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(Everybody Knows) The Bird is the Word


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November 28 is a bad day to be a turkey in America, chuckles Fairbanks Ranch Country Club executive chef Francis Perrot. No kidding. More than 45 million turkeys are consumed across the country on Thanksgiving. According to a 1999 National Turkey Federation statistic, Israel is the only nation that annually eats more turkey per capita than the United States.

Our Thanksgiving menus are often written in stone. “People get upset when you mess with traditional foods,” says chef de cuisine Carl Schroeder of Arterra Restaurant in the San Diego Marriott Del Mar. He must know the Strada family. One year, I made caramelized acorn squash pie for dessert. The pale gold, subtly flavored pie was served to my nearest and dearest. They stared at it like it was a foreign object. Lesson learned—and pumpkin pie restored to its proper place.

But the tabletop star at Thanksgiving is definitely the bird. Though the thought of roasting a big turkey strikes fear in the hearts of some first-time cooks, relax. With help from some experts, it’s not that hard to pull off a perfectly succulent turkey. Just follow these guidelines from four chefs, and one good home cook, who’ve graciously shared their recipes.

Butter-Roasted Turkey

Chef Francis Perrot of Fairbanks Ranch Country Club does a steady business in butter-roasted turkeys each Thanksgiving. He smears softened butter under the turkey skin to get the fat and flavor right into the breast meat. An unsalted European-style butter, like Plugrá (available at gourmet markets), is best. Chopped stuffing is used to flavor the turkey as it bakes, and then is discarded. His simple recipe includes a clever trick that brings juices back into the breast meat of the roasted bird.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup coarsely diced carrot
3/4 cup coarsely chopped celery
3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
3/4 cup coarsely chopped green apple
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 16-pound free-range turkey, cleaned, dried
4 ounces (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, softened
salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add diced vegetables and apple. Sauté a minute or two, stirring constantly, until shiny. Add the thyme and garlic. Sauté one minute more.

Season turkey inside with salt and pepper. Loosely fill the cavity with chopped stuffing. Gently separate skin from breast meat by sliding your fingers under the skin in a side-to-side motion, starting at the tail end. Using your fingers, smear the softened butter under the skin and onto the breast meat. Fold neck skin under body and secure with skewer. Season the outside of turkey with salt and pepper. Tie the bird to plump up breast and keep the meat moist.

Place turkey on rack in roasting pan, then in preheated oven. Roast for approximately four hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees.
Remove turkey from oven, and let rest five minutes. Using oven mitts, flip turkey over onto its breast for 15 minutes. This forces juices back into breast. Then flip it back, breast side up. Remove string and discard stuffing. Carve and serve.
Serves approximately 12.
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