Alan Tangren: Turkey roasting tips |

Alan Tangren: Turkey roasting tips

Dear Alan: I’d love to know your ideas for roasting turkey for the holidays. I always feel like I need some reminders and tips.

Alan: I know a lot of home cooks who only serve turkey once a year, and find a refresher course in turkey roasting to be helpful right now.

The first Thanksgiving in 1621 almost certainly featured wild turkey, along with other wild birds. Ben Franklin famously said he wished the turkey had been chosen as the American totem instead of the Bald Eagle; “It’s a much more respectable bird.”

In any event, turkeys are plentiful in markets right now, both fresh and frozen. Count on one pound per person, to allow for generous servings and to have some left over.

Turkeys are plentiful in markets right now, both fresh and frozen. Count on one pound per person, to allow for generous servings and to have some left over.

Many people are planning smaller holiday gatherings this year, But count on at least a 12 pound whole turkey to allow for proper roasting. Otherwise roast a boneless breast.

For the best and juiciest result, thaw a frozen turkey slowly in the refrigerator, allowing 1 day for every 4 pounds of weight. Don’t invite food-borne illness to your party by just setting it on the counter at room temperature, or in a water bath.

Thawed or fresh, take the turkey out of its plastic bag, place in a pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Plan to cook it within 1 or 2 days.

Wash and dry the turkey. Season well with salt and pepper, inside and out, the night before. You may want to apply a dry rub at this point to boost the flavor.

The day before roasting, make a quart of broth.

Brown Turkey Stock

Turkey neck chopped into large chunks and any trimmings, e.g. wishbone and wing tips

Turkey heart and gizzard (don’t include the liver)

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup each of coarsely chopped onions and carrots

½ cup white wine

1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery

1 quart chicken stock plus some water

1 bay leaf

4 sprigs fresh thyme

3 allspice berries

Salt and pepper

Roast bones ant trimmings in a hot oven. When these begin to brown, add the carrots and onions and cook until all is well browned. Remove the browned ingredients to a stock pot.

Pour fat out of the roasting pan and add the white wine. Stir and scrape up the crusty bits. Add to the stock pot. Add celery, herbs and chicken stock plus water to the stock pot to cover ingredients by at least an inch. Bring to a simmer and skim off the fat and scum as it forms. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Simmer at least 1-1/2 hours or longer, partially covered.

Strain the stock and skim off the fat. You should have about 4 cups. Refrigerate if not using right away.

To stuff or not? Stuff neck and main cavity at the last minute before roasting with cold stuffing, made the night before, or bake stuffing separately. If not stuffed, place some chopped onion, celery and fresh herb branches (parsley sage, rosemary and thyme) in the cavity.

Place in a roasting pan and tie the legs together. Brush generously with oil or melted butter.

Roast at 325°F.

Stuffed Unstuffed

12 – 16 pounds

4 hours 3:20 to 3:40

16 – 20 pounds

5 hours 4:20 to 4:40

20 – 26 pounds

6 hours 5:20 to 5:40

Tent breast with foil after it is well-browned. Turkey is done at internal temperature in thickest part of the thigh of 162°F. If desired, bake stuffing separately, drizzled with some stock, in a covered casserole for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Allow the roasted turkey to rest of ½ hour out of the oven in a foil tent.

Remove leg at the thigh joint. Cut off wing. Remove breast in one piece and slice on cutting board. Separate leg and thigh. Make slices of leg and thigh.

Turkey Gravy

3 Tbsp. turkey roasting fat, skimmed out of the roasting pan

¼ cup flour

3 cups turkey stock

1 cup dry white wine or water

Mix the turkey fat and flour in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir for several minutes, until the roux starts to bubble and brown. Remove from heat and whisk in the stock. Return to the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Skim remaining fat from the roasting and discard. Deglaze roasting pan with wine or water and pour the liquid into the gravy base. Simmer and skim for a few minutes longer.


Cornbread and sage are classic flavors of Thanksgiving.

8 cups cubed day-old cornbread, from scratch, mix, or store bought (8 inch square or 9 inch round)

1 stick butter

1-1/2 cups diced onion

1 cup diced celery

6 ounces coarsely chopped mushrooms

3 Tablespoons minced fresh sage, or 1 Tablespoon dried sage

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

1 cup chicken or turkey stock

Place cornbread cubes in a large mixing bowl.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter. When the butter has melted add the diced vegetables, sage, salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the stock and cook for a minute or two.

Scrape the cooked ingredients over the cornbread and toss until well mixed and evenly moist. The cornbread should crumble a bit. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Let the stuffing cool, cover and refrigerate.

Place dressing in a buttered baking dish, cover with foil at bake at 325°F. for 45 minutes. Uncover for the last 10 minutes if you want a little crispiness.

Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill Street in Grass Valley. Learn more at Contact him at

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