The Main Event: Recipes for a New England Thanksgiving

The Main Event: Recipes for a New England Thanksgiving

Edible Boston's Sarah Blackburn helps you roast a perfect turkey.

Thanksgiving is going to be different this year. Our groups will be smaller and we’ll be missing family and friends—even if they’re right around the corner. But here in New England we’ll still be adorning our tables with the best local food we can find, whether we’re cooking for two, four or our entire pod.

Since we’re Thanksgiving experts here in the Northeast, our three-part series has you covered with recipes for every part of the meal, celebrating the bounty of the season: autumnal cocktails, starters and soups that won’t weigh you down; multicolored salads, sides and vegetarian mains that provide complexity and layers of flavor; and in this final installment we even have tips on prepping a turkey for a smaller holiday.

In this season of giving thanks, we hope you’ll be inspired to fill your table with locally grown, sustainable food.

Turkey Roasting for Beginners

In our house, Thanksgiving is a collaborative affair. One side of the family brings sides, the other bakes pie, and we, as the hosts, cook the big bird. Even our annual pre-holiday Friendsgiving feast involves a detailed potluck spreadsheet ensuring our guests contribute plentiful appetizers, just the right amount of creamy mash, a green and an orange veg and a bright, bracing salad to cut the richness of all that gravy. But as hosts we always roast the turkey. It's just easier that way—plus, to be perfectly frank, not everyone feels comfortable taking on the challenge. It's a big, unwieldy bird and can be daunting to an unseasoned cook.

This year has changed Thanksgiving plans, and with fewer families going for that big, multi-generational meal, the traditional turkey roaster in your family may not be celebrating with you so the bird will be up to you! But we're here to help: With a little know-how and some prep work, a juicy, succulent turkey is at your fingertips.

Preparing your turkey's dry brine | Photo Credit: Sarah Blackburn

Your turkey's breast buttered and ready to roast | Photo Credit: Sarah Blackburn

Allow your roasted turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes | Photo Credit: Sarah Blackburn

Remove the breasts before carving | Photo Credit: Sarah Blackburn

Easy peasy cranberry relish | Photo Credit: Michael Piazza

You can never make too much gravy | Photo Credit: Sarah Blackburn

Dry Brined Turkey 101

The biggest worry when roasting a turkey for a crowd? Drying it out. Here's where our smaller holiday group comes in handy: With a petite 10–12-pound bird, cooking the legs and thighs all the way through while maintaining a tender, juicy breast is easier than you think.

The best way to achieve a moist, delicious bird that's perfectly seasoned is to dry brine it. Wet brines involve buckets and water and can make a big mess, and to my palate the result is more like ham. But by rubbing the bird all over with a blend of coarse salt, herbs, citrus zest and spices and letting it rest, uncovered, in your fridge for 36–48 hours before you roast it, you'll infuse the meat with flavor and ensure a crispy skin, juicy breast and delectable dark meat.

 

HERB-ROASTED, DRY BRINED TURKEY WITH CRANBERRY ORANGE RELISH

1 10–12-pound turkey, local if possible and defrosted 
4 carrots, peeled
4 onions, peeled
6 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Farmtrue's Original Ghee

 

For the Turkey Dry Brine

½ cup coarse sea salt
1 cup fresh sage leaves, packed, plus more for stuffing and garnish
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for stuffing and garnish
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Or, let Boston Spice make the perfect dry brine blend for you: Their Plymouth Rocks the Brine, named for Plymouth (Plimoth/Patuxet), Massachusetts, is a perfect substitute for your own.

 

For the Cranberry Orange Relish

1 bag fresh Massachusetts cranberries
1 organic navel orange, washed and chopped
½ cup honey or ¼ cup dark maple syrup

 

For the Gravy

½ cup white wine or apple cider
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup red wine

 

TWO DAYS BEFORE THANKSGIVING
Remove the neck and giblets bag from the cavity and set aside. Save the liver for another use. (Note: Sometimes the giblets are hidden in the neck pouch, so be sure to look there!)

Rub the bird all over with your dry brine mixture, about 1 tablespoon per pound, and set it on a rack in a roasting tin inside the fridge, uncovered, for at least one day but up to three. 

Take the neck, heart and gizzard from the giblets bag and place in a saucepan with half an onion, a carrot, some chopped celery, a few cloves of garlic and some fresh herbs. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook about an hour. Strain and reserve this broth for your gravy.

 

THANKSGIVING MORNING
Preheat the oven to 400°F and remove the turkey from the fridge and let it come to room temperature on the counter; take this time to work on your side dishes. Pour away any liquid that's accumulated in the bottom of the roasting pan; it will make your gravy too salty.

Using your hands, separate the skin from the breast meat and insert 2 tablespoons of room temperature butter under each side and spread, pressing through the skin from the outside. Rub the outside of the turkey with another 3–4 tablespoons butter or Farmtrue's Original Ghee, some cracked black pepper and another little sprinkle of salt.

Stuff half an onion, a chopped carrot and a few pieces of celery into the cavity, along with a big bunch of fresh thyme and sage and the bay leaf. Scatter the remaining carrot, onion and celery in the pan around the turkey. Pour half a cup of white wine or apple cider and half a cup of water into the bottom of the roasting tray. Tie the legs together at the knuckle and place the turkey in the oven to roast for 45 minutes, undisturbed.

After 45 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven and spoon some of the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan over the breast. Return to the oven, reduce the temperature to 375° and roast for another 2½ to 3 hours (around 15 minutes per pound) or until the thigh registers 160° on an instant-read thermometer. Rotate the bird every hour or so while it cooks to ensure even browning, and baste as you wish.

Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer to a carving board and cover the breast with foil, then layer on a heavy towel or two to keep in the heat. Remove the roasted vegetables from the roasting pan and set aside. Place the roasting pan on a stove burner, ready to make the gravy. Allow turkey to rest AT LEAST 30 MINUTES before carving, up to 90 minutes if you need more time preparing the rest of the meal.

 

CRANBERRY-ORANGE RELISH
This is the easiest part of any Thanksgiving menu, and you can make it while the turkey roasts or days before. Just blitz a bag of fresh, jewel-like Massachusetts cranberries in the food processor, add a whole chopped orange and as much (or as little) honey or maple syrup as you like. Season with a pinch of salt. All it needs is a rest in the fridge for the flavors to come together and it’s ready when the turkey hits the table. Pleasant additions are a sprinkle of ground nutmeg, some crystallized or fresh ginger root or even a pinch of ground cloves.

 

MAKE THE GRAVY
While the turkey rests, add the reserved vegetables to the broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Heat the remaining fat and juices in the roasting pan (directly on a stove burner) until sizzling, then sprinkle in the flour. Using a wooden spoon, "fry" the flour in the fat until lightly browned, then add the red wine. Cook off the alcohol, then add hot broth, spoonful by spoonful and whisking until you have a thickened gravy. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper, even a splash of Tasting Counter's apple cider vinegar to balance the flavors.

 

CARVE AND SERVE
If this is your first time roasting and serving a turkey, take it from us—there really is only one way to carve it. It's important to take the breasts off first, then slice them crosswise. Here are the essential instructions from the ultimate in entertaining herself, Martha Stewart.

Arrange the sliced turkey on your biggest platter and garnish with more sage or thyme. Serve with gravy, relish and all the fixins.

SMALLER MAINS THAT STILL WOW

For turkey roasting experts facing a smaller guest list this year, we've got options for you: Skip that 20-pounder and break down a smaller bird instead. Or try something different for your holiday—duck and venison are just as welcome on the Thanksgiving table as a turkey. Here are four celebration-worthy roasts that won't have your family swimming in leftovers through December. 

When the guest list is small, you don’t need a full-sized bird. Problem: most local farms take reservations weeks in advance and don’t sell roast cuts, just whole turkeys. What to do? Let Annie Copps teach you the simplest method for a “galantine”—a very French-sounding boneless breast—rolled, tied and stuffed with farro and vegetables. Prefer a classic stuffing to Annie’s dressing? Roll your turkey breast around a sage bread stuffing and roast the same way.

Photo Credit: Michael Piazza |Styling: Catrine Kelty

Photo Credit: Michael Piazza | Styling: Catrine Kelty

Take a page from your weeknight chicken roasting and spatchcock your turkey, too. By cutting out the backbone and pressing the breastbone flat, you’ll fit your bird on a sheet tray and reduce the cooking time dramatically. This method is also perfect for the grill, taking your Thanksgiving prep outside if the weather permits.

Duck for Thanksgiving? Why not? A slow-roasted duck, seasoned with plenty of Curio Spice Agean Salt blend, with potatoes and sage, is a luxurious change-up this year. Serve the tender, succulent meat with Lyndigo Spice Fennel & Fig Chutney.

Photo Credit: Michael Piazza | Styling: Catrine Kelty

Photo Credit: Michael Piazza | Styling: Catrine Kelty

Your group’s a bit smaller—why not try something new this year? Venison is just as traditional as turkey and was certainly served at the First Thanksgiving. The trick? Finding a hunter friend who can spare a whole loin. But wrap that tender meat in bacon, grill and serve with a blackberry sauce and you might have a new favorite. Venison sings with a smear of Lyndigo Spice's Gingery Blueberry Fruit Spread.

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