Thanksgiving is our FAVORITE holiday, perhaps because it is all about giving thanks for all the good things in life and also eating a lot of amazing food!
Cooking for Thanksgiving is NOT hard, it is just a matter of preparation and timing. All the dishes served at Thanksgiving are simple comfort food, but the sheer quantity of dishes that most folks try to prepare is somewhat overwhelming. Fear not, in this installment of The Farmstead Kitchen we will give you step by step instructions on how we cook our turkey, and in the next few installments we will give you the tips and tricks that we use to cook up the rest of our Thanksgiving feast !
The centerpiece of our Thanksgiving is of course our own pastured turkey. Our method of cooking our bird is so juicy and delicious it is somewhat hard to keep leftovers around for more then a day.
This method does not necessarily result in a spectacular golden bird ready to be carved at the table – we cook it slow and low until all the meat is falling off the bone. We highly prefer this method to any other, as the others result in dry meat. Slow and low is the way to go, we tell you.
We start by raising the turkey right, on fresh pasture with plenty of fresh water and organic grain. You may choose to omit this step and buy a beautiful turkey from us! Then we harvest the bird in a quick and respectful manner here on our farm. The happiest, healthiest, and freshest turkey has the best flavor and texture.
After all the really hard stuff is done, then basically all you have to do is pop your turkey in the oven and you will have an amazing turkey with little effort.
Here’s how we do it:
Start your turkey roasting really early in the morning for a medium sized (15 pound) bird, approximately 6 hours before you want to be serving your dinner.
Start with a fresh or completely thawed out bird. Clean your turkey thoroughly and generously salt and pepper your bird. Find a big enough metal or ceramic cooking container, one that can be completely covered, or a deep roasting pan and cover it completely tight with foil. We have used a large enamel canning pot with great success. Put the turkey in the cooking container breast side down! That way all the fat and juices keep the white meat moist. Add 1 or 2 cups of liquid, wine, beer, stock, or water: all will work to keep the bird from sticking to the pan. You can also add the giblets and chopped onions, garlic, carrots, celery to the bottom of the pot if you’d like. These will all make your gravy more delicious. Cover your turkey and put in the oven, then set your oven to 400.
Once it hits 400, cook at that temp for one hour. Keep the oven shut! Bring temp down to 250 for another 4-6 hours. All the books say cook for an hour plus 20 minutes per pound or something like that, but what we do is cook it until all the meat is falling off the bone. It’s definitely done then. But to be on the safe side check the temps in the middle of the dark meat areas with a thermometer. Make sure it is in the correct safe temperature range 165+.
At this point, if you are using a quality bird from our farm, you may have over four cups of turkey drippings in your container. Somehow you need to get that out of there to make gravy. With our turkey method, if you try to lift the turkey out all the meat will fall off into the juice. This is not a bad thing, but instead of that try using a small cup to scoop out the drippings. This is also the time to put your oven to 450 in order to brown the skin if you so wish. It will take a bit of cooking at a high heat to get your skin browned to a golden hue. We almost always omit that because all we care about is making the gravy and eating the turkey pronto!
Here’s a little trick we learned: When making sauces or gravy, always add hot to cold, or cold to hot. Somehow this avoids creating lumps, and it actually works!
So take your drippings and start heating them up in a pot that can hold about 4 times as much volume as the drippings. Lets say you have four cups drippings. You are going to want to add about a cup to two cups of flour, so about 1 part flour to 4 parts drippings, or if you want a thicker gravy 2 to 4 parts. Have the heat on low and stir vigorously with a whisk or spoon to prevent lumps. So now you have your roux – Keep the heat low! Do not burn this amazing substance or Thanksgiving will be ruined!
You are going to want to slowly whisk in cold water or cold milk, about 1 cup at a time. Every cup needs to be brought up to a simmer. You should use about 4-8 cups of liquid to make a thick gravy. Just keep adding one cup at a time until your desired consistency is met. Once you have it all simmering without lumps, then that is the time to taste, and season with salt and pepper if need be. Most likely you won’t need to season much if you already seasoned the heck out of the turkey.
That is the way we do it. No need to carve the bird, you can just pick out the juicy pieces and cover with gravy.
Stay tuned for our next Thanksgiving installment of The Farmstead Kitchen!