As Barbra Kingsolver writes so charmingly in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, turkey farming is a brutal business—unless you can find an organic, preferably small-farm, source. My mother raises turkeys every year on her farm, and the birds are surprisingly sociable, friendly, and enjoyable to watch. It almost makes me feel bad about eating them. But then I think of the crispy wings and rich gravy and I’m over it. (If anyone thinks organic foods are “smaller” than nonorganic foods, you haven’t seen my mother’s 28-pound turkeys. They barely fit into my oven!)
I’m fortunate to have a local, organic source for Thanksgiving turkeys. But if you are looking for one, there are a number of great places to start. Your local farmer’s market is the best first stop. Then check your supermarket. If the farmer’s market doesn’t carry them, simply asking if they do might lead them to carry organic turkeys next year. If that fails, there are a few organic mail-order sources. Two of my favorites are Diamondorganics.com and Heritagefoodsusa.com. Make sure to order early, so there is enough time to thaw and cook the bird.
Once you have the turkey, there are all sorts of fancy recipes calling for brining, stuffing, grilling, or deep-frying. I always lean towards simplicity. I can’t taste the difference between a brined turkey and a nonbrined one, so I don’t even bother with that annoying process (especially with a 28-pounder!). I just put the turkey (breast side up) in a large roasting pan and stick it in the oven. Really. That’s it.
The general rule is 20 minutes in the oven per pound, but I always seem to find it goes quicker than that—maybe ovens cook differently than they did when the first Joy of Cooking, my first source, came out. So allow 10 to 15 minutes a pound, with at least a half hour at the end for the turkey to “rest” outside of the oven while you make the gravy (in the pan, preferably). A good meat thermometer helps, but you can also tell it’s done when the juices run clear and the leg is a little loose. I start the oven at 375 or 400 degrees and then lower it after an hour or so to 350 or 325—depending on how fast the bird seems to be cooking. The only time I cover it is if the skin seems to be getting too crispy too soon. If the turkey seems done but it’s too early to take it out of the oven to rest, just turn the heat down to 250. Turkey gets dry when it’s overcooked.
You don’t need to baste. I gave up basting years ago. It’s too much work, and I think it makes the skin soggy.
That’s it! Well, except for the carving, which you can get all fancy about, but frankly, people just want what they want, and as long as it tastes good, it doesn’t matter if it’s not sliced like a picture in a magazine. Just make sure the turkey is well rested before you carve it up.
But I’m warning you…I get a wing!
Next week: Making gravy from scratch! (It’s so freaking easy and delicious.)