I was at my boyfriend’s high-school reunion soirée at a dirty local bar when it hit me: Thanksgiving traditions, like old friends, are things you find comfort in when they’re just like how you remembered and not much different. Sure a little updating here and there can be a good thing (a better job, a hotter girlfriend) but beyond that, any drastic or shocking changes are most usually met with discomfort and a nostalgic desire for the way it used to be. So there we were dancing the night away and with the alcoholic haze rushing in I noticed that the length of how long it had been since they all had seen one another was beginning to blur. And mostly, though they could still recite their 11th grade class schedule from first period onwards, and could tell you exactly who so and so used to like before she kissed what’s his name, they most certainly could not tell you anything of substance about the person standing in front of them (or in this case, flipping their hair back and forth on the bar). And that is precisely why reunions at bars are so enjoyable. Because no wants to hear how things have changed, they just want to spend some time with the past. The same can be said for your holiday recipes. You haven’t seen them since last Thanksgiving, you most certainly want nothing to do with them in July and you want them to taste just how you remember from years gone by.
So this year, even though it was my first time cooking for the big dinner, I really tried to keep the recipes familiar. At first I considered doing a butterflied turkey breast rolled into a log with stuffing and sliced like a sausage (no joke, it looked delish!). But I knew that people weren’t coming to sit at the table and be wowed; they were there to be comforted. These recipes are all warm, welcoming, unassuming and simple. So go ahead, swap fresh cranberries for dried and add a teaspoon of almond extract to your pecan pie, but please, don’t by any means cancel any of the following on your Thanksgiving table: the turkey, the stuffing, and the cranberry sauce. Consider them the holy trinity of all things November. And actually, if it’s your first time entertaining and you’re a little overwhelmed, make just these three, serve them on a beautiful table setting, and pair them with a host of lovely bottles of wine…(by the end of the meal no one will remember that the green-bean casserole was mysteriously absent).
The secret to perfectly cooked, absolutely delicious turkey that requires NO guesswork, NO heavy lifting, and NO chance of screwing it up..(well I doubt that can really be said of anything in life, but I promise this comes close)…is not roasting the turkey whole. Buy it from the butcher or grocery store pre-sliced into quarters/pieces. Just make sure to get a mixture of legs, thighs and breast meat in case your guests like both light and dark.
An anecdote on the dangers of whole turkeys. Written from personal experience.
I could make a long list of horror stories I’ve only heard of about turkeys. Starting with not fully cooking the bird to charring the whole carcass. And it’s no surprise! The things are heavy, you buy them in double-digit pounds, and they’re quite large. Actually if you’ve never seen a live turkey in person it’s quite a sight. So is a live cow though (both are so much bigger than I ever imagined as a child living in LA, a social light year away from anything resembling a farm). But this little gem of a turkey horror story actually happened to me.
It was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and my mother insisted on making roasted turkey, as had been tradition since I can remember…though I can’t imagine anyone was doing it while wandering in the desert for 40 years. But personal doubts aside, I did want to help my mom who had a hard time taking out the massive turkey from the oven every hour or so to rotate it in the tomato juice. My first attempt at it I opened the oven door, planted my feet in a sumo wrestler stance and bent at the knees to lift the giant pan out of the oven. But my arms were no match for the mighty bird which slid to the back of the pan under its own weight causing a huge wave of tomato and raw turkey juice to splash onto the floor of the oven and erupt into a minor fire, which singed my eyebrows as I had half my body almost inside the oven trying to get a good grip on the massive roasting pan. The incident, which thankfully was all in all quite minor, still caused the strongest lethal fear of turkey ever known to a child. (At least the ones I’ve met who’ve never been exposed to the violent turkeys of the wild.)
SO the point is, buy your turkey in PIECES!!!! There is no point to roasting a turkey whole for the following reasons:
#1 As clearly articulated, its dangerous!
#2 It’s hard to get the cooking temperatures right for both the light and dark meats. (Thanks Les!)
#3 You don’t have to rotate it or constantly attend to it.
#4 It cooks in half the time.
#5 It's much much much easier to carve.
#6 You serve the bird all chopped up on a platter anyhow so who the heck’s going to even know!
Roast Rosemarie Turkey Recipe
1 stick (¼ lb.) butter
1 whole head of garlic
10 stems of fresh rosemary (but dried in a jar will do)
10-12 lbs. turkey pieces defrosted
Melt the butter and set it aside. Slice the lemon and onion into large pieces and slice the head of garlic in half horizontally so that each little clove is halved. Take out a large roasting pan and place the lemon, onion and garlic pieces along with the rosemary springs spread out on the bottom the pan.
Take out your defrosted turkey pieces and pat them dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over both sides of the meat to completely cover it with seasoning then brush the melted butter on them.
Place the chicken pieces on top of everything in the pan. Roast it @ 350° for 2 ½ hrs. To see if its ready cut into the thickest portion of the meat and make sure the juices run clear. Before carving, cover the roasting pan with foil and let the turkey rest for about 20 minutes.