A first-generation American, my mother, embraced Thanksgiving and cooking a turkey with a passion. Now that my mother is no longer with me, I wish I would have asked her how she learned to cook the perfect turkey. My grandparents, both exceptional cooks, immigrated from Italy and cooked the best Italian dishes. I recall them making chicken, never turkey.
My mother was particular about her turkey preparation. Local, farm-fresh turkey, the biggest they had was what she purchased. We anxiously waited for her return from the farm. I can still see her walking up the driveway, weighted down by a twenty-nine or thirty-pound turkey, and we rushed to the door to help her. Then she began cleaning the turkey before cooking. She soaked her turkey overnight in a salt bath in the kitchen sink. Now we are cautioned about leaving the turkey out for an extended time; this was not an issue during my mother’s day. I believe that the salt protected from bacterial growth, and she thoroughly rinsed dried the bird before she stuffed the turkey.
She buttered and seasoned the bird, and then she cut a paper bag to fit over the turkey and the top of the roaster. Twine tied around the edge of the roasting pan secured the covering. When I was young, I was amazed that the bag didn’t catch on fire in the oven. My mother’s turkey was always browned to perfection and never dry.
When I cook a turkey, I soak mine in a tub in the refrigerator or if you don’t have room, place the tub in a cooler packed with ice. I’ve tried various turkey brines, home-made or store-bought; my favorite is still my mother’s simple kosher salt turkey bath. The basic ratio I use is two cups of kosher salt to two gallons of water
And as I prepare for Thanksgiving, getting the turkey ready, I pay tribute to my mother, my guide and inspiration throughout my life!
1 (18 pounds) whole turkey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch of fresh thyme
1 whole lemon, halved
1 shallot, quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the zest and juice of the lemon and 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves to the butter mixture. Set aside.
Take the giblets out of the turkey and wash the turkey inside and out. Place 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Let the turkey sit for 30 minutes, and then rinse again. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.
Fill the cavity with thyme, halved lemon, halved shallot, and garlic, and brush the turkey outside with the butter mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.
Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh’s meaty parts registers 165 degrees F (75 degrees C), about 4 hours. If Turkey browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.
Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter, and let it stand for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving. Make gravy.
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Defatted turkey drippings plus chicken stock to make 2 cups*
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
Heat the turkey drippings and chicken stock in a pan. Simmer on low. In a large (10 to 12-inch) saute pan, melt butter. Sprinkle the flour into the pan, whisk in, then add the salt and pepper—Cook mixture for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock mixture and Cognac, and cook uncovered for 4 to 5 minutes until thickened.
Season, to taste, and serve.
*I use a fat separator.