura Frankel is Executive Chef for Spertus Kosher Catering and author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.