As a young girl my family would travel every year to share Thanksgiving dinner with family. I remember singing “Over the river and through the woods…” ad nauseam at least one of those trips. I grew more and more excited as the car crossed the Connecticut River, then through the mountain forests; the Appalachian Mountains. I knew with each landmark I was that much closer to seeing my cousins and the feast they would have prepared. Images of the giant bird, dripping with juicy gravy, made me anxious to arrive.
The turkey is the star of any Thanksgiving dinner, I learned that at an early age. Every year that I have hosted a Thanksgiving meal I have tried to design the perfect recipe for the bird; to make others drool as I had before. It was only a few years ago that I discovered where the turkey was raised had a distinct impact on my final dish. Birds that live a more stress free existence develop much healthier, and that is particularly noticeable in the flesh. Free range is the best way to go.
A bit further north from where I would spend the long, late November weekend as a child, is Misty Knoll Farm. Great care is taken at this Vermont farm to provide the healthiest birds possible. They feed the birds a diet of healthy whole grains without antibiotics or animal byproducts. The turkeys at Misty Knoll Farm are also allowed free reign of the farm’s lush pastures and an open barn shelter. There are no cages, so there is no stress. I have yet to find a tastier bird.
There are many ways to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey; I could devote an entire cookbook to that one meal, especially given the number of different ways I’ve prepared the main dish! Something I have found imperative to the process is brine. Soaking the bird in a salt solution helps to tenderize the flesh and add flavor to each bite.
Here is one of my favorite recipes:
Heat the water to near boiling, add the salt and spices. Allow the salt to dissolve and remove from heat. Add the cider and allow to cool completely. Be sure to remove the giblets and neck from the body of the bird, then submerge the turkey in the liquid and refrigerate 8-24 hours.
When you are ready to cook the bird, preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Discard the brine and roast the turkey on a rack or atop aromatics (celery, carrots, onion) until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh reads 160ºF (70ºC). You may baste the turkey throughout the roasting time, but remember: opening the oven decreases its temperature and increases the cooking time, so do so sparingly. I also like to glaze the turkey in its final half hour with boiled cider or cider syrup. It adds a depth of flavor to the skin and gravy that is unsurpassable!
For the gravy:
Strain the turkey drippings into a fat separator. Pour off the fat and return the drippings to a sauce pan. Add a roux of 1tbsp flour/1tbsp butter. whisk constantly over heat until preferred thickness.
Misty Knoll Turkeys are available at Formaggio Kitchen through special order. More information on their farm and instructions on placing an order are available on our website. Order yours now through November 15th! Turkeys will be available for pick-up on Tuesday, November 22 (after 2pm) or Wednesday, November 23 (9am-6pm) at the Cambridge shop.
Nicole Roach is a keen kitchen experimenter and a member of the produce, register, and operations teams at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.