Big Joe ‘s “turkey intervention” and his recipe for a great turkey and gravy
Thanksgiving is a holiday that is very special to me. It’s my favorite holiday of the year. I enjoy Christmas but Thanksgiving has always been special. It’s a day when my table at my house is filled with family and friends, there’s much laughter, smiles, and stretchy pants. The house smells great from the turkey and trimmings that will go with the “epic” dinner.
I used to cook most of the dinner and get help with the apps and desserts. My niece is an outstanding baker and makes the best pies and desserts. I prepared for the big day a month in advance. It was a four-day event cooking the sides and preparing so that most of the dishes would be ready to go. I enjoyed it so much, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it got a little stressful.
Invariably everyone congregated in the kitchen just to watch me do my thing and to talk. My mom would come over early to help and watch the parade, and then get mad with me because I wouldn’t let her do any of the prep work. When I was younger, mom and I spent so many Thanksgiving with friends and relatives and once I had a place of my own, and nieces and nephews to cook for, it was always at my house.
As a result, my nieces and nephew held a “Turkey Intervention”. They insisted on making the day a little more streamlined so that I could enjoy my family’s company without my back to them working all day in the kitchen. I reluctantly but smartly agreed.
With that said, I now get sides from one of my favorite restaurants, my niece and her husband take care of the apps and I have the turkey and gravy. It was a new perspective to sit in my chair, have fun with the kids, and watch a little football. It was more meaningful and fun than I can remember.
So now that I am relegated to just turkey and gravy, I thought it best to share with you my recipe for a great turkey and gravy.
I will continue to enjoy the whole day, the morning tradition, the work, the smell, and then dinner hits the table and it’s gone in world record time. I would sit at the table in disbelief that all this work is gone in such a short time.
There was enjoyment after dinner watching all my guests go into a tryptophan coma spread out in my living room. There I would sit with the last glass of wine overlooking the carnage in my living room from filled content bellies watching
them nap and I would smile and say another great Thanksgiving dinner. I hope that you spend this holiday with family and friends and that you enjoy the day as much as I do. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Big Turkey
I found that a fresh turkey is my favorite but the old Butterball works ok too. Rinse the turkey well and make sure that you remove the gizzards and neck, dry the cavity and bird.
I make a butter "paste" out of 2 sticks of room temperature softened butter, mixed with a teaspoon each of rosemary, sage salt, pepper, and thyme. Mix butter and spices with a fork making sure that all spices are well blended. Spread the mixture with a soft spatula underneath the skin of the turkey breast; be careful not to tear the skin. Leave some of the mixture for the outside of the turkey and smear generously over the skin.
If you are not stuffing the turkey salt the inside of the cavity with kosher salt and add coarsely chopped onion two celery stalks and a sprig of rosemary and leave that in the bird while it cooks.
Cooking the big bird: I use a wire v-rack with about 1 cup of chicken broth in the pan to catch the drippings. The rule of thumb is 20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. In the last hour I crank the oven to 450 and let it get nice and crisp, make sure you baste well before this process. Once cooked remove the turkey and let stand for at least 1 hour, longer if the turkey is a big one.
Slicing the turkey is also an art. I remove the drumsticks with a sharp knife cut to the joint and then remove the thighs with a cut to the joint as well. Once that is removed I remove the breast on both sides of the bird by carving as close to the breast bone as possible and removing the breast as a whole. It makes it easier to slice and also looks better on the plate.
After you remove the breast I turn the turkey over on the back and remove the dark meat. I try and remove all the meat from the bone, rather than storing the leftover meat in the refrigerator while it is still on the carcass. I found that storing the leftover meat in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil then inside a freezer bag and into the refrigerator makes for a more moist turkey sandwich later that night!
Big Joe's Delicious Gravy
Gravy is the absolute crowning jewel of your Thanksgiving dinner. It sometimes can be a tough long process that frustrates you, but as with most of the recipes in this dinner it takes a little time and effort and you and your guests will be rewarded. When the gravy is made, then you know that the big Thanksgiving meal is done.
When I was about 11 or 12 we went up to my Uncle Rich’s and Aunt Pat’s for Thanksgiving. They lived in Connecticut. Aunt Pat is working hard in the kitchen and my uncle Rich was with us in the den as we were watching football. The adults were having a cocktail or two and everything seemed like it was going well.
Suddenly from the kitchen, my aunt screamed “Richard the gravy is finished, the gravy is finished!” With that, my uncle bolted out of his chair, and my mom asked him “Rich is everything okay?” While hustling over to the bar he said “Oh yeah, the gravy’s made, Pat can now have her Rob Roy.”
It was funny to watch him sprint to the bar and quickly make my aunt that cocktail. It was all good, the gravy was made and now she could have her Rob Roy. I have since tried to incorporate that strategy into my Thanksgiving, but it never works, and I only make it to the stuffing! I hate it when that happens.
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
2 stalks of celery coarsely chopped
4 cans chicken broth
1 container sliced button mushrooms
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon Gravy Master
Pan drippings from turkey in oven
1 teaspoon each of sage, parsley, rosemary & thyme, salt & pepper
1 bay leaf
How to put it together:
In a saucepan, sauté mushrooms with 1 stick of butter cook remove, and set aside, add spices, onions, celery, rosemary, chicken broth, and the gizzards and neck from the turkey.
Bring to a slow boil, and then simmer for 1 hour. Add gravy master. Add pan drippings from the turkey pan, and mix well. Strain liquid from the pan removing all vegetables gizzards and neck.
Before putting the liquid back into the saucepan, make rue from flour and 1/4 cup of strained liquid in the saucepan, slowly add back the strained liquid whisking constantly. Simmer for 10 minutes and serve hot.
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Gallery Credit: Bill Spadea
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The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.