Perfect Roast Turkey

Perfect Roast Turkey   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Perfect Roast Turkey | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Thanksgiving”

The Set-up: Ina ‘s friends have bullied her into cooking turkey for Thanksgiving along with all the trimmings.

The Menu: Perfect Roast Turkey, Herb and Apple Stuffing, Cranberry Fruit Conserve, Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Parmesan Smashed Potatoes

0:34 – Ina begins the episode by taking her aggressions out on a package of graham crackers.

1:21 – She claims the graham crackers are for her family’s traditional Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart, but you and I know there would have been a more non-violent way of crunching them up.

2:03 – I’ve never made anything with a graham cracker crust before – I love it’s deep golden color. Pro Tip #1: Use the bottom of a metal measuring cup to tamp down the crust.

3:42 – I wish I was even vaguely interested in eating this tart because it looks really fun to make, but neither banana nor pumpkin desserts are really my thing. Sigh.

4:37 – Just realized that I’ve also never made a custard, unless lemon curd counts?

5:16 – Huh, the mousse has eggs and gelatin to help it set. A year ago this ingredient along would have made me abandon all hope of making something like this.

6:30 – Ina says this is a make-ahead dessert, always good news when there’s a big dinner to prepare for.

9:55 – Now that the tart is chilling we’re on to the Cranberry Fruit Conserve, which Ina says she can’t have Thanksgiving without. Seriously, the cranberry is so necessary next to all those rich dishes.

10:14 – Pro Tip #2: The tarter an apple is, the more pectin (a setting agent) it has. Hence, Ina is using Granny Smith.

11:29 – Oooh, the Cranberry Fruit Conserve has orange and lemon juice along with the zest. I really want to make this now, especially since the grocery store has cranberries in stock.

12:51 – While the conserve bubbles away Ina is moving on start the onions and herbs for the Herb and Apple Stuffing. She’s really cracking along with this menu.

13:32 – Back for finishing touches on the conserve. Half she’s leaving plain for the “traditionalists” and adding walnuts and raisins to the other. Put me and Stephen down for the traditional version, please.

14:44 – Over to the Herb and Apple Stuffing to toss the toasted cubes of sourdough bread in the onion, apple and herb mixture. Yum!

18:58 – Now for the main event: Perfect Roast Turkey, which Ina’s friends demanded instead of Ina’s suggestion of turkey.

19:15 - Hmmm, Ina’s actually putting the stuffing in the turkey, which is counter to most conventional wisdom I’ve heard about cooking times. Extending trust!

20:59 – The Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart is set and Ina is making me jealous of her whipped cream piping skillz.

21:22 – Pro Tip #3: Practice controlling the pressure on the pastry bag by piping patterns on to a board or marble until your skills are up to snuff. Can you picture Mike coming home to a counter covered with my piping mistakes?

22:40 – More decoration tips – Ina likes to use something that’s in the recipe, so she’s placing fine strips of orange zest on top of the tart.

27:14 – Ina’s friends have arrived and already this Thanksgiving dinner is getting crazy – poppin’ bottles, eh?

28:05 – Ina says she doesn’t like to carve when people are around because she can make such a mess. Girl, I feel you. No one needs an audience when wrestling a giant bird.

28:47 – We didn’t see this, but Ina also made Roasted Brussels Sprouts (for Frank) and Parmesan Smashed Potatoes to round out her menu.

29:53 – Jeffrey is missing dinner and I feel sorrier for him than normal because this dinner looks so, so good. Consider me ready for Thursday!

Final Thoughts:
I really should practice piping. The one and only time I ever tried was over the summer and the results weren’t so hot…

Kind of obsessed with the cranberry conserve and herb stuffing recipes – filing them away for a time when I’m hosting Thanksgiving.

Ina is such a sweetheart she made so many guest-requested dishes, I bet they all felt really special.

Perfect Roast Turkey   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Perfect Roast Turkey | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I started off my Perfect Roast Turkey adventure this weekend feeling fairly confident. I had several “practice” chickens under my belt and a turkey is pretty much just a big chicken, so the process should be about the same, right? But I was still a little nervous, after all this wasn’t a 3 lb. chicken it was a 20 lb. turkey and oh, did I mention, I was cooking it for 12 people? No pressure!

Luckily this is a super low-maintenance recipe. Really, the trickiest part is locating all the giblets and “The Bag” – don’t forget to check both ends of the turkey! Melt butter, measure seasonings, prep a few onions, then get up close and personal with the turkey. Ina’s recipe assumes a 10-12 lb. turkey, so since mine was twice as big I added a few more onions and lemons to the cavity (no internal stuffing for this bird.) One stick of butter + the herbs and lemon was plenty to give the entire turkey skin a good solid coating.

One additional note – the recipe doesn’t specifically call for using a roasting rack, but from my practice with the chickens I knew it would help all of the skin to crisp up, so I’d recommend using one if you can get it to fit in your pan.

Perfect Roast Turkey   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Perfect Roast Turkey | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, the roasting pan and rack ride again. I also used a small pot to melt the butter, a medium cutting board, chef’s knife, microplane grater, pastry brush, and measuring spoons. Lastly, paper towels, cotton kitchen twine, and an instant read meat thermometer are essential!

The Verdict:
About an hour in to the roasting time the apartment started to smell like Thanksgiving – all delicious butter and herbs. Next, the skin turned bronzed and golden like a magazine worthy dinner centerpiece. But, the true test? A 20 lb. turkey basically disappeared in 3 hours. I’d call that success. If you’re looking to mix-up your turkey this Thursday, or any day, I’d definitely try this recipe. The flavors of the thyme and lemon come through clearly without over powering – it really is a Perfect Roast Turkey.

Perfect Roast Turkey  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Perfect Roast Turkey | Image: Laura Messersmith