Karl and I committed to bringing a turkey to a friend's Thanksgiving gathering on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. There were going to be about 20-25 people there, but quite a few are vegetarian, so we figured a 14 lb bird would do the trick. We opted for a regular, store-brand bird (I'm still amazed that an organic turkey costs about $50...yikes!).
But how to cook it? Neither I nor Karl has ever made a turkey before, and the hundreds of horror stories floating around about bad "first turkey" experiences made me a little nervous. My own mother's first turkey experience included the classic "fail": she left the bag with the organs inside the cavity while it roasted. Whoops!
Armed with this tale, as well as with the memory of a turkey taking up an entire shelf of the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days before Thanksgiving (for defrosting), I approached the turkey optimistically: I'm a fairly capable chef, so I wasn't too worried. But how to make a turkey that was impressive, fabulous, and the envy of all my friends (let's be honest: this is my goal any time I'm bringing edibles to a party)?
We hopped on the Internet and almost immediately found a Food Network (Tyler Florence) recipe for cornbread-stuffed, Maple-roasted turkey with bacon. I was about to scroll on by, but Karl stopped me and said, "That one." I thought it sounded a bit fancy (i.e. we'd need to buy expensive ingredients), but it turned out that, besides the bird, we only needed to purchase fresh sage, bacon, and cornbread mix. I had everything else lying around the apartment. Great!
This is what the turkey looked like when we put it into the oven. It looks pretty lumpy because we stuffed a LOT of sage-butter under the skin of the turkey (as the recipe required). However, we did not use all the butter called for in the recipe on the turkey. I ended up dotting the rest of it on our "outside-the-bird" stuffing. It just seemed like an awful lot of butter, and you might want to cut the amount of butter you make in half.
4-and-a-half hours* and a lot of anxious temperature checks later (the turkey was supposed to be done in 3, based on its weight), we loaded the turkey into the car and drove the party with it intact. We had planned to slice it up and transport it in tupperware before going over for simplicity's sake, but I'm almost glad it ended up taking so long because it made such an impressive sight sitting there on the counter. Many satisfying "oohs" and "ahhs" were heard from the other guests.
And so, our first turkey turned out awesome. The turkey was moist and tender (even the breast), the bacon we covered it with 2 hours into roasting tasted absolutely fantastic, and the stuffing, though simple, was excellent. And it looked like a million bucks. Everyone was very impressed, even though they had waited an extra hour for the turkey (and the rest of the food! I have such patient friends).
I'm not going to re-print the recipe here. You can just click on the title of this blog entry or here to see Tyler Florence's recipe, to which we made only one change besides not using all the butter for under the turkey's skin (we added a couple of drops of Liquid Smoke to the maple syrup/water basting liquid).
I highly recommended this recipe for a first turkey. It's not as fancy as it sounds, and Tyler Florence's instructions are very comprehensive, in my opinion.
* We speculate that the reason for the turkey's extra long oven time was that we roasted my vegan roomie's Tofurkey in the same oven (in a cast-iron pot, no less). This probably soaked up quite a bit of the heat, and as a result, the turkey cooked more slowly. Keep this in mind if you are hosting Thanksgiving! It might be better to cook all your side-dishes ahead of time, roast the turkey alone, then reheat the side dishes in the oven while the turkey is resting/being sliced up.