The only measure by which I can attempt to express my love and gratitude for the Ithaca community, is in the sheer weight and commitment of cooking a thirty-pound bird. For context, this is nearly a quarter of my weight. The drumsticks were surely the size of my pea-head, and I was determined to eat one like a cave woman.
Our second annual community Thanksgiving was priceless. It was made of magic. Continuing on a tradition my best friend Shoshi and I began last year, we prepared the centerpiece of the feast at Frisch Kitchen: the turkey and its loyal sidekicks, gravy and stuffing. In true potluck form, we invited dear friends to bring a dish to share. Over forty people rose to the occasion with food that was harvest-happy, imaginative, nostalgic, and over-the-top delicious! By 7:30 p.m., a near-empty table quickly overflowed with colorful plates and tantalizing aromas. Bobby’s desk was converted into a wet bar, dripping with rum-cider and thyme cocktails, mulled wine and home-brewed beer. Throughout the evening I felt my heart bursting with the same sense of joy, warmth and friendship that caressed my friends’ smiles. Oh, and the deep belly laughter!
Now, the thirty pound turkey happened upon quite accident. Our order for a smaller bird was lost in a flurry of emails with the farmer. I wasn’t the slightest bit irked, as I have come to understand that flexibility is key to sourcing the best-tasting and most-lovingly produced ingredients from farmers who grow crops and raise livestock sustainably and in small, non-uniform batches. So when I arrived at the Good Life Farm this past Sunday morning in a snowstorm, I accepted the challenge with an eagerness that was more likely attributed to my frosty fingers and urge to get cozy back home. Once home, a slight panic began to set it. I wondered, “how on earth will I brine this bird?” I had no container big enough to fit both the bird and a liquid bath. So I did what any sensible cook would do. I called my mother.
Clockwise from top left: Me and Bobby with the bird! Julia’s rum-cider and thyme cocktail, which she couldn’t keep on the shelf! Shoshi and Sparks, inventors of the “potato roasting rack” (see recipe below). The golden potatoes.
Mamma suggested reading the New York Time’s Essential Thanksgiving Guide, which included an article on no-fuss turkey roasting. I was skeptical of the authors’ insistence on shunning the brine for a dry rub, and forgetting the trussing and stuffing. But I was short on time and space, and let’s be honest, am always up for a culinary escapade! I skipped the brine and made a dry rub. I didn’t bother tying up the legs, and instead of stuffing the turkey, I left the cavity open so that the turkey would cook faster. Shoshi’s dressing (stuffing prepared separately from the turkey) was an absolute winner. The resounding response to my casual poll as to what was everyone’s favorite dish, was an energetic and immediate vote for the dressing. The turkey was an equal success! The skin was roasted to crisp perfection, the meat succulent and seductive, and the gravy velvety and rich.
The feast that blossomed is imprinted in my mind, and I intend to track down every last recipe! Nearly every plate was polished clean, and the compost system Emmita set up left behind virtually no trash (and admittedly, hardly any compost). As Bobby (my savior!) and I swept up the crumbs till the wee hours of the morning, a silly smile lingered on my face with memories of an enchanted and truly thankful evening.
Above right: victims of Sarah’s wild-harvested cranberry sauce, bearing purple-toothed grins.
Bobby put such care into carving the turkey and cleaning it laboriously. The bones will be used for Homemade Turkey Stock.
Sarah, the Primal Goddess, devours every last piece of turkey with love and respect for the animal!
The last of the herbs in my tiny garden, harvested just before snowfall.
Luckily I found a plastic storage box that fit this thirty-pounder!
Alternatives to a roasting rack: foil ring with grill, potatoes with grill.
Basting the bird.
Tip: when making gravy, sift flour into the turkey drippings to prevent lumps.
The remains. Evidence that it was good.
Grateful for my gorgeous husband and partner, who is always an exceptional host and carver.
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This recipe, adapted from Julia Moskin and Melissa Clark's Essential Thanksgiving Guide, is foolproof and divine. Without the brine, it saves a whole shebang of time and the precarious wedging of turkey and liquid into the refrigerator. With a cider and wine broth to steam the bird and catch the drippings, you will end up with a gravy that will make your taste buds high as a kite with delight! The turkey skin, also basted in its cider-spiked broth, will roast to crisp perfection. We didn't have a roasting rack big enough to hold our thirty-pound bird, so my genius friends suggested making a ring of potatoes. Golly, I will never dream of using a roasting rack again! After simmering in turkey drippings for hours on end, the potatoes were sensational, and served their purpose.
- 1 turkey
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 8 fresh sage leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt per pound of turkey
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup lemon zest
- 8 cloves, smashed and peeled
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar, hard cider or non-alcoholic
- 1.5 cup white wine
- 3 yellow onions , peeled and quartered
- 3 bay leaves
- 6 potatoes
- 1.5 sticks butter
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- If your turkey is frozen, plan ahead to allow for it to defrost (about 5 hours per pound).
- Remove the "offal" (innards and organs) from the cavity of the bird. These will usually be contained in a package inside the cavity, often with the neck bone. Transfer to a Ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator or freezer for making Homemade Turkey Stock and Turkey Liver Pâté.
- Rinse and pat the turkey dry. Place the turkey on a baking sheet, in a brining bag, or in a big bowl or pot.
- Prepare the dry rub. Remove the thyme, rosemary and sage leaves from their stems (in one swoosh of your fingers down the stem). Mince the leaves. Combine them in a small bowl with the salt, pepper and lemon zest.
- Using your hand, massage the dry rub mixture over every inch of the bird's skin so you end up with a thin coating of herbs and zest. If you run out - make more.
- Scatter the garlic cloves over the turkey and cover the turkey with plastic wrap or a lid. Let the turkey rest in the refrigerator for 12 hours, turning once if possible (preferably before the last 2 hours of resting).
- Remove the turkey and set it on a baking sheet (if using another container). Pat the turkey skin dry, trying to leave the rub in place as much as possible. Return the turkey to the refrigerator for 1-4 hours to let the skin dry out to help make it more crispy when roasted.
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about 1 hour before cooking to bring to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- In the bottom of a deep, large roasting pan, add the cider, wine, onions and bay leaves.
- In this recipe, we use potatoes in place of a roasting rack - that's right! Arrange the potatoes in a circle in the center of the pan and place the turkey on top, breast side up. (If you accidentally cook it upside down, it will be just as scrumptious. Here's proof.)
- Melt the butter. Using a pastry brush, coat the skin generously with melted butter.
- Put the turkey in the oven for thirty minutes - this will kick off the skin-crisping process and seal in the juices. After thirty minutes cover the drumsticks and breast with foil. This will keep the skin from burning.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting for your estimated time (15 minutes per pound of turkey). Every hour or so, use the pastry brush to baste the turkey with the juices from the pan. Check to make sure the pan is not overflowing with juices either - a big bird will shed a lot of delicious liquid! (If the bottom of the turkey is sitting in juice, that's just fine. In fact, it's delicious!)
- To test for doneness, insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. If it reads 165, it's ready!
- Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer it to a cutting board to rest for 30 minutes before carving. In the meantime, use the drippings in the pan to make your Classic Gravy. (Save extra gravy and all the bones of the turkey carcass for making Homemade Turkey Stock and Schmaltz).
- To make the gravy, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a medium pot - measure the amount of drippings for the quantity of gravy you desire. For a larger quantity of gravy, add stock. (Store extra drippings in a container in the refrigerator and process the next day for making Homemade Turkey Stock and Schmaltz). Bring the gravy to a simmer and sift the flour into the gravy while whisking vigorously to prevent the flour from lumping. Add enough flour to get the gravy to a creamy, thick consistency - you may not need all of the flour. Serve the gravy last while it is warm, as it will begin to harden as it cools.