The Simple Art of Cooking: Thanksgiving Turkey

While Sandra’s forte is preparing appetizers, sides and dessert for Thanksgiving, she is cooking her first turkey. This delightful young woman, who I met and was charmed by at St. Francis Hospital last June, is a patient care associate, working towards becoming a Physician’s Assistant. I couldn’t resist her recent request for help to roast her first turkey.

To begin it’s best to start with the turkey selection, as there are several different types such as frozen and fresh, natural, organic, free range, heritage and kosher. Natural – the bird is minimally processed but processed never the less, organic – fed organic feed and not treated with antibiotics, free-range simply means that turkeys are allowed to roam outside at least part of the time, heritage turkeys are mated naturally according to the American Livestock Conservancy and have a long outdoor lifespan, Kosher – when prepared under rabbinical supervision the birds tend to be quite flavorful resulting from koshering the meat with salt. I’m a big fan of brining poultry, which is the process of salting. For basic brine combine 2 quarts cold tap water with 1/2-cup kosher salt and 1/4-cup sugar. Add your choice of herbs and spices to enhance the flavor. [expand]

Selecting your turkey and gathering the necessary equipment is the next step: A roasting pan should be no more than 2 to 3 inches high or will inhibit browning. Be sure your oven is properly calibrated and a meat thermometer is on hand. Kitchen twine to truss the turkey or for the simple technique of tying the legs – the wing tips can be pushed through the second joint to secure them.

Whenever possible I would prefer to purchase a fresh heritage turkey. On the East End of Long Island we have locally raised turkeys at Mecox Bay Dairy Farm in Bridgehampton (sold out), North Sea Farms in Southampton and Milowski’s Farm in Calverton on the North Fork. 

Now to the turkey – trim all excess fat and be sure to remove the package of giblets within the bird, rinse clean and pat dry. Follow a recipe that appeals to you or the one suggested below and season. Proceed to truss your bird before placing in the preheated oven. About half way into roasting the turkey, check for browning and tent the bird with foil, shiny-side down, if browning too fast. Baste occasionally and cook until your thermometer reaches 160°F inserted in the thickest part of the breast meat, without touching the bone. It is important to allow the bird to rest before carving with your sharpened carving knife. Meanwhile skim fat from pan juices, heat to serve, au natural, over the carefully carved bird. Have a deliciously juicy and happy Thanksgiving.


Turkey recipes overflow like mushrooms after a spring rain. To brine or not to brine, to season with herbs, or acidic juices or spices or all of them – is the question. Decisions, decisions – here is a simple method to cook an average 12-pound turkey.

I prefer to brine overnight then infuse the bird under the skin with a savory blend of herbs (see photo above) and a basting of acidic juices.

Serves 10 to 12

12-pound farm-raised turkey, brined

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon each fresh minced rosemary, sage and thyme

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup fresh or frozen orange juice

1 cup chicken or turkey low-sodium broth

1/2 cup Grand Marnier or Triple Sec, optional


1. Remove packets of giblets from inside the turkey, rinse inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Slide your hand between the skin and flesh of the bird, being careful not to tear the skin and season with salt and pepper rubbed over the skin and in the cavity. Tuck wing tips back. Mix herbs with lemon juice and olive oil and spread under and over the skin of the turkey. For a crisp skin refrigerate turkey on a rack, uncovered up to 24 hours.


2. Next day bring turkey to room temperature, about one hour, before roasting, set oven rack at lower third. Meanwhile combine juice, stock and liqueur and set liquid aside to baste turkey while roasting.


Preheat oven to 425°F.


3. Place turkey breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Immediately reduce oven heat to 325 degrees and roast for 12 minutes to the pound. Baste turkey every 30 minutes or so until the bird is golden brown. After a couple of hours, if breast meat is browning too quickly, cover with a tent of foil, shiny side down. Continue to roast until an instant meat thermometer inserted in the breast reads160 degrees. Remove from oven, transfer turkey to a cutting board and allow to rest about 20 minutes before carving. Cover breast meat with the tent of foil to keep warm. The bird will continue to cook while resting. If juices run pink in the leg and thigh, carve off the parts and return to pan juices in roasting pan. Let simmer for a few minutes longer to bring up to temperature or about 165 degrees. Pan juices can be strained and reheated for a few minutes to pour over the turkey for serving.



Yield: 2 cups


3/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup sugar

1 12-ounce bag cranberries, rinsed

Grated rind of 1 navel orange

1/2 cup golden raisins

1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated


In a non-corrosive saucepan, mix wine and sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil. Add the cranberries, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes until berries begin to pop. Add the orange rind, raisins and ginger. Simmer uncovered for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Prepare recipe up to one week ahead. Refrigerate, covered. Compote will thicken on standing.


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