Don’t you love Thanksgiving? It’s when the holiday season starts in earnest, yet there are no gifts to buy, no tree to trim, just a great meal with treasured friends and family. The Thanksgiving menu is by nature a healthy one—high in protein, low-calorie turkey, lots of FoodTrient-rich vegetables. Swap out butter-laden mashed potatoes for delicious whole grains, and you’ve made Thanksgiving dinner even better when it comes to reducing calories.
Let’s Talk Turkey 101
- Most experts agree that a hen turkey is better than a tom because they have smaller bones and more edible portions. Hens weigh less than tom turkeys of the same age—under 16 pounds. Toms always weigh over sixteen pounds. However, age, not gender, is what determines tenderness and all commercial turkeys are young and tender.
- Fresh or frozen? A frozen turkey can be bought months ahead and stored in the freezer but a fresh turkey should be bought only one to two days ahead. There are basically two types of raw frozen turkeys on the market – pre-basted or un-basted. A pre-basted bird is injected with water, broth, vegetable oil and/or spices to enhance flavor and moistness during cooking. An un-basted turkey has no additional ingredients. Read the label.
- Free-Range – This indicates that birds — chicken, turkey and other edible fowl — have free access to the outdoors. However, guidelines are loose on how long animal can be outdoors and the size of the area.
- Organic – Certified as being raised following strict parameters and are only fed organic food. Usually free-range birds are also organic, but make sure to ask your meat provider or read the store packaging carefully.
- Local – Local poultry ranches are usually smaller operations and take more care in raising their animals. Many use free-range and organic practices (even if they aren’t certified organic).
How Much Should You Buy?
- Figure on about a pound per person—1 ½ lb. if you want leftovers.
Of course everyone loves their traditional Thanksgiving meal, but I like to mix it up a bit. Turkey is a wonderful canvas for all types of flavors—Asian, Latin, spicy. Here’s my basic turkey recipe along with a couple of recipes with international flavors.
Grace O’s Roasted Turkey
This is my go-to turkey recipe that never fails to please. I like to use organic, free-range birds, but brining is the key to a moist, delicious turkey.
For a 12- 14-pound turkey—neck, wing tips and giblets reserved, cavity fat removed
2 cups low sodium soy sauce
1 cup Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins)
½ cup lemon juice
2 cups red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
2 onions, chopped
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
- In a large stockpot or plastic tub, mix the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and red wine. Add the turkey to the marinade, breast side down and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
- Remove the turkey from the marinade. Save the remaining marinade for the gravy. Season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place half of the onions in the turkey cavity. Using kitchen string, tie the turkey legs together, then bring the string around the turkey and tie the wings at the breast. Scatter the remaining onions, in a large roasting pan. Oil a V-shaped rack and set it in the pan. Transfer the turkey to the rack, breast side up. Brush the turkey with the melted butter. Pour the marinade and 1 cup chicken broth into the pan and roast the turkey for 45 minutes.
- Baste the turkey with the marinade and pan juices and add 1 more cup of broth to the pan, if needed. Roast the turkey for about 1 hour and 45 minutes longer, basting it with the pan juices every 30 minutes or so. To ensure juicy breast meat, rotate the turkey a quarter turn each time you baste it. The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in an inner thigh registers 165 degrees. Transfer the turkey to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. Reserve the juices in the roasting pan for making the gravy.
Moroccan Style Turkey
The sweet and savory flavors of this recipe will fill the whole house with a marvelous aroma. Anti-inflammatory cinnamon and ginger figure prominently, as do carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash, which are full of vitamin A for health eyes and skin.
For one 12-pound turkey
3 tsp. each ground cinnamon, cumin, coriander
½ tsp. cayenne pepper to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive or canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium onion, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 tsp. grated ginger root
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 cups fat free, low sodium chicken broth (divided)
3 cups canned, chopped no salt added diced tomatoes
4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into ¼” coins
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks and roasted
1 butternut or acorn squash, peeled, cut into chunks and roasted
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
½ cup raisins
2 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. cinnamon
For the turkey:
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 475 degrees.
- Remove turkey from refrigeration ½ hour before cooking. Remove giblets, rinse cavity and season with salt and pepper. Stuff cavity with quartered lemon and onion Tuck the wing tips under the turkey. Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Add 3 cups water or chicken broth to the pan.
- Take the first 4 ingredients and whisk together in a bowl. Rub the outside of the turkey with the spice/oil mixture and well as under the skin.
- Roast the turkey until the skin is golden brown, 45 minutes.
- Remove the turkey from the oven. Cover the breast with a double layer of foil, cutting as necessary to conform to the breast. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. and continue roasting for 1 ¼ to 1 ¾ hours more. If the pan dries out, tilt the turkey to let juices run out of the cavity into the pan and add 1 cup broth. The turkey is done when the thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without touching bone registers 165 degrees.
- Transfer the turkey to a serving platter and cover with foil. Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes. Remove string and carve.
For the vegetables:
- Toss the chunks of sweet potato and squash in olive oil; salt and pepper to taste. Place in a shallow pan (you can do this as the turkey is roasting) and roast in the oven at 375 degrees.
for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables just start to become tender, but are still firm.
- In a large skillet, sauté the onions and carrots till just soft, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; sauté about another 2-3 minutes.
- Add all the remaining ingredients, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Following package directions, cook cous-cous or brown rice, top with the vegetables and serve along with the turkey.
You’d be amazed how well these flavors go over in a Thanksgiving turkey! Ginger makes an appearance again to provide great taste and anti-inflammatory properties. Make a ‘stuffing” with brown rice and lots of vegetables, such as bok choy, mushrooms, water chestnuts and pea pods.
For a 14-16-pound turkey
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup honey
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
6 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 bunch Thai basil
3-4 stalks lemongrass
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup all-purpose flour
- In a very large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, garlic and half of the ginger. Remove the giblets from the turkey cavity. Put the turkey in the bowl, breast side down, and marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes. Turn the turkey and marinate breast side up for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set a rack in a large roasting pan. In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper and five-spice powder. Remove the turkey and reserve the marinade. Set the turkey on the rack, breast side up, and season it inside and out with the salt mixture. Stuff the cavity with the scallions, remaining ginger, basil and lemongrass. Turn the turkey breast side down on the rack. Add 2 cups of water or chicken broth to the roasting pan. Loosely cover the turkey with a foil tent.
- Roast the turkey for 4 hours, basting with some of the reserved marinade every hour and adding a total of 3 cups of water or broth to the pan during roasting. Turn the turkey breast side up and baste well with the reserved marinade. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes, basting once halfway through cooking. The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 165 degreees.
- Carefully pour the juices from the turkey cavity into the roasting pan and transfer the turkey to a carving board. Let rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.
For the gravy:
- Strain the pan juices into a large saucepan. Add 2 cups chicken stock to the juices along with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.
- In a medium bowl, blend the butter with the flour to make a smooth paste. Gradually whisk in 2 cups of the hot pan juices until smooth. Whisk the mixture into the saucepan and bring the gravy to a simmer, whisking constantly, until thickened. Simmer the gravy over low heat, whisking occasionally, until no floury taste remains, about 8 minutes. Add chicken broth to thin, if necessary. Carve the turkey; pass the gravy at the table.
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