Easter Sunday is observed April 12th in the US this year. My family loves turkey and we have traditionally had turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy and all the trimmings on Easter Sunday. In the US, people fix turkey on Thanksgiving as well as Christmas in many households. Turkey is wonderful during cold and flu season so why not during COVID-19 season? Turkey provides great health benefits. Turkey boosts the immune system, is low in fat and cholesterol, boosts your metabolism, it’s good for teeth and bones, and it is a great source of iron. When I was restocking my freezer this year, I purchased a turkey for Easter. I may cook it earlier if the coronavirus hits my area. If I get sick, I will be thankful to have left over turkey meat in my freezer for sandwiches, left over turkey and noodles in both my refrigerator and freezer, as well as left over stuffing which freezes quite well. My 10 year old is capable of heating up turkey, making himself a sandwich, or heating up turkey and noodles. Left over mashed potatoes also freeze and are great for making potato salad, potato patties fried in butter, or adding to home made soup for thickening. So if you’re up for adding a little normalcy to your life, enjoying family time, and stocking yourself with ready to eat food if you get ill, I’m sharing my turkey recipe for you.
The above picture is the 24lb turkey I stuffed and cooked for Thanksgiving 2019. Buy whatever size turkey your refrigerator/freezer and oven can accommodate. A simple 10-15lb turkey will feed most immediate households for several days and will fit in most refrigerators/freezers and ovens. My personal opinion is the Honeysuckle White young whole turkey with no antibiotics or added hormones beats any other brand hands down. It will give you a tender juicy turkey without fail. Butterball is my second choice. However, if you’re strapped for money, buy whatever brand is on sale, affordable and available in your area. You can freeze an uncooked turkey for a few months. You need to cook a thawed turkey within a couple of days. Allow up to three days in your refrigerator for a frozen turkey to thaw depending on size and how cold you maintain your refrigerator.
Soak your turkey in a saltwater brine for 24 hrs. Whatever container you have will work. Cover your turkey with water and dump in at least a half a cup to 1 cup of iodized salt. If you don’t have refrigerator space, you can wash out an ice chest and use and ice chest. Please make sure you icewater and maintain the same temperature range in the ice chest as you would in your refrigerator. Anything over 12lbs, I use an ice chest. It’s easier. Rinse off your turkey and pull out the bagged neck, gizzard, etc and rinse them also. Throw it all into the brine after it is rinsed. Part of the salt and water in the brine are absorbed into your turkey. Brining gives you a juicier and more tender turkey. You should do the same with fresh chicken.
The next day: Preheat your oven. Follow the cook and temp time on the turkey label. Add 15 minutes for every pound if your turkey is stuffed. If you have a large turkey that is stuffed, you might consider dropping your oven temp by 25 degrees and adding 30minutes to an hour of cook time. This will ensure your stuffing and turkey are cooked all the way through without burning and drying the outside of the turkey.
Disinfect and clean your sink. Rinse the turkey thoroughly and place into whatever pan you are using to bake your turkey. Stuff the turkey. (I will give stuffing recipe after the turkey) You do not have to use the riser like my pan has in the above pic. The riser is great after the turkey is cooked because you can lift the turkey out of the pan simply by grabbing the riser and then putting the entire turkey onto a platter or board to work with or sliding it off the riser.
If you do not stuff the turkey, season the inside as well as the outside of the turkey. The giblets can be cooked inside the turkey also.
Seasoning: Sprinkle at least .25oz of sage all over your turkey. Shake poultry seasoning all over the outside of the turkey. You don’t want to cover it in a solid coat but use a generous amount. Use at least a tablespoon on a smaller turkey. Poultry seasoning contains salt, pepper, coriander, and sage among other spices. Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of time on the turkey. The leafy sprigs in the above pic are rosemary. If you have fresh rosemary, wash and spread around all over the turkey. I do not worry about seasoning the bottom of the turkey as the juice from the turkey will carry the seasoning downward as it cooks. Place aluminum foil over the turkey before placing in the oven if your pan does not have a lid. Seal the foil around the edges of the pan. The shiny side of foil reflects heat. Heat needs to be directed at the turkey. Shiny side faces the turkey.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: Put your turkey in the center of your oven. Leave your turkey sealed and walk away. Ignore your turkey until you can smell it and it’s close to being cooked. Then open just a corner to check and make sure it didn’t cook faster than you thought. If it isn’t cooked, reseal as quickly as possible and put it back into the oven. The longer your turkey cooks sealed with steam and heat, the juicier it will be. Leave it alone! The aluminum foil will brown your turkey as it cooks. Leave your turkey alone. Use a thermometer to check the thickest part of your turkey for proper temp and the inside of your stuffing before you remove from the oven and serve. If your turkey is literally falling off the bone, yes, it’s a pretty safe assumption that it is cooked thoroughly.
If you cannot find the above seasonings, you can follow the same process and simply salt and pepper your turkey. You will get a nice mild turkey that will be great for leftover sandwiches etc.
Stuffing is a messy pain in the rear but it will certainly give you a better turkey if you take the time and effort. Here is the recipe I use.
It takes about half to 3/4 of a large loaf of bread to stuff your turkey depending on size. I usually stuff the turkey and cook an additional 9×11 pan of stuffing.
Three days before making, lay out 3 loaves of plain white bread to dry out. It’s easier and dries faster if you go ahead and tear it into smaller chunks. I use cookie sheets to spread out the bread. I also throw unused hamburger and hotdog buns into the freezer throughout the year. They work well in stuffing. It’s much better than throwing out stale bread. Don’t ever throw out stale bread. It makes great stuffing.
In a 3 quart sauce pan, add one medium to large diced onion, then dice celery and add until your pan is about 3/4 full. If you like sage sausage, brown and crumble sausage and add about a cup of sage sausage. If you have sausage haters, you can pour a little sausage grease into the pan. It will add flavor and they will never know the difference. You can skip the sausage altogether. Fill up the sauce pan with water and simmer until the onions and celery are mostly cooked (if you have turkey or chicken stock available, use it instead of water). About 20-30 minutes. Place about 3/4 of a loaf of the dried bread into a big bowl. Pour about 1/4 of the cooked saucepan onto the bread. Add 4 tablespoons sage, 1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning, 1/4 tsp of turmeric, 1/4 tsp of thyme and three eggs to the mix. Stir completely. Wash your eggs off with plain tap water before cracking them open. The eggs are easier to add to the mixture if you go ahead and whip them with a fork before adding. Also, do not add the eggs directly onto or into the hot sauce pan mixture as they will cook as soon as they hit the heat. My mother always pours the eggs directly onto the dry bread first and lets it partially absorb into the bread. She also adds the seasonings directly to the bread and eggs before pouring on the hot mixture. Whatever is easiest for you. If you are out of eggs, you do not have to use them in the stuffing going directly into the turkey. The mixture should be moist all the way through. If it is not, you can add more canned chicken or turkey stock. You can add a little water if that’s all that is available. It does not need to be heated. Just dump it in. After this is thoroughly mixed, spoon it into your turkey packing it in. You will have to use your hands. Be prepared. Also, stuff the other end of your turkey beneath. There is quite a bit of space for stuffing and it will help hold in juices and flavor your turkey. Place your giblets in the pan under or close to the turkey. They will cook just fine in the bottom of the pan. Cover your turkey and place it in the oven.
Set aside the saucepan and the rest of the onion/celery mix allowing it to cool.
The extra pan of stuffing. A pan of stuffing needs to cook at 350 degrees for at least 30 minutes. If it’s a large pan, it may need to cook at 325 for an hour.
When you are ready to cook the extra pan of stuffing, place most of the bread into the pan you’re using to cook with. Pour the rest of the sauce pan mix from earlier onto the bread. Add 6 tablespoons sage, 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning, 1/4 tsp of pepper, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp of turmeric, and 6-8 eggs. Blend thoroughly. If you are using the add a cup or so of broth from the turkey in the oven when it is cooked, saving the rest for gravy. Add canned turkey or chicken stock or broth until the mixture is saturated and wet. You can keep adding any remaining dried bread and blending it in until your pan is full or you run out of bread. The bread will decrease in size as it absorbs moisture. As it cooks with the eggs in the oven, it will puff back up. If you have fresh rosemary, wash and place 3/4 stalks on top of the stuffing to cook. If you have dried, crush about 1 tsp between your fingers and sprinkle on top. If you do not have rosemary, don’t worry. It’ll be fine without. Cover the pan and cook on 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Check after 20 minutes. If your mixture is getting dried out, you can simply pour more broth on top. It will absorb. The stuffing should be browned on top when cooked. If it starts to brown too much around the edges of the pan, decrease the oven temp by 25 degrees. You will probably need to cook it a little longer.
Personal Note: I have cooked turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and gravy for over 30 years. I no longer use a recipe. I had to go back and look at my grandmother’s old recipe to give amounts on seasoning. Truly, seasoning is a matter of taste. I don’t care for bland foods. If you are making stuffing, you can add everything except the eggs and give it a little taste to see if you need to add more seasoning. Then add in your eggs. Keep in mind that seasonings blend and change as the stuffing cooks.
Traditional foods that are eaten at family gatherings often bring us more than just food. They bring us a sense of well-being and comfort. That’s why I decided to go ahead and throw this out there during the coronavirus upheaval. Maybe a family dinner with some nutritious immunity building food will add a little peace and comfort to your life.