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Turkey Time 

click to enlarge SAM SIMON
  • Sam Simon

Every year, my family travels to my mom's house in Binghamton, N.Y., for our Thanksgiving feast. Because we have to endure a half-day car trip with three kids, I'm not an architect of the meal, nor am I responsible for any specific dish. I help out once we arrive, but my mom and her sisters still take care of the bulk of the cooking.

When I was younger, this seemed fair, but as I've gotten older and grown as a cook, I've become more interested in contributing something of my own. After all, feeding people is what I do for a living, and I'm no stranger to cooking for a crowd.

For the past six years I've helped organize and prepare a giant annual feast involving not one but three turkeys for the Burlington Children's Space community. But lately I've been dreaming of cooking a real, old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner on a smaller scale. So when Kids VT asked me if I'd like to write about roasting a bird at home for my family, I was thrilled.

Still, it wasn't all smooth sailing. I forgot, for example, that unless ordered specially, turkeys purchased more than a week before Thanksgiving will be frozen solid and need three days and ample fridge space to defrost.

As for the recipe, I wanted something classic that would also be really delicious. After some cookbook and internet browsing, I chose Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Turkey. I loved that the recipe included lemons — an ingredient I always use when roasting chickens at home.

The turkey turned out as good as I'd hoped it would. The skin was crispy, the lemons and sage looked beautiful, and the house smelled amazing while the bird roasted all afternoon.

Here's the funny part: I started this project on a weekday afternoon, so by the time the bird came out of the oven and had its photo shoot, it was 9 p.m.! My husband, Sam, and I had a pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinner date, and the leftovers made for some seriously delicious sandwiches and soup.

Despite the awkward timing, the endeavor was such a success that I just might request turkey duty this year at Mom's house.

Lemon-Herb Roasted Turkey

(adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

  • click to enlarge ingredients.jpg
    1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 lemons; two zested and juiced and one cut in half
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus two teaspoons
  • 1 fresh turkey (10-12 pounds)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh sage
  • 1 good-size yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 head garlic, top cut off

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the lemon zest and juice plus about two teaspoons of thyme leaves to the melted butter, and stir. Set aside.
  3. Remove the bag of giblets and other parts from the turkey cavity and rinse the turkey inside and out with cool water. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers, and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan. If this is your first time preparing a turkey, this can be the trickiest part. I was working with a 12-pound bird, which seemed enormous and unwieldy during the prep process. My advice: Just roll up your sleeves and get in there.
  4. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity — and, yes, this requires you to reach all the way inside the turkey. Stuff the cavity with the whole bunch of thyme, all but a few leaves of the sage, one halved lemon, the quartered onion and the head of garlic.
  5. Now for the Burlington Children's Space trick: Take what remains of the lemon that you juiced and zested; slice it into thin rounds. Using your fingers, separate the skin from the turkey breasts, being careful not to tear it, and place three or four lemon slices and several sage leaves underneath the skin. Then, using a basting brush, coat the outside of the turkey with the butter mixture, reserving about a quarter of it for basting later, and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with some cooking twine.
  6. Roast the turkey for about 1 hour, then baste with the remaining butter mixture. Continue to roast for another 90 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Rest the turkey, covered loosely with aluminum foil, for 20 minutes.
  7. Slice and serve.

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