Start three days ago. Unfreeze the damn bird. I have it on the authority of the federal government of the United States of America that it takes one day per five pounds to thaw out a turkey.
If that boggles the mind as well as the laws of time, go to the store again and buy a fresh bird, like I did. You have 12 minutes. They close at noon.
Everything up to Putting the Bird in the Oven
Take the plastic wrapper off gingerly. Don’t shred the bird’s skin, unless you want your dish to look like roadkill, in which case you could have saved yourself two trips to the grocery store, already.
This wrapper has valuable cooking instructions to which you will probably need to refer for factual information, poultry poisoning safety tips, and the 800 number of the federal government home economist lady.
Reach down the bird’s throat and take out any little structural parts you find. They will probably not be roaming free but will be in an envelope like the Best Director Oscar winner. Reach up the bird’s … well, between its legs. You know, the other end. See if there are any organs there, and take them out too. Go ahead. This is not a trick.
Giblets look like the illustrations in your seventh-grade science book: Heart. Liver. Gizzard. Neck (not technically an organ). The turkey does not need these anymore, but they will really liven up your gravy and dressing.
Put the liver, the whole liver, and nothing but the liver in the fridge.
Put either one of the turkey’s open ends – cook’s choice – up near your kitchen faucet. Turn on the water full blast and give it a rinse. Rinse the outside, too – couldn’t hurt – and pull out any feathers that may have slipped past the fine turkey pluckers. Dry inside and out with paper towels.
My cookbook says, “If desired, rub salt inside the body cavity.” I will not say that I have ever had that desire, but it is probably a good idea, a good “cook-y” thing to do and will make you feel like you are doing something while you are collecting your thoughts, looking at your naked bird.
Yes, in four hours or so, you’ll be eating your little science experiment.
Most of this recipe is magic, with the reasons for many arcane procedures shrouded in our reaction to our mysterious Puritan past, like this next part: You’re going to place some quartered onions and celery inside the bird, through one of its … openings. When the cooking is done, you will throw them away. The Lord given and the Lord taketh away.
Now it is time for turkey yoga. Twist the bird’s wings around behind where its neck would be if the turkey butcher had not already taken its neck off and stuffed it up its “cavity.” The turkey will look like it is sunbathing, not a care in the world. Now tie its legs behind its tail. (This sounds cruel, but it’s not, because this turkey has already been dead for weeks.)
Put the turkey in a shallow roasting pan and roast uncovered at 325 for four hours for a 12-pound bird.
What to Do when your Bird Is Cooking (and It’s Not Relax)
Put the giblets (except the liver, which is still banished to solitary confinement in the refrigerator) into a saucepan. Add a stalk or two of sliced celery and a small onion, chopped. Salt lightly. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour.
Hard-boil three eggs in their own totally unrelated and separate but equal saucepan.
Add the liver to the giblet saucepan and simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove and chop giblets. Throw away neck bones and vegetables (again with the wastefulness! Go figure.) Strain broth. Chop the hard-boiled eggs. Refrigerate broth and chopped giblets and eggs until needed for gravy and dressing.
Dressing for Success
Finely chop half an onion and a stalk of celery. Sauté them in a half cup butter in a big saucepan. Yes, use real butter instead of margarine once a year, for heaven’s sake. Why? Because butter tastes better.
Stir in one teaspoon of Poultry Seasoning – that’s an actual “spice” you can buy in a jar at the dollar store. Or, use sage. Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir in one small bag of cornbread stuffing mix and one small bag of herb stuffing mix, the good brand.
With a large measuring cup, bail some of the cooking liquid out of the shallow roasting pan.
Skim some of the fat off the top.
Are you with me? OK, pour about ¼ cup of the fat into another saucepan and throw away the rest of the fat. No, NOT the liquid broth under the fat! Just the amount above and beyond ¼ cup of fat. (By the way, the fat and the broth will be distinguishable on sight. Mine is.)
Put about a cup of the broth into the dressing.
Take the giblets and egg out of the refrigerator; divvy them up however you care to, and stir some in the dressing and save the rest for the gravy.
Smoosh the dressing into a 9×12 baking pan, and bake at about 375 for about 15 minutes.
Do not wait until the dressing timer “Dings” to start your gravy. Jump right in.
Stir in ¼ cup of flour into the saucepan with the afore-separated ¼ cup fat. Salt and pepper to taste, which means “put some salt and pepper in, taste it, and if you think it needs some more salt and, or, pepper, proceed as you see fit. You’re a grown-up, aren’t you?”
Add in a little more than a cup of the liquid turkey broth. No, NOT the fat, which should be dispensed with already, but the liquid. The whole thing in the saucepan should be about a cup and a half, now. Cook and stir until bubbly. The gravy, not you! Cook and stir one minute more.
Dump in the giblets. Stir a little more until it is all heated through.
You, My Dear, Are Done
De-tent the turkey. Plug in the carving spouse’s carving knife. Swish the dressing out of the oven. Pour the gravy in the gravy boat.
God bless us, every one!