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Recipe: Turkey remains the star at Thanksgiving

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                Alison Roman’s dry-brined turkey with sheet-pan gravy in September. All the real cooking Roman does for Thanksgiving simply happens the day of, in a very small New York kitchen with an extremely small refrigerator and an even smaller oven.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    Alison Roman’s dry-brined turkey with sheet-pan gravy in September. All the real cooking Roman does for Thanksgiving simply happens the day of, in a very small New York kitchen with an extremely small refrigerator and an even smaller oven.

The funny thing about holidays is that you are the same person on those days as you are all the other days of the year. If you are generally disorganized and a little chaotic in the kitchen, you won’t magically transform into someone who isn’t. Take it from me, someone who is disorganized and a little chaotic.

But that has never stopped me from being enthusiastic about Thanksgiving, a holi­day dedicated almost exclusively to cooking and eating, my two favorite things. I’m also a sucker for tradition and routine, and I cherish the one day a year to honor both.

To avoid unnecessary personal meltdowns while cooking this meal, I’ve learned to match my expectations with my reality. This means nothing is getting done more than three days before Thanksgiving — when I begin prepping side dishes — and I refuse to panic about it.

When it comes to the turkey I start with a brine at least eight hours before it needs to go in the oven. My goal is dinner at 6 p.m., so I’ll put the bird in around 2 p.m., which means that around 1 p.m., I’ll remove it from the fridge and prepare it for roasting. It’s better to have the turkey roasted and resting than to have to wait for it to finish, so get it in sooner rather than later.

This is a good time to mention that I do not own a large roasting pan. I’ve been cooking professionally for 15 years, and I have never owned one, because a tool I’ll use only once a year has no business taking up space in my kitchen. Roasting a turkey instead on a sheet pan promotes even browning and is incredibly efficient. I’ve always thought of it like roasting a giant chicken, which I’d also do on a baking sheet.

Anyway, I simply pick up my brined bird and gently plop it onto my baking sheet. Not since I removed its giblets have I been so intimate with a turkey. It’s not a glamorous job, but someone (me) has to do it. I scatter garlic, onions and lemon around the turkey, and stuff them in the cavity too, then drizzle with a mixture of melted butter and olive oil.

After a lot of experimenting, I prefer the low-and-slow treatment for roasting my turkey. It turns out more evenly cooked, the fat is better rendered (which equals crisp skin), and I’m not worried about a dry breast (the worst). I don’t truss because, well, who has the time? I also feel that trussing prevents the legs from getting as brown as they can become. That said, if you must truss for aesthetic reasons, truss away.

DRY-BRINED TURKEY

By Alison Roman

  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey
  • 4 to 5 medium red onions, quartered
  • 3 lemons, halved crosswise
  • 2 heads garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Strip leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme and coarsely chop leaves. Place in a medium bowl along with salt, brown sugar and pepper; mix to blend well.

Place turkey on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a wire rack. (If you do not own a wire rack, place turkey directly on baking sheet.) Make sure giblets (the bagged heart, kidneys, liver and neck) are removed from the cavity. Using paper towels, pat turkey dry on all sides. Sprinkle with salt mixture, making sure to distribute seasoning evenly to all the bits and parts.

Refrigerate turkey, uncovered, 8 to 24 hours — the longer, the better.

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove turkey from fridge, and transfer it to another clean, rimmed baking sheet (discard any liquid that has accumulated on the first baking sheet). Stuff turkey with remaining sprigs of thyme, a few of the quartered onions and half of the lemons and garlic. Scatter remaining onion quarters, lemons and garlic around turkey.

Combine olive oil and butter in a small pot over medium heat, simmering until butter is melted. Pour half over turkey and onions. Toss onions lightly to evenly coat; season everything with salt and pepper.

Roast, rotating baking sheet every hour or so, until turkey has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees in the deepest part of the thigh, 2-1/2 to 3 hours. The turkey will be cooked through and tender, and the skin will be brown, but you can and should get it browner.

Increase temperature to 425 degrees. Pour remaining butter mixture over turkey (warm it slightly if it has soli­dified) and continue to cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees and the skin is very deeply browned all over, 20 to 25 minutes. It’s OK if the internal temperature is just shy of 165 degrees, it will come to temperature as it rests. (If you find the skin is browning too quickly, especially on the top at the breast, place a sheet of foil over the breast.)

Remove turkey from oven and let rest on baking sheet 30 minutes. Tip turkey cavity-side down, making sure aro­matics stay inside the cavity, and let any juices run out onto the rimmed baking sheet. Reserve this to make gravy, if desired.

Transfer roasted onions, lemons and garlic to serving platter. Transfer turkey to a cutting board. Carve and arrange on serving platter. Serves 10 to 12.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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