Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and to get in the holiday spirit I wanted to share my family's turkey recipe.
(Note: The first recipe is not suitable for vegans and vegetarians for reasons that will become obvious, the second can be prepared vegetarian, which I include, but not vegan. Sorry.)
My Grandfather was a second-generation Polish immigrant who served in the Korean War doing KP duty and later worked as a butcher. His death was unquestionably the spark that started the chain of events that changed our family in radical ways, but while alive he was a huge presence in our lives.
Every year he would prepare a turkey using this recipe and bring it over. After my first Thanksgiving alone in California, I decided that I would take up the tradition. This method is relatively easy and produces an incredibly moist, delicious turkey.
Depending on the number of people you are serving, you probably want a turkey that is somewhere between 8 and 15 pounds. A 12-pound turkey will easily feed a group of six with plenty of leftovers to spare.
To cook the turkey, instead of your oven, you need an 18-quart (or larger) roaster. This one on Amazon should serve you well. You will need to "burn-in" the roaster, usually by leaving it on for a few hours the night before cooking for the first time.
Assuming you buy a frozen turkey from your local supermarket, make sure to start thawing the turkey at least a week in advance in your refrigerator.
A note on turkey selection: One year, one of my friends insisted on a farm-to-fork turkey that he had delivered on Thanksgiving morning. Personally I could not taste a significant difference but the difference in cost was huge. I am a big fan of the $6 Safeway frozen turkey.
In addition to the turkey, you will need the following ingredients:
- 1 bunch of Celery
- 4 Onions
- Poultry Seasoning (available in the spice isle)
- 1 jar of Turkey-flavored Gravy
- Vegetable oil
The night before Thanksgiving, prep the vegetables. Cut the ends off the celery, wash and cut into chunks. Peel, wash and cut the onions into chunks as well. The chunks do not need to be small. Put the onions and celery aside for the night.
The total cooking time on the day is 3.5 hours from when you add the turkey, with about an hour of prep before-hand. Start by pre-heating the roaster to 450°F (230°C) and coat the bottom completely in vegetable oil.
Remove the bag of innards, and separate the limbs from the turkey. While you can do this with your hands, I recommend using a sharp pair of kitchen shears and knife. You should not cut through bone at any time.
(Note: You might be squeamish the first time you do this, I know I was. It really reminds you that you are eating a real animal.)
Check the roaster is pre-heated by adding a single piece of celery to the oil, when warmed the oil will sizzle. Once ready, add the turkey parts. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning (too much of the latter is enough).
After 30 minutes, reduce heat to 375°F (190°C). Let cook for another 90 minutes.
Next, add the celery and onions to the roaster. Also add the gravy and a single jar of water.
After another 90 minutes things should be smelling delicious and the meat should start to fall off the bone. You can serve at any time or leave cooking until mealtime.
While not as photogenic as other preparation methods, the end result ends up looking more like a stew.
Though cooking your turkey this way will yield plenty of juices to keep it moist. Serve using a large spoon and include juices and vegetables along with the meat.
Make sure to include the juices with the meat when you store your leftovers as well, they ensure the turkey will remain moist after being reheated.
What the stuff?
You may have noticed that we do not stuff the turkey using this method, my Grandmother's recipe for stuffing was instead baked in a pan.
The ingredients you will need include:
- 1 roll of hot/spicy breakfast sausage
- 1 bunch celery
- 2 onion
- 1 loaf of white bread
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1.5 tsp Polish seasoning
- 1.5 Sage
- Pepper (as desired)
(Note: You can easily make this a vegetarian friendly recipe by omitting the sausage, or as half-and-half depending on strict your vegetarian friends are.)
I prepare the stuffing the night before Thanksgiving and save time by chopping the vegetables for it and the turkey at the same time.
Start by browning the sausage in small pieces and drain on paper towels.
Wash and chop the celery and onions, then brown in a pan with oil. Afterwards, drain the vegetables.
Next, break up the loaf of bread into small pieces in a large bowl, add the milk and mix. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add to the bread.
Add the spices, vegetables and sausage to the mixture and mix well.
Spread the stuffing into a 1" deep pan (this one from Target should be perfect). If preparing a half-vegetarian batch, spread the stuffing into half of the pan before adding sausage. Refrigerate the pan overnight.
On Thanksgiving, cook by baking at 350°F (175°C) for an hour. Cut into squares and serve using a spatula.
This stuffing is hearty and tastes great for days. My mother always enjoyed saying it was "like a meal in itself", which I guess I am perpetuating.
Whether you are cooking for twenty people or just yourself, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!