Walking through the grocery store during the week of Thanksgiving is quite interesting. With paper notes or tablets in hand, people are looking down as they walk in circles trying to find what they want in a store they likely do not visit often. What is it about Thanksgiving that brings people away from the take-out shops and fast food to cook one of the largest meals of the year? I understand those who decide to bring a casserole to someone’s house even though they’ve never turned their stove on. But to the people who had a turkey in their shopping cart but couldn’t find the aisle for sugar, well, good luck.
On the other hand (the nicer one), there are reasons to tackle kitchen challenges. I do it all the time and I receive joy from knowing I CAN do something I didn’t think I could before. If you are one of those people, I adore you. Let’s hang out.
This turkey did not come from a local farm. GASP, I know, but I’m going, to be honest with you. While researching the list of where to buy a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving in Indianapolis, I was instantly stunned by the price. Trust me, I understand it, I really do, and if I was cooking for 20 people and wanted to treat them to something special, I would buy them a fresh turkey. But for my small family of 2, there was no way I could drop $80+ on a turkey. Hell, even if I was feeding a crowd, that kind of money is just not in my budget.
Argue that we spend money on Netflix and Hulu but not a fresh turkey. (Watch it, we don’t pay for cable TV, those are our only vices). Argue that we spend $50+ going out to eat every now and again. Argue if you must, but we simply are not in a situation where we can afford to pay that much for one meal.
A frozen turkey from Kroger was purchased and we were content.
Instead of paying for the turkey in dollars, I paid for it with my time. A search for the best, most perfect recipe, the one I would rave about for years that inevitably would become a tradition – it was a quest I should never have embarked on. I know better than to think one meal will change my taste buds forever. There have been quite a few outstanding, memorable-to-your-deathbed meals, but as a 26-year-old lady, my hope is that each year will bring something new.
Once I stopped obsessing over the best of this and that, I hunkered down and thought more about what I wanted. A turkey that was crisp, sweet and savory, juicy, and had plenty of leftovers.
Wet brining is cool and fun until you actually do it. A few years ago I did with a brown sugar, salt, garlic, and spices concoction where the turkey is left to sit in a big pot or bag covered in brine, an overnight soak in a bath if you will. The result? A great tasting turkey that took a lot of work.
Dry brining with salt and pepper is remarkably easy, as long as you have room in your refrigerator to fit your turkey in the roasting pan. Use this as an excuse to drink those couple of beers hanging around and eat some dip that is sitting at the bottom of the fridge. Trust me, the turkey in the refrigerator is a great excuse to eat and drink to allow some extra room.
Left to sit in its rub down of salt and pepper for 24 hours prior to cooking, the skin will start to dry out, allowing for a crispier skin once cooked. Nobody likes taking a bite of fat that hasn’t been rendered completely.
Going against the grain, I opted not to rub butter underneath the skin and all over the turkey. Instead, a medley of bourbon, brown sugar and butter was brushed in all the nooks and crannies of the turkey, generating a sweet smell and soon, taste. All of those juices that ran down into the roasting pan made a sweet and savory gravy that I could yet again eat spoonfuls of. You don’t remember? That’s OK – my Turkey Breast in a Pot with Gravy recipe explains it all.
Was it that turkey, the one we’d talk about for years to come? Maybe. Was it the turkey that made us smile when we bit into its juicy meat while looking at each other, thankful we have a working oven (which actually stopped working a week later, I’ll tell you later), running water, electricity, and budgets that let us buy lots of food for just one day? Yes.
Can you imagine the leftovers from a 17-pound turkey for two people? There were so many I made two additional recipes for freelance projects, turkey stock, sandwiches for days, all to the grumblings of Rahul, who was not interested in eating so much turkey. After the 7th day, I agreed with him.
Leftover Turkey Pie featured in The Indianapolis Star – uses the gravy leftovers (if you are lucky enough to have any, or show restraint the day off), vegetables you likely have in your house, and even leftover mashed potatoes.
BOURBON BAKED TURKEY WITH GRAVY
- 17-pound turkey (or more, or less)
- Black Pepper
- 2 cups diced yellow onions
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 2 cups chicken or turkey stock*
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup bourbon
- 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
The day before:
- Remove the turkey from its packaging. Remove the neck from the neck cavity and the giblets from the chest cavity.
- Rinse the turkey with water and set it on a rack inside a roasting pan. Liberally apply salt and pepper to all sides and crevices of the turkey.
- Place it breast side up in your refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 hours before cooking. It will not make your refrigerator smell, nor will your turkey smell like a refrigerator.
- The day of Removes the turkey from the refrigerator one hour prior to cooking to allow it to come up to temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Add the diced vegetables to the bottom of the roasting pan. Pour in the 2 cups of turkey or chicken stock. Tuck the turkey wing tips under the breast of the bird if you like.
- Place the turkey in the oven for 30 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, heat the brown sugar, bourbon, and butter together until sugar has dissolved.
- Remove the turkey after 30 minutes and baste it with the bourbon sauce. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees.
- Continue basting the turkey every 30 minutes until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone, reaches 165 degrees, about 2 to 3 1/2 hours depending on the size of your bird.
- If it becomes too brown in any area, cover with foil. Once removed from the oven, set aside under foil for 30 minutes. Slice and serve.
For the gravy:
Pour the fat, juices and vegetables out of the pan into a measuring cup. You should have at least 1 cup of drippings, but if not, that’s OK. In a small saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons of flour, whisking constantly until the color begins to look like peanut butter. Whisk in the cup of drippings and let cook for one minute, then stir in the 2 cups turkey or chicken stock. Continue to whisk until thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
*You can make turkey stock with the neck and giblets from inside your turkey. Once you remove them from the turkey, place them in a slow cooker and cover them with water, about 12 cups. Set on low for 8 hours. Discard the neck and giblets and strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Let cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for later.