You’ve had a lot on your mind lately. No wonder you forgot about the turkey.
You also forgot your promise to put a perfectly bronzed bird, at the heart of the most sentimental meal of the year, on a table surrounded by people who could most definitely give you feedback about it for approximately the rest of your life.
The first year I was trusted with roasting the Thanksgiving turkey, mom had gone to Boston.
Naturally, I forgot to thaw out the turkey. Somewhere, Norman Rockwell slowly shook his head in disappointment.
After repeated basting in scorn, my ego was tender enough to send me to the Yellow Pages, a book we kept phone numbers in, before electricity. As it turned out, Pinzone’s Pizzeria was open on Thanksgiving Day.
That year, known as Pizza Thanksgiving among its celebrants, was not lost on me. I’ve roasted a lot of turkeys since then.
Here’s the secret to roasting a turkey: There is no secret. It’s almost impossible to mess up if you stick to the basics.
You can get up Thanksgiving Day with a completely frozen turkey – or none at all and still get the Thanksgiving power trio of turkey, mashed potatoes and real gravy on the table before Uncle Joe finds your good whiskey.
Here’s what I would do.
Preheat my oven to 325F, and go buy a frozen turkey, commonly “pre-basted,” injected with brine. A 12-to-14-pounder will take about 5-6 hours in the oven. A frozen turkey takes 50 percent more time to roast.
Also grab the following at the store: potatoes, Bison French Onion dip, butter, flour, vegetable oil. Also, buy a meat thermometer, well worth the reassurance it will provide at your upcoming moment of truth.
Great gravy starts with good broth, so I’d also buy 3 or 4 pounds of bony poultry parts, like turkey wings, chicken backs and such, a big yellow onion, celery and carrots. (If you plan on watching lots of football, or are OK with OK gravy, buy a quart of chicken or turkey broth.)
(I did not include salt and pepper. If you don’t already have salt and pepper in your house, consider pizza.)
At home, unwrap the turkey, put it in a roasting pan, and put it in the oven. Write down the time, which will be crucial later, especially if you finished that bottle of wine you opened “for the sauce.”
If making stock, hack the poultry parts into manageable parts to maximize metal-meat contact. Heat vegetable oil in a deep pot over medium heat and brown meat in batches, turning occasionally. Remove the browned poultry. Leave fat in the pan and put two chopped carrots, two chopped ribs celery, and the onion, trimmed and halved but not peeled. Brown them too.
Then return the browned poultry, cover with about 3 quarts water, and simmer at a low burble, lid ajar, for about three hours. Throw out the solid stuff. You should end up with about 2 quarts of stock.
About three hours after it went in, see if you can get the giblet bag out of the turkey’s cavity. The bird will cook slightly faster once you do, and you can add the bag to the stock simmering, if the timing works. Slather the turkey with butter or vegetable oil and apply salt and pepper. Put it back in the oven.
Peel potatoes, cut into pieces, boil until tender and drain. Mash, adding French onion dip, butter, salt and pepper as desired.
Anoint the turkey every hour or so. It’s done when a thermometer in the thigh meat, not touching bone, registers 165F. Take the turkey out of the pan, and tent it with foil. Put the roasting pan across two burners and ladle in some stock. Your goal is to get any dark tastiness on the bottom of the pan to dissolve in the stock.
Gravy time. Heat 8 tablespoons butter in a large skillet, then whisk in flour and cook roux for 2-3 minutes. Start adding stock, 1 cup at a time, letting liquid absorb into flour before adding more. It’ll start out like mashed potatoes, then thin out to a more recognizable gravy consistency. When done, let it come to a simmer for a minute. Taste it and add salt and pepper as desired.
Carve that turkey. Let the turkey, gravy and potatoes rock their carb power chords, and when your guests raise a glass to you, join them. Because you survived.
And given that you have trouble remembering important dates, take a moment to jot this down: Christmas falls on Dec. 25 this year.