An irreproachably lovely twelve-pounder from Bongi’s Turkey Roost in Duxbury was the centerpiece of edible’s locavore holiday dinner. To order such a small turkey may require calling ahead, but it serves eight nicely and is much more convenient to handle from start to finish than the usual avian behemoth. Plus, leftovers do not stretch dauntingly into infinity. We like to brine a turkey for best flavor and moisture, so we start the night before.
Make the brine:
- 2 gallons cool water
- 2½ cups kosher salt
In a non-reactive container large enough to hold the turkey, stir together the salt and water. Rinse the turkey inside and out. Find the giblet packet and reserve in fridge. Submerge the turkey in brine. If you don’t have room in your refrigerator for this large item, plan to use a cooler you can leave outside overnight. (You can even brine directly in a clean cooler. Substitute ice cubes for up to half the water in the brine mix.)
Also the night before, bake a double batch of your favorite simple cornbread. edible SOUTH SHORE used cornmeal from the Jenney Grist Mill in Plymouth and a recipe from the ever-reliable old Joy of Cooking.
In the morning, check your timetable. Allow 20 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey, which for our small bird came to 4 hours. Ovens vary, so this is a ballpark figure. More on doneness later. If you want to make giblet gravy, set aside the best parts of your vegetable trimmings as you are making the stuffing.
Make the stuffing:
- 2 pounds cornbread
- 8 Tablespoons (4 ounces) butter
- 1 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup celery, finely chopped
- 1 cup carrot, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
- 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
- 1 Tablespoon fresh sage leaves, center stalk removed, minced
- ½ cup vermouth
- 1½ cups chicken broth
- 12 oysters, shucked and coarsely chopped, oyster liquor reserved
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 3 eggs
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Crumble the cornbread into chunks—you want 10 cups. Spread on two cookie sheets and bake 45 minutes, or until crunchy. Stir up the crumbs and put them back in the oven, turning it off.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the thyme, rosemary, and sage. Cook another few minutes. Add the vermouth, chicken stock, and oyster liquor. Turn up the heat and bring to a simmer for a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Put the toasted cornbread chunks in a large bowl. Pour on the contents of the sauté pan, adding the parsley and the oysters. Mix well. Beat eggs and mix in.
When it’s time to stuff the turkey:
- 1 onion or 1 apple, optional
- 1 Tablespoon soft butter
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack as low as possible.
Take the turkey from the brine, rinsing it with cool water inside and out. Pat dry, also inside and out. Have some skewers and twine handy. Have your roasting pan, preferably with a greased rack in it, also standing by.
Stuff both cavities of the turkey loosely; the stuffing won’t all fit. Use optional onion or apple to stopper lower cavity, then secure ankles to tail with twine. Tack down neck flap over stuffing in upper cavity with a skewer. Rub turkey all over with butter and season with salt and pepper.
Place the turkey on the roasting rack. Tent the bird loosely with a large sheet of foil and ease him into the oven. Pour in enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Make a note of the time.
Transfer the leftover stuffing to a baking dish, dotting with butter, if desired. Cover snugly with foil or a lid. Set aside, eventually baking it in 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.
What about the giblets?
Rinse them off and determine which one is the liver; set it aside. Place all the rest of the giblets in a large saucepan, adding the best of the carrot, leek, onion, and parsnip trimmings, etc., that you’ve
been making through the day, plus a bit of salt. Cover with water and simmer very gently while you go about the rest of your business. Put the liver in a tiny pan, cover with cold water and a pinch of salt, simmer very gently 10 minutes, drain, cool, and set aside.
Now it’s time to look at the turkey. Pour more water in the pan if it’s drying up.
Next time you look in there, say at the one-hour mark, it’s probably time to start basting. Just use a bulb baster or large spoon to bathe him all over quickly with pan juices; then go back to roasting. Do this every half-hour or so.
About 45 minutes before your 20-minutes-per-pound math tells you the turkey should be done, start to look at him critically. When he’s beginning to look like a roasted turkey—skin browning, tautening and receding; leg joints feeling loose—poke a skewer deep into the thickest part of the thigh. Juices run clear when the bird is done. Or, deploy an instant-read thermometer into the same region—175 degrees tells you to finish up.
If the skin is not as brown and crisp as you like, remove the foil for a few minutes of additional roasting.
When satisfied that the turkey is perfectly done, remove the whole thing from the oven (putting the covered dish of leftover stuffing in the oven now). Transfer the turkey carefully to a heated platter. Put the foil back on loosely to keep him warm for a resting period of at least 15 minutes.
Make the gravy:
- Pan juices from turkey
- Giblet broth
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 3 Tablespoons cold water
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pour the drippings carefully from the roasting pan into a large saucepan. Skim off any fat, and bring to a simmer.
Add the giblet broth, catching the solids in a strainer. Set the cooked giblets aside to cool a bit. Simmer the combined stock a few minutes to reduce.
When the stock tastes great, keep it simmering over medium heat, and whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Keep whisking until it boils and thickens somewhat. (If you like your gravy thicker, simply repeat this step.) Mince liver along with the giblets. Stir it into the gravy, heat through, adjust seasonings, and it’s ready.
Admire the turkey. Spoon out the stuffing, supplementing with that which merely baked in a dish. Carve the turkey and serve instantly.
To make an unstuffed turkey:
Follow general guidelines above (except the stuffing part…). Toss some aromatic things into the turkey’s cavities (onions, herbs, garlic, citrus), and use plenty of pepper, (and salt, too, if you don’t brine). Calculate roasting time at 16 minutes per pound.
Whichever method you choose, don’t forget to make turkey broth from the carcass!