Roast Turkey 101.2 ( the upgrade), with wild mushroom stuffing

Things that have not changed an iota in the last 3 decades:

* If you go by the standard Thanksgiving story, all the way back to 1622 (which in fairness to history you probably shouldn’t), tradition favors venison. But tradition as usually understood demands turkey. No other meat – or poultry – will do.

* It is impossible to roast a whole turkey and have both light and dark meat come out equally delicious.

* It is impossible to convince people that this means turkeys should not be roasted whole.

Things that have changed considerably:

* Wild turkeys are back, big time, although not yet back on the table

* Wild turkeys are back, big time, although not yet back on the table

* Cooks have discovered that brining the turkey does a great deal to help keep the meat moist. (Best dissenting opinion award: Harold Magee in the New York Times).

* The USDA has discovered it’s not necessary to create bird-flavored sawdust, i.e. internal temperature of thigh 180 degrees. The agency now allows you to stop at 165, still around 10 degrees hotter than essential for safety,  but only about 5 degrees hotter than best for succulence.

* It’s no longer enough that the turkey be fresh, unpolluted by “self-basting” additives and unpierced by pop up buttons. Fresh and local is now the gold standard, except when you can get fresh, local and heritage, the high end turkey trifecta.

tips for dealing w/heritage turkeys, whichtend to be leaner and smaller than the modern standard, can be found at the end of this post.

tips for dealing with the modern standard, and the stuffing recipe follow

Really Good Roast Turkey 101.2 ( extensive tips division; scroll down for the stuffing)

* Reserve your turkey. Meat markets that can sell you a fresh hen (less tough than tom) turkey in almost exactly the size you want usually require at least a couple of days’ notice. Only fair. Figure on 1 to 1.5 lbs per person, depending on turkey size and your desire for leftovers.The bigger the turkey, the more meat per pound. Also the more sinewy and unpleasant the drumsticks. Also the harder to handle when hot and possibly too big for pan or oven. If you need more than 22 pounds consider roasting an extra (without stuffing) the day before, then reheating portions to provide seconds after everyone gets a slice of the ceremonial bird.

Never hurts to make sure the turkey will come with giblets, btw – it should, but sometimes they don’t. Also ask for a couple of pounds of backs and necks to make turkey stock for the gravy.

Make the pre-gravy 1 to 3 days ahead. The juices and browned on bits in the pan are important to gravy flavor. But at crunch time it really helps if they’re easy additions instead of the start of a half hour of fooling around.

For the foundation: Spread 2 to 3 pounds backs and wings in a shallow roasting pan along with the turkey neck and gizzard (save heart and liver for later). Add 2 chunked carrots and a whole onion, washed but not peeled. Roast in a 400 degree oven until the meat is well browned. Transfer to a deep kettle, add a chunked stalk of celery, cover generously with water and bring to just under the boil. Turn down heat and simmer gently for about 2 hours.

Strain the broth. Pull meat from larger bones, chop it and the gizzard and refrigerate. Return the liquid to the kettle and cook down until richly flavorful. Skim off as much fat as possible and measure – there will be about a quart. Use it to make a plain velute sauce as described in your all-purpose cookbook. Refrigerate.

* (completing gravy) On roasting day, as soon as the turkey is removed from the roasting pan, pour all pan juices into a fat-separating pitcher and pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup wine or water into the hot roasting pan. Set aside in a warm place.

Put the velute in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Mince the turkey heart and liver and add them to the velute along with the reserved chopped meat. Scrape now-loosened browned bits from the roasting pan and add them and their liquid to the saucepan. Pour in the fat free juices. Taste for salt. That’s it, just keep it warm until serving time and then heat right below boiling at the last minute.

* Meanwhile, back at the newly-purchased uncooked turkey, decide if you want to brine it. It’s an extra step, but it really does help and the juices won’t be unbearably salty if you:

* keep the brine on the mild side, 3/4 cup kosher salt per gallon. (Saltier brine cuts down brining time but at the price of saltiness that cannot be controlled.)

* keep brining time to the minimum for light brine, 6 to 8 hours is plenty even for a large bird

* rinse thoroughly before proceeding, and

* remember not to salt the gravy until you taste it.

Brining note: Plain salt water is all you need for brining. Flavorings penetrate meat very slowly, so all those neat-sounding additions are worthless unless you leave brine on the turkey or leave the turkey in the brine long enough to pickle it.

Before stuffing and roasting, allow the turkey to come to room temperature, uncovered. It will cook faster and somewhat more evenly and the dry skin will cook up crisper. (Fanatics keep the breast cold through all this by protecting it with plastic wrap and draping a freezer gel-pak over it. Having the breast colder at the start helps even the cooking time. A little.)

Figure cooking and resting time, not worrying overmuch about a longer rest if you need the oven for something. The turkey will stay warm for quite a while and in any case will surely be tepid by the time everyone starts eating.

Cooking time is approximate anyway, since it’s as much about shape and density as poundage. Stuffed birds take longer, unfortunately, upping the chances that the meat will be overcooked before the stuffing is cooked through. Packing the stuffing in lightly will help – resist the temptation to cram in as much as possible.

Regardless of cooking time, allow an extra half hour for resting in a warm place; it really does help juices stay in the meat when you carve.

OK. Assuming the bird is stuffed and that it and stuffing are at room temperature when the turkey goes into the 400 degree oven that is immediately lowered to 325, a 12 to 14 pounder will take 2.5 – 3 hours, a 14 to 18 pound a bit more than 3 hours and an 18 to 22 pound about 3 and a half.

Estimate slightly longer than needed, so you can be sure it’s done in time, and start testing sooner, so you can be sure it doesn’t overcook. Instant read thermometer in thickest part of thigh is still the easiest way to measure.

* Baste for the sake of the skin, not the meat, which means rub at intervals with a stick of butter or use only the fatty part of the pan juices. Liquid can add flavor to skin, but it won’t go through to moisten the meat (and it will moisten the skin, making it less crisp). If necessary, add some extra wine or broth directly to the pan from time to time to keep a thin layer of liquid in place. Steam from pan juices does help keep meat moist, and of course you don’t want the pan to completely dry out and start burning.


for about 12 cups, at least 12 servings and more than enough for a 12 – 15 pound bird. Recipe can be doubled.

1 fairly well-packed cup dried morels or porcini, broken into 1/2 inch pieces

12 cups cubed stale, quite dry white bread – use something firm and flavorful, with most of the crust removed.

1 1/2 pounds fresh chestnuts, roasted, peeled, and broken into chunks, about 2 1/2 cups prepared (pre-prepared chestnuts can of course be substituted. They’re almost as good, just not quite.)

1/2 cup milk, plus a bit extra if needed

1/4 cup dry sherry, plus a bit extra if needed

1/2 cup butter

1 large onion, diced, about 2 cups prepared

3 large stalks celery, diced, about 2 cups prepared

1/2 cup minced parsley

1/3 cup minced celery leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons each dried thyme and sage – crumbled

salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Put the mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and pour 2 cups  boiling water over them. Cover and let sit 30 minutes or so.

2. Put the bread cubes in a big bowl. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid with a slotted spoon and add them to the bread. Strain the soaking liquid and measure 3/4 cup. Combine with the milk and sherry and pour over the bread. Stir gently to distribute, then stir in the chestnuts and set aside.

3. In a wide skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s translucent and limp but not brown. Add the celery and cook 10 minutes more, or until it’s limp too. Stir in the  parsley, celery leaves and herbs, then pour the mixture over the bread and stir gently to mix. Let the stuffing sit, covered, for a half hour or so, to even the moisture and absorb the seasonings.

4. Stir again and taste. Add more herbs if wanted, also salt and pepper. Consider texture. The stuffing should be slightly drier than you want the finished product to be, but not much. If necessary, add more milk or dry sherry or both. Stir in the eggs last, after you’re done tasting.

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