I’ve been keeping a little secret from you guys.
Ever since last Thanksgiving I’ve been considering the fact that Thanksgiving recipes need to be posted well in advance of the big day if they’ll actually be of any use to you guys. I love the idea that some of my recipes might make it on to your buffet and feed your family miles and miles away from Brooklyn, but if I wait until after Thanksgiving to post them, odds are that you’ll forget all about them by this time next year. So essentially I need to test, and make, and photograph, and eat an entire buffet’s worth of recipes in advance to make sure you have time to see them, drool over them, pin them, plan your grocery lists, and make your action plan for turkey day.
So, that’s exactly what I did.
At first I thought I’d just take my time, trying out one recipe at a time and collecting the posts slowly until I had everything I needed. It didn’t take me long to realize though, that eventually I’d need to roast a turkey. Not a chicken, an entire turkey. Russell and I are only two people, and we can only eat so much turkey ourselves without getting sick to death of the stuff.
So the slow and steady plan was tossed out the window and I decided to make an entire Thanksgiving dinner and invite some friends over to eat it with me. I also decided that if I was going to make the whole dinner, I might as well go all out and host one hell of a dinner party while I was at it.
We don’t have room for a dining table in our tiny Brooklyn apartment, so the bulk of our “dinner parties” usually involve our guests plopping their butts where ever they can find a seat, be it on the sofa, a chair, or the floor. However, since I was cooking and staging an entire fake Thanksgiving dinner for the blog, I wanted it to feel a little fancier and more formal than randomly plopped butts. Since we do have a table in our backyard, we decided Thanksgiving would have to come early enough that our guests wouldn’t be shivering between bites of turkey. A date was set late in September and we started planning the guest list.
With an actual table to sit at, I immediately started a mental inventory of our stemware, serving dishes, and flatware. If you asked Russell he’d probably tell you I went a little overboard looking for salad plates and linen napkins and searching ebay for vintage brass flatware. If you asked me instead though, I’d tell you it was worth it for the opportunity to host a real sit down dinner party with good food and great friends.
A lot of other food blogs do a similar pre-Thanksgiving dinner and photoshoot, and many of them refer to their staged meal as Friendsgiving. Since I work in retail and don’t live close to family, my Thanksgivings are always spent with friends though, so I wanted to call it something else.
I was making a entire fake Thanksgiving spread two whole months ahead of time, so I decided to call it Fakesgiving.
When it came to menu planning, I wanted to try to cover the bases for a traditional menu but put my own twist on things. I wanted to keep the flavors simple and complimentary, while offering interesting, impressive, and totally delicious recipes. While I like to try to make as much from scratch as possible, roasting my own pumpkins and squash rather than using canned, I also didn’t want any of my recipes to be so fussy that they’d be unattainable or unrealistic for a meal that’s already so involved and time consuming to prepare. In the end, I think I did alright!
Our Fakesgiving Menu:
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranate
Citrus Herb Roasted Turkey (recipe below)
Mushroom, Leek, & Sourdough Dressing (from 2 years ago)
Herb and Cheddar Corn Pudding
Creamed Kale Gratin
Roasted Maple Dijon Carrots
Flaky Butternut Sage Biscuits
Bourbon Ginger Pumpkin Pie
Maple Walnut Pie
Classic Apple Pie (from last year)
I talked a bit last year about how I like to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner, but I want to mention again that I think it’s really helpful to think ahead. This might seem a little neurotic, but I really like to sort of mentally pair each recipe I’ll serve with an appropriate serving dish and utensil, just to make sure I don’t realize that day that I don’t have a big enough salad bowl, or I don’t have enough serving spoons for everything on the table. I also like to write out timelines and grocery lists and to do lists (so many lists) for myself so there are no surprises. I’m sure that Russell got sick of hearing about my Fakesgiving planning but everything went off without a hitch so I think it was worth it.
With dinner served, photos snapped, and wine poured, it was time to chow down. Boy did we ever chow down.
Doris wanted to see what all the excitement was about and see if her puppy dog eyes could get her a bite or two of turkey.
Now that we’ve talked about the party, let’s talk turkey shall we?
I definitely have some more sharing to come, but one of the most important recipes when it comes to Thanksgiving is the ol’ turkey, so I thought now would be a good time to tell you how I like to do mine. I’ve been making this same recipe for years now, because after all the things I’ve tried in the past, this has produced the most consistent, moist, and delicious results. I’ve done the brine thing before, but this method is way less hassle and produces, hands down, the best turkey I’ve ever made. Year after year I’m showered with compliments.
The key to this recipe is that the turkey is roasted breast-side down for the first few hours. Even though flipping it back over can be tricky, doing it this way is the key to moist and flavorful breast meat. As the dark meat cooks the fat and juices run downward through the breast adding tons of fat and flavor. The only reason it’s flipped back up is to brown the skin on the breast for crispier skin and a prettier and more traditional presentation. I don’t have silicone or waterproof oven mitts, so I cover them in ziplock bags and lift the turkey up as Russell holds the roasting pan steady.
To avoid drying the breast meat I think it’s also really important to give the turkey a good long rest, between 30 and 45 minutes, for the juices to reabsorb into the meat before slicing. Luckily, this resting time also gives you a really cozy window for making gravy, reheating casseroles, and browning biscuits.
To add even more fat and flavor and make the bird as moist and flavorful as possible, a citrus and herb compound butter is rubbed all over the skin before it goes into the oven. I like to use super traditional poultry herbs like thyme, sage, and parsley to really compliment the rich flavor of the turkey. To brighten things up a little though, I love using a mix of lemon and orange zest for a bit of zip.
I’m telling you guys. I’ve made this recipe three years in a row and I’m planning on making it a second time this year in a few weeks. It’s a real winner, and many of my friends can attest to that.
Roasted Turkey with Citrus Herb Butter
Citrus Herb Butter:
1 1/2 sticks of salted butter, softened
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons brown sugar
zest of one large orange
zest of two lemons
1 15-20 lb fresh turkey *see note
citrus, herbs, onions and apples for filling
carrots, onions, celery (and apples if desired) for roasting to flavor gravy
chicken or turkey stock
To make the flavored butter, mash all ingredients into the softened butter with a fork (or with a mixer) and mix until well combined. Place in an air tight container and refrigerate. Remove from fridge and soften for an hour or two before you’re ready to use it. If you forget to do this you can soften it in your hands.
If possible, wash the turkey and remove the gizzards and neck the night before Thanksgiving. Pat dry, inside and out, with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. If you can’t do this the night before, do at least one hour before the turkey goes into the oven. Cover with foil or a lid and move to the refrigerator. Hold onto the gizzards and neck for gravy.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Roughly chop a few pieces of celery, carrots, onions & apples and place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. You don’t need to peel the skin off the onion and you can use the leafy tops of the celery. Add a few sprigs of herbs and your reserved neck and gizzards, and add enough chicken or turkey stock to come about an inch up the side of the pan. Add a large roasting rack to the pan.
Rub the softened citrus herb butter completely over your turkey on all sides and some on the inside cavity. Reserve a few tablespoons to reapply later. Place your butter covered turkey, breast side down, on your roasting rack. Fill the cavity of the turkey with roughly chopped citrus, apples, onions and herbs, or whatever flavors you’d like. Leave some room for air to circulate in the cavity or the turkey will take longer to cook and could dry out.
Transfer Turkey to the oven, uncovered, and roast for 3 1/2 hours basting every 30 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the turkey breast side up. They make special turkey lifters to make this easier, or you can use large rigid spatulas, or oven mitts covered in plastic bags. You might want an extra set of hands to keep the roasting pan steady or help out. Rub the remaining citrus herb butter on the breast side of the turkey and return to oven for 1 1/2 to 2 more hours, or until a meat thermometer placed in the thigh meat reads 165 degrees. Continue basting every 30 minutes until done. Your total roasting time will depend on the size of the bird. Closer to 15 pounds should take about 4 1/2 to 5 hours, 20 pounds more like 5 1/2 hours.
When the turkey is done, remove from oven and transfer from roasting rack to a large carving board. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes, up to 45 or 50. Strain the juices from the pan and use for gravy, adding more stock if necessary. You can use this resting time to reheat or finish any remaining sides in the oven. Carve and serve your bird and brace yourself for a barrage of compliments.
*Note: I like to say you want your about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of turkey per person- this will ensure everyone is completely satisfied and you have some leftovers for sandwiches and something leftover to make soup or turkey pot pie.