Thanksgiving is meant to be a day when groups, large and small, get together giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. One would think this would be a time to set differences aside and give thanks also for the companionship of family and friends. Whoever selected the turkey as the centerpiece for this holiday just wasn't thinking or never understood the strong, unwavering preferences people bring to the Thanksgiving table when it comes to turkey.
There are dark meat lovers and white meat lovers and "never the twain shall meet". Traditionally cooking a whole turkey results either in perfectly cooked white meat and under done dark meat, or dried out white meat and succulent dark meat; it's been impossible to achieve perfection for both camps and one group is always disappointed and a little resentful of the other, thus upsetting the harmony of the holiday. Enter a simplistically brilliant solution from the Barefoot Contessa ... separate the light and dark meat once the white meat is nearly done, and finish cooking the dark meat until it's nearly done. Reunite them and warm everything atop some yummy gravy on an ovenproof platter. We were so pleased because my husband is a dark-meat-lover kind of guy and I am white-meat-only kind of girl ... and "never the twain shall meet" ... until now. Now we can look forward harmonious holiday feasts.
Make-Ahead Roast Turkey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 (12-14-pound) fresh turkey
1 large yellow onion, unpeeled and cut in eighths
1 lemon quartered
8 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy (Separate recipe)
- Two or three days before you plan to roast the turkey, combine 3 tablespoons of salt, the minced thyme, and lemon zest. Wash the turkey inside and out, drain it well, and pat it all over with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the salt mixture in the cavity of the turkey and rub the rest on the skin, including under the wings and legs. Place the turkey in a shallow dish just large enough to hold it and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one or two days. The day before you plan to roast the turkey, remove the plastic wrap and leave the turkey in the fridge. The skin will dry out and turn a little translucent.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put the turkey in a large roasting pan, discarding any juices in the dish. Place the onion, lemon, and thyme sprigs in the cavity. With kitchen string, tie the legs together and the wings close to the body. Brush the turkey with the butter and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
- Roast the turkey for 2 to 2 ½ hours, until the breast meat registers 165 degrees (put thermometer in sideways) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the oven and place the turkey on a platter. Cut off the legs and thighs and put them back in the roasting pan, covering the breast and carcass tightly with aluminum foil.
- Place the roasting pan back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the dark meat registers 180 degrees. Remove the dark meat to the platter with the turkey, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
- Now place the roasting pan on the stove top and finish the gravy. Over medium heat add 1 cup of dry white wine. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring and scraping up all the bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Slowly whisk in the previously made gravy base into the pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the gravy is smooth and slightly thickened. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
- Pour a 1/4-inch layer of the gravy into a large (12 x 16-inch), ovenproof serving platter (make sure it's ovenproof!). Carve the turkey and arrange it artfully on top of the gravy. (Note: Remove the entire breast to a cutting board and then slice it diagonally into thick slices.)
- Place the platter uncovered into the oven for 15 to 30 minutes, until the turkey is very hot.
- Serve hot with extra gravy on the side.
- Make It Ahead: Roast and slice the turkey and assemble it on the gravy. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour before reheating in the oven.