Let’s talk turkey – or at least how to cook one

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 20, 2010

It is that time of year around America when the sleepy cook stumbles into the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning and turns his or her attention to the bird. Most of us approach this ritual with a sense of duty and reverence, lavishing the turkey’s skin with butter and salt and sautéing the onions and herbs for the stuffing. Most of us want the perfect turkey, moist, tender and beautifully browned. And this year, I just heard on the radio, we will be paying 30 percent more due to corn prices being up.

There is always a problem for me when it comes to the right recipe for the turkey and dressing. Should I do the same old recipe, or should I try for something different and more interesting?

I spent the afternoon recently looking at all the new recipes for the November 2010 issues of most food magazines. Most of the magazines this year are cutting up the turkey and cooking it over root vegetables or deboning it and stuffing it with some other ingredients.

I do like to cook the entire turkey because it can be such a showpiece. I decided since I was just cooking for my husband and myself this year that I would try something a little different with the turkey, but I would keep his favorite side dishes. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how we cook our turkey. Thanksgiving is just a wonderful day to give thanks for the family and friends we have and yes, thankful for some good food along the way.

From the November 2010 issue of ‘Saveur’ Magazine, I picked this one to try.

Sage-Brined Roast Turkey with Oyster Dressing

Serves 10-12

¾ cup kosher salt, plus more

½ cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar

40 sage leaves, plus ¼ cup minced fresh sage (I hope you have your own herbs in the garden or in pots.)

20 sprigs fresh thyme

3 bay leaves

1 12-14-lb. turkey

4 tbsp. olive oil, plus more

2 Vidalia onions, minced

2 cups wild rice

1 cup long-grain rice

1 cup white wine

4 cups chicken or turkey stock

5 ozs. bacon, cut into ¼“ strips

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pint shucked oysters with juices

4 cups ½ “ cubed bread, toasted

10 tbsp. unsalted butter cubed and softened

1 cup crushed, toasted hazelnuts

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 ribs celery, cut into 2” pieces

1 medium onion quartered

Bring six cups water to a boil. Stir in ¾ cup salt and sugar until dissolved. Add sage leaves, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Pour salt mixture into a clean, five-gallon bucket or pot. Add 18 cups cold water; let cool. Add turkey to brine; refrigerate overnight.

Meanwhile make the dressing: Heat two tbsp. oil in a four-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add half the Vidalia onions; cook, stirring, until soft, eight to 10 minutes. Stir in rices and wine, and cook until reduced by half, for about three or four minutes. Add stock, bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, until rice is tender, or for about 40-45 minutes. Spread rice on an oil-rimmed baking sheet; let cool slightly.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cook bacon in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, 10-12 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels; return skillet to medium heat. Add remaining Vidalia onions and garlic; cook and stirring, until soft, or for about seven minutes. Add oysters and ¼ cup of their juices; cook for one minute.

Transfer oyster mixture to a large bowl along with the rice, bacon, bread, half the butter, the minced fresh sage and hazelnuts. Season with salt and pepper; mix. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with 1 tbsp butter; mound dressing in baking dish. Dot dressing with remaining butter; cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Refrigerate dressing.

Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Drain turkey and pat dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper; rub with remaining oil. Stuff cavity with celery and onions; tie ends of legs together with kitchen twine. Set turkey, breast side down, on rack inside of roasting pan. Roast turkey for 1½ hours. Using paper towels, turn turkey breast side up; cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the thigh reads 160 degrees, or about two hours more. Let rest for 20 minutes.

While turkey is resting, raise oven temperature to 475 degrees. Remove dressing from refrigerator, uncover and bake until browned, for 20-30 minutes. Carve turkey and serve with dressing.

Happy Thanksgiving!