Thanksgiving, the most stupendous American holiday: a feast of local bounty to give thanks! Who could resist? My Italian and British parents certainly couldn’t; our family thrived on this tradition. Of course, us kiddos were remarkably oblivious to the work involved in preparing a feast of this nature.  I have prepared almost every Thanksgiving dish for potlucks with friends before we scatter to visit family. All but one: the centerpiece, the turkey. The first time Mamma guided me through the ritual of preparing a Thanksgiving turkey (after ten years of being a vegetarian), we bought a turkey from Millstone Farm. I had a fair hand in raising the bird we would eat, and felt at peace with its destiny. But let’s be honest. Mamma made the turkey.

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Well, it turns out cooking a turkey is hardly frightening! This year I am making a turkey with Shoshi, my dear accomplice, who proposed an early feast with friends. She dropped by the market at 10 p.m. on Monday evening to score a pasture-raised fifteen pound turkey from nearby Ovid, NY. Early Tuesday afternoon, she arrived at my house with a bottle of Indian Pale Ale, a bowl of stuffing, and a roasting pan nipped from Salvation Army for $6.00.

From the sunny perch in my kitchen, I now lay these instructions for before you, still intoxicated by the rich aromas and warm, fuzzy memories lingering from last evening’s early feast. Give thanks and feast with passion!

This post is filled with gratitude to my kitchen goddess Shoshi, the 24/7 Mamma hotline (who sent me clear instructions and answered my bombardment of calls with unconditional motherly love), and my ever-patient, knife-sharpening, meat-carving love, Bobby.

This article includes:

  • Day 1: How to Prepare a Turkey
  • Day 1: How to Prepare a Turkey
  • Day 2: Roasted Chestnut and Sausage Stuffing
  • Day 2: How to Roast a Turkey
  • Day 2: How to make Turkey Stock
  • Day 2: How to make Gravy
  • Day 2: How to Carve a Turkey

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 A sample of the gorgeous spread. My friends really know how to show up with greatness!
A sample of the gorgeous spread. My friends really know how to show up with greatness!

How to Prepare a Turkey

Most turkeys come neatly plucked and prepared for you to get right down to cooking. First, reach into the largest cavity of the bird and pull out the gizzard, heart, liver and other organs stored inside (they won’t be attached to the body – all you need is your dexterous hand!). Often, the farmer or packager will tie these parts in a bag, making it easier to remove them. Store the organs in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator until you are ready to make stock for your gravy on Day 2 (see below). Clip 1 inch off the tips of the wings and add them to the ziplock as well.  (Try Pan-Fried Turkey Livers with Bacon and Onion)

Save the liver for making paté or frying and eating another day. The liver is the darkest, most slippery looking organ. To freeze the liver, wrap the liver in plastic wrap and tuck it into a small ziplock bag. Defrost when you want to prepare it, once the Thanksgiving leftovers have been demolished.

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How to Brine a Turkey

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 5 hours

Yield: 35 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3 lemons
  • 2 oranges
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 8 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 8 garlic cloves

Instructions

  1. Heat 2 cups of water in a small pot with the salt and brown sugar. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  2. In a small, dry saucepan, toast the juniper berries over medium heat for about 30 seconds, or until they become fragrant.
  3. In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle (or on a cutting board with the bottom of a mug or the flat part of a knife), crush the pepper and juniper berries.
  4. Smash the garlic cloves.
  5. Place the turkey in a large stockpot (we used an canning pot) or a brine bag (an extra large, leak-proof ziplock you can find at the grocery store). Add the smashed garlic, spices and herbs.
  6. Cut the lemons and oranges in half, squeeze the juice over the chicken and drop in the lemon and orange shells.
  7. Fill the pot or bag with water, submerging the turkey. (If the turkey is not completely submerged, you will need to flip it every few hours.)
  8. Let the turkey sit in the brine for at least 6 hours, and ideally overnight.
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