A History of (and Recipe for) Turkey


Nobody really knows what the exact menu was at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. According to letters and journals of those who attended the feast, they ate “beef and fowl,” and they did have a turkey hunt the day before, according to a letter from dinner attendee and pilgrim Edward Winslow. But whatever was served at the original dinner, turkey is a staple for we modern Americans every November.

One of the earliest mentions of turkey as a feast bird was in “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. The turkey is indigenous to Central and North America and grew wild around the country, becoming a common food in the diets of Native Americans and Mesoamericans. When the European settlers first brought the turkey back to England in the 16th century, it was a great delicacy. The pheasant and goose were more affordable as they grew wild in England and the turkey was just beginning domestication there. So when Ebeneezer Scrooge has his Christmas revelation and turns nice at the end of the story, he sends the biggest prize turkey in all of London over to Bob Crachit’s house for his family’s Christmas Day feast. This is like sending a 25-pound slab of Australian Wagyu beef today. This story was widely ready and it cemented the turkey as the official feast bird for Europe and America.

Now that we know where it has come from, let’s do it right. The following is a turkey recipe that has been culled from bits and pieces of other recipes and family secrets by yours truly.

Best Turkey of … Ever
20-ish pound turkey
3 tbsp rosemary. If fresh pull off stem but don’t chop
3 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
3 tbsp thyme
A few bay leaves
3 tbsp tarragon
4 tbsp sage, chopped as fine as you can
1 stick butter cut into 6 pieces
1 stick butter, whole and softened
Stuffing for inside the turkey
3 potatoes
1 loaf soft French bread
2 lemons
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Paprika, sweet or smoked
Kitchen twine

Let the turkey thaw all the way. Do this several days in advance, like four days. It takes forever. When thawed, wash it inside and out, making sure to remove the neck and gizzards. Pan fry these for the cats or dogs – they love it. Mix all the herbs except the bay leaf. This is your rub.

Lift the skin at the opening and slide the butter pieces in, three on each side of the breast, spaced down equally. Then rub half of the herbs in under the skin. Coat as evenly as you can. Then rub almost all of the rest (save about 1 tsp of the herb rub) on the outside of the turkey, making sure to get the legs and wings as well. You will need a little olive oil to help it stick and to crisp the skin. That last little bit of herbs will come into play shortly.

Stuff the bird. Not overly full, but just enough. Take one lemon, wash it and cut off just a little bit of the skin along the equator of the lemon, showing the flesh inside. Stab the lemon a few times for good measure – you want the lemon juice to be able to get out. Place that in the turkey hole to block it up. Then sprinkle the last pinch of the herbs over the lemon and around the opening. Cut the other lemon and squeeze half the juice over the turkey. Tuck the bay leaves in around the edge of the turkey, under the wings and whatnot, then tuck the wings under the breast. Tie the legs with kitchen twine. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika on the breast.

Cut the top of the bread just about ¼ inch or so to take off any uneven pieces. Cut the whole loaf in half and butter it with the other stick of butter. This replaces the need for stock. Place the two halves side by side in the bottom of the pan, butter side up. Put the turkey in the pan, breast down. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cut the potatoes into medium size chunks and circle the turkey. Put turkey in oven legs first. Cook for about an hour, uncovered, at 425 degrees. Make a tiny bikini (or Superman) symbol out of foil. Take the turkey out, flip it over and affix your foil decoration. Baste the turkey and return it to the oven, neck first, at 350 degrees for another five hours or so, basting every half hour. Generally, 20 minutes per pound is the rule but be sure to stick to temperature readings more than a time/weight rule.

When the juices run clear and your thermometer reads about 155 degrees in the white meat, it’s done. Pull it out and toss it on your serving platter or carving board. Tent it with foil and let sit for 20 minutes. As it sits, it will get up to the safe temperature of 165 degrees and is ready for carving.

History from history.com and recipe from Charly.