Thanksgiving’s Traditional Main Course

By Susan Russo

Benjamin Franklin, an American founder, philosopher, diplomat, and bon vivant, famously wrote to his daughter Sarah, “I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representation of our Country; he is a bird of bad moral Character….The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original Native of America….”

Your mother’s or grandmother’s turkey roasting recipe may be the one you always use, but you will find recipes, traditional and nouveau, in abundance on the Web. Below are some chefs’ suggestions that you might want to consider, whether you select a frozen turkey, a “heritage” or “heirloom” turkey (which might have an earthier flavor), or a kosher bird. For size, allow one to one-and-a-half pounds of turkey per person. If your family or guests are mostly white meat-eaters, you could roast a turkey breast in addition to the whole bird.

Most chefs and cooks recommend strongly that you buy or borrow a meat thermometer to test for doneness (as over-cooked turkey has been likened by one chef to “jerky”). If you use a frozen bird, defrost it in the refrigerator for two to four days, depending on the size, and take it out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before preparing to roast. Brining is a common method to render the turkey juicier, but it’s not necessary if you have a kosher bird, which is prepared using salt.

Pat the turkey skin and inside dry, and then rub with generous amounts of butter (or oil). If you are not adding the stuffing, add lemon, salt and pepper (omit this step if the bird is brined or kosher), onions, celery, and herbs to the cavity of the bird, in order to enhance the flavor of the meat and the gravy.

Many food authorities recommend that you not put the stuffing in the turkey, but prepare it in a separate pan. Another suggestion is to layer carrots, onions and celery in the prepared buttered or in an oiled pan, and put the roast on top, adding more moisture.

Traditional cooks favor basting the bird every half hour or so, but many chefs judge that the opening and closing of the oven results in drying out the meat and not providing the crispiest skin and deepest color.

The turkey is done when the thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (avoiding the bone!) reaches 160-165º F. Loosely “tent” the top of the turkey with aluminum foil for 15-20 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, prepare the gravy, using the strained drippings from the roasting pan.

For more ideas, you could check out Thanksgiving at Bobby’s with Chef Bobby Flay on TV’s Food Network on Saturday, November 22 at noon. The recipe below, from the American Heritage Cookbook, is one that I have used for years to prepare stuffing outside the turkey.

Corn Bread Stuffing

  • Preheat oven to 450 º F (or whatever temperature you are using for the turkey)
  • 1-1/2 cups corn meal
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 Teaspoon bacon drippings or butter

Grease two 9-inch square pans. Sift the corn meal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a bowl, then stir in eggs, milk, and drippings or butter until mixed. Spread in pans and bake for 30 minutes. Cool, then crumble. (Or buy good

Store-bought corn bread, but make sure that some sugar is used in its preparation, to counter-balance the sausage).

  • 1 pound sausage meat (I use sweet Italian, with the casings removed)
  • 4 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped fine
  • ½ teaspoon dried sage
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt and dash pepper

Cook the sausage meat over a low heat, breaking into pieces until it is lightly browned

Add corn bread and mix. Remove from heat.

Cook onions in bacon drippings (or butter) until limp. Add to sausage/bread mixture, then add celery, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix well. Bake in oven for the last 30-45 minutes of roasting the turkey. (Moisten with a little chicken broth if the stuffing appears dry after 30 minutes.) Turn off the oven after the turkey is removed, but keep the stuffing in the oven, lightly covered with aluminum foil, unless you think it could benefit from a little more browning.