I roast whole chickens pretty frequently, but turkey still feels a little intimidating. However, as long as you know a couple tricks, it doesn’t have to be intimidating at all. Add in some citrus-sage butter, and you’re all set. The scariest thing about this recipe is that your relatives might permanently put you in charge of turkey roasting every Thanksgiving. Kidding. That was a pretty bad joke. Let’s move on to the recipe.
Here’s what you really need to know about turkey. Most importantly, if you buy a frozen bird it might take a week or more to thaw in the refrigerator. The other very important thing to know is that there is usually a package of organs (giblets) in the neck cavity of the bird, and there is a neck, typically in the organ cavity. These are great for making stock and/or gravy. I bought my bird (frozen) a week ago and put it in the fridge, then let it sit out for a couple hours before baking, and the neck was still frozen to the cavity. A little hot water fixed that, but if your whole bird is still frozen, Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a little late.
All the grocery-store turkeys I’ve gotten in recent years have had a little plastic thermometer inserted into the breast, and a little plastic ring holding the drumsticks together. I use a meat thermometer, and I would only use the plastic thermometer if I had no alternatives. The plastic ring on the drumsticks is really handy though. It is safe to bake it with that ring on (unless there are instructions on the package that say otherwise).
You know it’s going to be a good recipe when the first ingredient is a citrus-sage butter. The recipe I followed starts out with “Sage is to turkey what cinnamon is to apples; they go together like bread and butter.” Mix room temperature unsalted butter with fresh chopped sage and zest from one lemon and one orange. Add a little salt and pepper (unless you’re using salted butter!). Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Take a deep breath. Time to tackle the bird. Open up the turkey and remove the organ package and neck (save these for later – put them back in the fridge). Pat the bird dry. Starting at the back of the bird, near the organ cavity opening, loosen the skin from the breast meat with your fingers. Try to keep the skin fully intact, but loosen as much skin as you can on the breasts and drumsticks. Do the same at the neck cavity. Spread the butter under the skin as evenly as possible. The bird will look totally misshapen, and butter will be everywhere. It’s okay, it’s part of the process. Washing your hands is a futile effort, you’ll never get that butter off. Try dish soap. Try not to use the whole bottle. This was the first time I’d ever had to use dish soap to wash the dish soap bottle…but eventually the butter gives.
Quarter that orange you zested earlier. Do the same with an onion. Tuck a couple pieces of each into the neck cavity, then tuck the skin flap under the bird. Put the remaining orange and onion pieces into the chest cavity. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the whole bird, then add a cup of water to the roasting pan. That’s it! This turkey is ready for the oven!
Here’s the procedure: set the timer for 30 minutes. At the first 30 minute mark, baste and turn the oven down to 350°F. Then just baste every 30 minutes. When the skin is browned to your liking, gently tent some aluminum foil over the turkey.
Around that time is when I start checking my thermometer – insert it into the deepest part of the breast to find the coldest spot.
The turkey is done when the lowest internal temp you can find is at least 165°F. Expect the total roasting time to be 2.5 – 3 hours (for a 13 – 15 lb turkey). Take the turkey out, let it sit and soak up the pan juices (move it to the serving platter). When I pulled this turkey out, the plastic thermometer hadn’t even popped, but my meat thermometer was showing 165 all over. I belabored the uselessness of the plastic thermometer to Kyle, but while I was standing over the turkey, doing a final baste, it literally popped! and I might’ve jumped a little bit. According to Kyle, it heard me making fun of it and took revenge. Anyway. While the turkey rests, you’ve got work to do. It’s gravy time.
I use a spatula to gently scrape the bottom of the roasting pan and get all the good tasty bits off. Then, pour all the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer. I was surprised at how much fat was in this bird, but I did add an entire stick of butter. I managed to skim a cup of fat off the top of my broth, of which I used about a third of a cup to make the roux for the gravy.
A roux is just a thickening agent for sauces, typically equal parts fat and flour, cooked until flour can no longer be tasted (technical definition, NOT a recommendation) and/or the desired color is reached. I put mine on medium heat for 3-4 minutes – mine is very dark because I used whole wheat flour. Slowly whisk in the broth – stirring constantly prevents lumps from forming. You can see I had about two cups of broth from the pan juices, which I supplemented with 2 cups of broth that I made using the neck and organs.
The roux will probably spit and hiss a little when you start to pour the broth in – fair warning. Just make sure to keep whisking and pour slowly. Then bring the gravy up to a simmer and hold there for five minutes, making sure to taste-test and add salt/pepper as needed.
Okay! That’s it! Add some garnishes to that beautiful turkey then carve it up and douse it with gravy. Delicious, delicious gravy. Oh, and that plastic thermometer will pull right out as soon as the turkey is cool enough to touch, so be sure to get rid of that eyesore before serving.
Garnish with fresh sage and oranges, then serve to family or friends!