Roasting a turkey is something I never thought I could do. In the early days of my cooking adventures, I didn’t even dare dream that I could roast a turkey, not even while my family and I were living in the United States, where turkeys are abundant and a must on Thanksgiving Day. Instead we would have our Thanksgiving feast in Syracuse University, where my husband and I were taking up graduate studies.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, the university would host a lavish Thanksgiving lunch for the foreign students and their families. There would be turkey with all the trimmings, thick, flavorful gravy, cranberry sauce and a number of side dishes. During one such gathering, a photographer took a photo of my daughter Pia, then 6 years old, showing her delightfully savoring the meal—and the next thing we knew her picture came out in the local newspaper.
Several years ago, for various reasons now fuzzy to me, I finally ventured into cooking turkey. To my surprise, the turkey turned out moist, tender and delectable. With this initial success, I became more confident about my turkey roasting skills.
These days I usually cook turkey for family gatherings and whenever some friends come over for our annual Thanksgiving reunion. It’s not that hard to make a delicious mouthwatering roast turkey but it does require advance planning (you need to thaw the frozen turkey in the refrigerator four days ahead), patience (a wait of about two-and-half-hours for the turkey to roast), and some heavy lifting (a whole turkey weighs several kilos).
Speaking from experience, I’d say it’s all worth the effort. When family and friends savor the turkey and exclaim how delicious it is, it sounds to me like applause.
For an encore, I’d then serve homemade desserts: fruit salad and a pecan pie or a cake, and sometimes freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving Day which is next week, I’m sharing here my fool-proof recipe for roast turkey and gravy. I realize others may have a different method of cooking turkey, but this is one that I’ve done many times through the years and it always brings out the best in the turkey.
1 whole (frozen) Butterball turkey, about 5 to 6 kilos
1 cup butter, divided
1 large onion, halved
1-2 carrots, sliced into thick rounds
For the gravy:
1 pack turkey neck and giblets (from the turkey)
6 c water
Drippings from the turkey
¼ c flour
Four days before cooking the turkey: put the frozen turkey in the refrigerator to allow it to thaw slowly and completely.
About four hours before the turkey is to be served: Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Remove the turkey from the packaging and separate the pack of turkey neck and giblets (reserve this for the gravy). Rinse the turkey well in running water then pat dry with paper towels (make sure to pat dry the inside of the turkey, too). Season the turkey, inside and out, with salt (pepper is optional).
Melt one-third cup of the butter. Brush the turkey well with the melted butter.
Cut the remaining butter into small cubes. Put some of the cubed butter inside the turkey together with the onion. Insert some cubed butter in between the turkey skin and the flesh (be careful not to tear the skin). Season the turkey again with salt. Tie the turkey legs together (use a length of kitchen twine).
Arrange the turkey in a roasting pan. If desired, insert a meat thermometer in the thigh of the turkey, making sure that the thermometer doesn’t touch the bone. Cover the turkey with a tent of aluminum foil (Note: The foil should not touch the top of the turkey).
Put the turkey in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes then turn the temperature down to 175 degrees Celsius. Let the turkey roast in the oven for about two hours, then remove the foil tent. Continue roasting until the turkey is golden brown and the thermometer registers 74-80 degrees Celsius, about 30 to 45 minutes more (check for doneness after 30 minutes).
When the turkey is fully cooked, let it rest for 20 minutes before slicing.
Note: While the turkey is roasting, wash the turkey neck and giblets. Put them in a medium saucepan and add the six cups of water. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain the resulting broth and reserve for making the gravy. Chop the giblets into small pieces and remove the meat from the neck. Set aside for the gravy.
To make the gravy:
After the turkey is cooked, remove it from the roasting pan and let it rest. Put the roasting pan over a stove top (across two burners) and stir the drippings in the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. Slowly pour in the broth from the turkey giblets and stir well. Strain the liquid into a large bowl.
In a large saucepan, pour in about one-fourth cup of the liquid and heat on medium heat. Add the one-fourth cup flour and whisk together until smooth. Gradually add the remaining liquid, stirring constantly to keep the gravy smooth. Add the chopped giblets and the meat from the turkey neck. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let simmer until thick and flavorful (about 15 minutes).
Strain the gravy. Serve the gravy piping hot with the turkey.
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Make sure you use a roasting pan that’s large enough. The pan should also be thick so as not to burn the turkey.
Do not overcook the turkey so it won’t be dry.
If you’re serving this to a large crowd, it’s better to roast two small turkeys (about 5 to 6 kilos each) than one large turkey. Cooking a large turkey may be difficult for the home cook as it tends to get dry before it becomes fully cooked.