Wine Spectator contributing editor Sam Gugino has a few pointers for choosing and cooking the holiday bird.
• Choose a fresh bird over a frozen one, because fresh birds are moister and more flavorful after cooking.
• For fresh or frozen turkeys, put the turkey in a brine solution—2 cups of kosher salt to 2 gallons of water—for 24 hours before roasting it, which will also contribute to juiciness and flavor.
• And if you're going with a frozen bird, the defrosting technique is crucial: 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds.
You can read more of what Sam has to say about cooking the Thanksgiving centerpiece in his article, "Turkey Talk," and here's his basic turkey recipe, with two stuffing options, to get you started.
Basic Stuffed and Roasted Turkey
• 1 14-pound turkey
• Salt and pepper
• Herbed pancetta and chestnut stuffing (see below) or basic bread stuffing
• 1/4 cup butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
2. Season the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper, lightly spoon the stuffing into both cavities, tie the legs together to hold in the stuffing, and brush the skin with the butter.
3. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 3 hours, turning once or twice during the cooking process to ensure even cooking. Serves 8 to 10.
Herbed Pancetta and Chestnut Stuffing
• 2 pounds chestnuts
• 3/4 pound pancetta slices
• 8 cups dry bread cubes
• 2 medium onions
• 1/2 stalk celery (4 to 6 ribs)
• Stalk ends and feathery leaves from 2 fennel bulbs
• 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
• 1/2 cup chicken or turkey broth
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon each: dried thyme, rubbed sage
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
1. Heat the oven to 425° F. With a small, sharp knife, cut an X on the shell of each chestnut. Place them in a pan and bake them (25 minutes for medium-size ones, 35 minutes for large ones). When they are cool enough to handle, shell and peel.
2. While the chestnuts are baking, brown the pancetta slices in their own fat, like bacon, until they are crisp. Discard the fat. Crumble the pancetta into large pieces (1/4 inch to 1/2 inch). Set them aside.
3. Put the bread cubes in a large bowl. Peel and chop the onions, the celery and the fennel. In a large skillet, sauté the vegetables in the butter. When the vegetables soften, in about 10 minutes, transfer the contents of the skillet to the bowl of bread cubes.
4. Stir in the remaining ingredients and spoon the dressing lightly into the turkey breast cavity. Bake any stuffing that won't fit into the turkey in a separate baking dish. Moisten with broth and baste occasionally with turkey drippings. Serves 8 to 10.
As for wines, Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth, whose tasting beats include the wines of the Rhône Valley, says, "I think Syrah and Grenache go pretty well with roasted turkey. And chestnuts and wild mushrooms, both staples of Rhône cuisine in the fall, are also on my T-day table, so why not the wines of the region as well?" We agree, but given that Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, we've provided a list of Rhône-style reds from California to accompany the meal.
However and wherever you celebrate Thanksgiving, Wine Spectator wishes you and yours all the best for the holiday.
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