Slightly More Interesting Roast Turkey
November 16, 2017 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Do you have ideas for making roast turkey that is slightly more interesting than my family's very simple and delicious recipe? I want to see about changing it up but not enough to ruin timing or leftovers.

My mom is incredible at Thanksgiving and has it down to a perfect science, but for the past decade or so I've helped cook a lot of things and we often mix it up on the vegetable side dishes. One part I don't help with is the turkey. Mom's turkey is always lauded as shockingly moist and delicious, and it makes perfect leftovers because it's so simple and can be used as a base for many different flavors.

I'll be doing turkey day with my mom and dad and older brother and unless you include the dog that's it. Our typical menu is turkey, mashed potatoes, tons of gravy, cranberry sauce, simple stuffing with bread and aromatics, roasted root vegetables, and a green veg like green beans and almonds or brussels sprouts or peas with fresh mint, and a plate of crudite. The big deal is the pies, we do apple, pumpkin, and fudge pecan pies and often blueberry pie as well. It's gotten silly with four people and four pies but we can't bring ourselves to sacrifice any one flavor.

Anyway, Mom's turkey recipe is dead simple. All we do is rub the inside and outside with butter, salt, garlic powder and paprika, roast it fairly slow, add some white wine to the pan half an hour before it's done, and sometimes we flip it an hour into the cooking. Mom's got the timing down perfectly for roasting and resting while we do other cooking throughout the day and so we have the oven for other things when we need it. The pan drippings are vitally important for making lots of gravy - we make stock from the neck and giblets and some extra turkey pieces but the pan drippings are key for making it delicious at the end.

All told it's yummy but boring. I would like to bring some variation to the holiday table's protein because while we've brought some interesting flavors in with the sides, the turkey is still the plainest of plain and that seems like a shame. What can we add or change without compromising the method of cooking, the quality of the pan drippings (so nothing sugary because that'll burn too easily), and how it pairs with all the other dishes on the table?
posted by Mizu to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about making an additional gravy with an exciting flavor?

I say this so that you can optionally tart up the turkey eating experience with a condiment, but not mess with the successful cooking method itself or add the work of an extra turkey.

Some flavors I've seen for gravy include chipotle; bbq...
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:32 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would keep your cooking method but use the spices (and maybe the prep with the rest/"cure") from the venerable Turchetta recipe.
posted by supercres at 10:37 AM on November 16, 2017

Gravy! Maybe you can test drive Rick Bayless' gravy recipe from The Takeout (via the blue from yesterday) and report back.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:38 AM on November 16, 2017

Sage. Stuff the cavity with handfuls of fresh sage and apple chunks... Add sage powder to your garlic mix for the outside. (we also rest the bird on carrots, cellery stalks, apple pieces, and whatever else is lying around... this keeps the bird from sticking/burning and adds flavor to the drippings, but it might interfere with your mom's timing.)
posted by cfraenkel at 10:42 AM on November 16, 2017

The best turkey we ever had, hands down, was one that we brined beforehand.

You can keep EVERYTHING written above exactly the same, but do that after a couple of days brining. It will be the moistest, most delicious Turkey you've ever had!

I don't remember the specific recipe we used but it had lots of oranges, herbs and spices in the brine - I'm sure you can google something to get specific quantities. The hardest part is finding a container big enough to hold to Turkey and the brine... we used an old cooler and it worked really well!
posted by JenThePro at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

(I know you don't want to mess with your mom's turkey but...) you could add 4-5 rashers of smokey bacon across the turkey while it roasts or cook pigs in blankets alongside (they're lovely cold too for supper/the next day).

[Bonus: they're an extra special treat for dogs too.]
posted by humph at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2017

Maybe offer a variety of condiments on the side so that the actual baking isn't compromised. Chutney, white wine pan sauce, parsley pesto, aioli, maybe a mustard-based Carolina bbq sauce?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:03 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Try cooking it on a grill instead of in an oven...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:35 AM on November 16, 2017

The Chew had a piece about topping the turkey with a bacon lattice. Or you could get sage and thyme to put under the skin. My friends did a spatchcocked turkey that was very good. If you can get a smoked turkey, or have access to a smoker, that would be pretty tasty. Personally, if the turkey is moist, I'd be hesitant to change it. Anything you add will affect the drippings to some extent. I deglaze the pan with white wine, which is tasty in the gravy, and you've got some. The gravy is one of my favorite parts, and I would not mess with it.

Maybe some different sauces in addition. I love leftover turkey sandwiches with horseradish and mayo, and there are plenty of sauces you could try, like mole. Really, I only eat a little turkey during the TDay meal; it's the stuffing, gravy, and sides I love. Then the leftover turkey in lots of sandwiches and soup, and maybe in a corn dish and whatever recipes appeal.

I always make cranberry ice, many recipes available, but mine is 1 can cran jelly, 1/2 can froz. limeade with 1 1/2 cans water, some fresh lime juice, blend it all up, freeze, mash every 1/2 hour. I serve it in punch cups.
posted by theora55 at 11:55 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

we roast ours upside down for half the cook time, and then flip and cover with bacon. it's amazing and the gravy is astoundingly good.
posted by larthegreat at 12:01 PM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cram the cavity full of apples, onions, garlic, and aromatic herbs.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:17 PM on November 16, 2017

This recipe involves a seasoning paste of fennel, pepper, lemon, garlic, and rosemary. It's probably compatible with your mom's cooking method.
posted by bbq_ribs at 12:59 PM on November 16, 2017

In the summertime, MrJane grills a turkey that we've rubbed with cumin, cinnamon, ginger and thyme. He stuffs the bird with orange slices, some of which we also grill.. and we grill some pineapple alongside. It's really delicious, but this might make for a very different gravy... we don't usually make gravy in the summer.
posted by sarajane at 1:03 PM on November 16, 2017

Best answer: I stuff mine with fennel, onion, parsnips, lemons, garlic and loads of thyme and rosemary.

Do your regular gravy but also make a giblet gravy with cream and Marsala.
posted by ananci at 1:26 PM on November 16, 2017

This might be too much of a departure from your traditional turkey, but consider making a turkey porchetta. It’s really fantastic. In that recipe it’s not roasted but in this one it is. It’s more complicated than roasting an entire bird but Thanksgiving is special enough to warrant it. Guaranteed to impress. I’ve made it before and there was plenty of delicious pan drippings to make an insane gravy.
posted by theperfectcrime at 1:49 PM on November 16, 2017

Best answer: Maybe separate a bit of stuffing, and put in chopped apples and some extra butter before baking it in a dish. I REALLY like apples in stuffing - the sweetness is great with gravy.

I know sage is the big thing for thanksgiving, but personally I dislike it and find it's too strong and ruins the taste, so if you're not used to it, maybe try it in something else first. I also dislike thyme, rosemary, and the flavour of cooked lemon rinds, so maybe I'm just a weirdo. But people put all those things in birds, and I find them disappointing. Your bird sounds delicious.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:07 PM on November 16, 2017

How about rubbing it with a maple and black pepper compound butter before roasting it?
posted by Lexica at 2:57 PM on November 16, 2017

Response by poster: There are a lot of good ideas here, let me know if you have any others. I'll be sharing this thread with my mom in a few days and see what she's thinking.

But I honestly wouldn't have thought about doing an extra different gravy! That's kind of the perfect touch of different but super easy to separate (for my dad who is very much a traditionalist simple ingredients for best flavors food guy). And I love Marsala so I'll be bringing that idea up immediately. I also think I might make an interesting stuffing too. Mom always makes too much and we need to use two baking dishes for it, so why not add some extras into one dish? What about chestnuts? That seems like it's traditional but a tiny bit sweet and would cook up in a very similar way to our regular (delicious, but very simple) stuffing recipe.

Sage is weird. I like it, sometimes, but it tends to overwhelm and then everything is sagey and ehn. I'm also concerned that stuffing the turkey with various things will throw off cooking times (and I sat during enough "conversations" between my mom and evil grandmother about the merits of stuffing vs leaving the turkey empty over the dinner table growing up that I do not wish to revisit that discourse ever again, or even allude to it.) Same with bacon, which seems like a fine idea but maybe we'll just stick to bacon turkey club sandwiches for leftovers. But these are all good ideas, most of them exactly that edge of "slightly more interesting" I was looking for.
posted by Mizu at 12:44 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Morton Thompson's Black Turkey.

We've done the turkey this way for 20 years. It's amazing.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 4:32 PM on November 18, 2017

Response by poster: Well Thanksgiving has come and gone. To my surprise we ended up having over four neighbors, one of whom is gluten free and another who said she didnt eat meat but turned out to be entirely vegan and anyway they brought a million side dishes and blah blah. The success story with regards to this question is that I made stuffing with chopped chestnuts in it and it's delicious. I did not make a separate gravy but next year I'm going to be making some kind of herby pesto-ish situation - if the vegan lady comes again, she can use it for her plate too. As for the turkey itself, Mom took a look at me when I started talking about variations and made it the way she always does, which was moist and delicious and very simple.
posted by Mizu at 4:11 PM on November 25, 2017

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