After I moved to the United States in 1973, one of the many interesting American phrases I learned about was “to talk turkey.” I discovered it traced all the way back to colonial times, and most explanations suggest it was first spoken by a Native American after a settler he had gone hunting with tried, with some deceitful talking, to cheat him out of the larger of the two game birds they had bagged together.
So, “talk turkey” generally means to get right to the point. And those words start taking on a very literal meaning now, with Thanksgiving just a couple of weeks away.
I think it’s very important to talk about your Thanksgiving turkey as soon as possible for two key reasons. Knowing how you plan to cook the bird will help you plan all the other dishes you’ll be serving before, alongside, and after it. It also makes good sense to order your turkey as soon as possible to make sure you get a fresh one that’s the right size — count on around 1½ pounds per person, which will also give you some leftovers — as well as properly raised, grain-fed, humanely processed, and free of artificial ingredients such as preservatives or food coloring.
As you’ll see from the following recipe, these days I generally like to cook a turkey fairly simply. Instead of brining it overnight, which for most people can be an inconvenient process, I take more basic measures to ensure tender, juicy results.
I spread a quickly prepared butter, seasoned with fresh rosemary, under the skin covering the breast, which helps keep the leaner white meat from drying out during the long roasting process. I also place the turkey on top of a bed of aromatic vegetables, which helps the oven’s heat circulate evenly under the bird while it cooks while also flavoring the juices that collect in the roasting pan. And, following an initial 45 minutes of undisturbed roasting time, I baste the turkey every 20 minutes with the flavorful pan juices, helping to keep the meat moist while also promoting a deep golden-brown skin.
Speaking of moisture, I think a little sauce served with the carved turkey is an ideal way to add extra juicy flavor to every single bite. One of my favorite sauces is based on the widely available bottled juice of pomegranates, a fruit in season right now whose deep ruby color and tangy, tart-sweet flavor is perfect for an autumn feast.
I hope my recipe inspires lots of happy talk about the turkey around your Thanksgiving table this year.
ROSEMARY BUTTER-BASTED WHOLE ROASTED TURKEY WITH POMEGRANATE SAUCE
Makes 12 servings.
1 whole turkey, about 20 pounds
½ pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large yellow onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 large celery stalks, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup bottled unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup pomegranate seeds, removed from a whole fruit yourself, or purchased already extracted and packaged
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove the neck, giblets and liver from the turkey’s cavity. Rinse inside and out with cold running water and pat dry.
In a small mixing bowl, mash together the butter, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. At the neck opening of the bird, carefully insert your fingers to separate the turkey’s breast skin from the meat; spread the butter mixture in between.
Rub the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. Spread the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, giblets, neck and liver on the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey. Place the turkey on top. Rub the turkey with 1 cup of olive oil.
Transfer the roasting pan to the preheated oven. Roast for 45 minutes, then begin basting every 20 minutes, adding chicken stock to the pan as needed to keep the vegetables from burning.
Roast the turkey for between 15 minutes and 20 minutes per pound until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh meat without touching bone registers at least 165 F and no more than 180 F.
Remove the pan from the oven, loosely cover the turkey with foil, and leave it in a warm place to rest until serving.
Meanwhile, place the roasting pan over two burners on the stovetop. Add the pomegranate juice to the pan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits. Carefully pour the liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into a saucepan and, with a ladle, skim off excess fat from the surface. Simmer over medium-high heat until the sauce has thickened slightly; transfer to a sauceboat and keep warm.
Transfer the turkey to a carving board. Using a sharp carving knife, cut off the legs and thighs, moving them to locate the joints and then carefully cutting through; cut off the meat in slices parallel to the bone. Starting along the high point of the breastbone, carefully cut downward following the ribs to completely cut off one side of the breast; then, place it on the cutting board and cut crosswise into thick slices. Transfer the slices to individual heated serving plates and garnish each serving with some sauce and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.