I don't claim there is only one way to cook a turkey. In fact, there are probably as many ways to cook one as there are mothers or mothers-in-law to tell you how to do it. One could write a book about this. There's so much to say.
Timing is always tricky. I don't worry too much about the turkey coming out early. That's what piping hot gravy is for. But the opposite IS a bit of a bore... when it's not ready and you are.
An instant read thermometer is your best friend. Having said that, the first year I got one, I put it in and I had something else to do. So I closed the oven door just for a minute or two. Guess what? It melted, thankfully not on the turkey. See? I don't pretend to know everything.
Parts of this recipe depend on the knowledge and experience of those that went before me: my mother, Julia, the authors of EVERY version of The Joy of Cooking...and some of it is just me.
Roast Turkey and Gravy - Narratively told...
The day before, when you’re cutting up all your vegetables - onions, carrots, celery and parsley - for the stuffing, or anything you’re making, save all the bits and pieces, including onions skins, and put them in a plastic bag.
On Thanksgiving morning, while the onions and celery are softening for the stuffing, place all your veggies and a couple bay leaves in a large stock pot. Add the neck and gizzards from the turkey. Fill with water and bring to a gentle simmer. That will stay on the back of the stove, cooking gently, for 4 to 5 hours. The exact time doesn’t really matter. This will be the stock for your gravy and for your roasting pan. It‘s also great to have to thin out your leftover gravy.
At some point when you have a minute, maybe before the company arrives (but never mind if you don’t get to it) strain the stock (I strain it into my KitchenAid bowls) and return it to the stock pot.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. (I admit half the time I just turn it to 350.) Stuff the turkey and place a heel of bread in the biggest opening. Sew up the various openings with butcher’s twine and the biggest carpet needle you have. Tie the legs together.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (not extra virgin) in a small saucepan. Rub that all over the bird. Salt and pepper it. (I never have before, but I will this year.) Place it on a rack in a roasting pan. After 30 minutes add a bit of stock to the bottom of the roasting pan. Cover with foil, if the turkey is getting too brown. Add a little more stock every 40 minutes or so, not even to cover the entire bottom of the pan. You just don't want the bottom to burn.
About 1½ hours before the end of roasting time, add 1 cup of diced onions and 1 cup of diced carrots to the roasting pan UNDER the rack (if you can). Noone said it was going to be easy. Place Lady Apples around turkey.
My approximate cooking time for a 16 to 20 pound stuffed bird is 5ish hours. Every part of the bird should register 165 degrees, including the stuffing.
Remove turkey from the oven. TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN. It's hot and hard to do. Cover well with foil and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Cut all the strings off and remove. Remove the stuffing from the 2 openings (not from under the skin). Slice off the legs. Cut off the breasts in one piece from each side of the turkey’s backbone. Slice them widthwise. Cover with foil until ready to serve, garnished with Lady Apples.
Now, don’t be frightened of the gravy and don’t judge me when you see what I do and how much I make. IT’S ONCE A YEAR.
Here’s the recipe in long form. (The truncated version follows.)
This is the formula for the gravy base: 3 tablespoons of fat to ¼ cup of flour to 4 cups of liquid. (1 cup of that can be white wine to deglaze the pan.) I usually multiply that by FOUR!!! I told you not to be shocked. For me, it’s about the gravy.
I strain all my drippings and the diced-roasting-pan-vegetables into a 4 cup measure.
Now, this is where I stray from the traditional recipes. I don’t skim those drippings at all. Remember they’re sitting in a 4 cup measure. I spoon out the fat (and whatever comes with it) at the top and use that as the fat in my gravy base. I need 12 tablespoons, which happens to be three-quarters of a cup. I scoop that up from the top (it’s not all fat, but some other juices, I don’t care) and put it into a large (5 quart) heavy bottomed Dutch oven.
I add 1 cup of flour (because I’m multiplying by 4) and stir it on the lowest heat for 3 minutes to make a roux. Cook it to as dark as you have the patience for. I don’t.
Deglaze your roasting pan with white wine (no more than a quarter of your total liquid). Strain that into the same 4 cup measure that has the drippings and juices. Make up to four cups with the turkey stock on the back of the stove. Add that slowly to the gravy base. Measure another 4 cups of stock and keep adding it, while whisking. Bring it to the boil and just let keep simmering, whisking occasionally.
Don’t tell anyone this next part. If you want to hate me, go ahead, but I’ve never found a better alternative. When no one’s looking, I add a few spoonfuls of Gravy Master and that will give the gravy its traditional rich brown color. Even if you had browned the roux, the stock isn’t dark enough to give a great color. (The onion skins in the stock do help, but not enough.) Season with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
If the whole thing lumps up, put it through a strainer and work through all the floury lumps, so you don’t lose your thickening.
Now, actually, honestly, I probably don’t add all 16 cups of liquid. I just have it on the back of the stove and I add more liquid as I need to, leaving it simmering all during hors d‘oeuvres and the first course. I certainly add 12 cups, but maybe not all 16.
Short Form Gravy Recipe - using only 4 cups of liquid:
Strain all your drippings into a 4 cup measuring pitcher.
Skim 3 tablespoons of fat from the 4 cup measure into a large saucepan over medium low heat.
Add ¼ cup of flour. Stir slowly over low heat for 3 minutes, or until as brown as you have the time and energy to make it.
Deglaze your roasting pan with 1 cup of white wine. Strain that into the 4 cup measure. Make up to 4 cups of liquid with turkey stock.
Stir liquid into roux, whisking all the time. Simmer for at least 10 minutes or until thickened. Add gravy master for color, if desired. Season to taste.