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Roast Thanksgiving Turkey with Sourdough Stuffing and Traditional Gravy

  • 1 fresh, “minimally processed” turkey, with no additional “baste” ingredients, preferably free range (about 1 lb. turkey per person will give you a great meal plus good leftovers)
  • Salt, pepper, paprika
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • stuffing (recipe follows)
  • 1 small celery stalk and carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 leeks, preferably fairly large
  • 2-4 tablespoons flour for gravy (about 1 tablespoon per cup of gravy)

Remove turkey from the refrigerator 2 hours before roasting. Remove giblets package, neck, large globs of fat, and discard kidneys if present. Wash inside and out, and pat dry. Salt the bird well. If you salt it a couple of hours before roasting, you’ll get crisper skin.

Place giblets and neck (except for the liver) in a pan with water to cover by 2 inches. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery. Simmer as long as possible — it will get more delicious as the turkey roasts — adding water if needed to keep the ingredients just submerged. This will be the base for a classic gravy.

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Trim the leeks, splint lengthwise and wash well. Arrange in roasting pan as a platform for turkey. Stuff turkey loosely if desired, secure leg ends, and place bird on top of leeks. Lightly re-season with salt,  plus some paprika and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, to start warming it. Open the oven and rub 2 Tbs. butter over the top skin, letting it melt and moisten the skin. Return turkey to oven and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meatiest part of the thigh registers 165 °F, basting several times with the pan juices as they accumulate. Roasting time will vary depending on the size of the turkey and how cold it was at the beginning of cooking. Stuffed birds take longer than unstuffed. A 10-13 pound turkey should take 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and a 15-18 lb. turkey can take 3 to 4 hours. Let the cooked turkey sit in a warm place for fifteen minutes or more before serving, for the juices to settle and the temperature inside to equalize — you’ll find it rises from the 165 level, all the way up to nearer 180°.

For the gravy :  Skim all but 1-2 tablespoons of the fat from bottom of roasting pan, being careful to leave the juices in the pan. Mix flour thoroughly into remaining fat and pan juices until no lumps remain. Add strained broth from the neck and giblets, stirring to combine well. Cook gently for at least 3-5 minutes. Reserve meat from neck, heart and gizzard to chop and add to finished gravy if giblet gravy is desired. Taste for salt and pepper, and serve with turkey and stuffing, skimming any fat that accumulates on top.

Notes: Stuff turkey just before roasting, and remove all stuffing from turkey cavity before carving. Do not ever store stuffing inside the cooked turkey. Refrigerate leftovers separately for safety from bacterial growth.

Sourdough Dressing with Chestnuts and Apples

Yield: enough to stuff a 12-pound bird; double the recipe for a 16-18 pound turkey, and you may have to triple it for a 22 pounder!

  • 1 medium loaf day-old good white sourdough bread, with crust
  • 3-4 stalks celery
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large, or 2 small tart apples (such as Granny Smith or pippin)
  • 1/3 cup dried currants
  • 1 cup cooked, peeled chestnuts (optional) (see below)
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. Bells or other good poultry seasoning
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup chicken stock, if baking stuffing separate from bird

Cube bread. Dice celery and onion. Peel and dice apple. Prepare chestnuts (see note below), or used packaged roasted chestnuts that are already peeled. Melt butter and oil in a large skillet. Add onion and celery and cook for a few minutes, until onion is translucent and limp. Add 1 Tbs. poultry seasoning and mix. Add apple, currants and chestnuts and mix. Add bread and mix until bread is thoroughly coated with seasonings. Continue to cook and stir for a few minutes, until bread begins to brown. Add pepper and salt to taste, and if needed, sprinkle on more poultry seasoning to achieve a good flavor.

If baking stuffing in turkey, stuff loosely immediately before cooking. Never stuff a turkey in advance, as it can cause serious illness from bacteria naturally present in the turkey, which will multiply in the presence of the warm stuffing; for the same reason, remove stuffing entirely before carving the turkey.

If baked separately in a casserole, wait until the turkey has about an hour to go before putting it in the oven. You need to add 1 cup chicken broth to the stuffing for moisture. Bake loosely covered with foil for forty-five minutes, and then uncover to brown top for an additional 15 minutes. You can baste it with a little of the turkey drippings for added flavor.

Alternative ingredients: Substitute pecans or walnuts for chestnuts. Add crumbled, cooked sausage. Leave out currants, or add chopped dried apricots or peaches instead. Leave out apple, and add crisp bacon, lightly poached oysters, and some fresh thyme. Instead of plain bread, substitute day-old cornbread or cooked wild rice. Personalize your stuffing to your own tastes, and enjoy!


How to cook and peel chestnuts: Make an “X” on one side of each nut, being sure to cut through the inner skin to the flesh of the nut. Soak in warm water for 1/2 hour. Roast in a 350°F. oven for 15-20 minutes, until the shells curl up at the X. They are easiest to peel when very hot, and easier still when there are lots of people peeling at once. Prepared chestnuts are also available canned and in soft packaging (both are expensive, and quite good).