Our Thanksgiving turkey is, first and foremost, inspired by Karen's Aunt Dora, who was always responsible for her family's annual bird. The centerpiece of a multicourse, vastly complicated gourmet feast prepared by Iris, Karen's cousin and Dora's daughter, the turkey came to the table redolent of garlic and pristine in its simple glory.
Credit, or course, is also due James Beard, who inspired countless converts with his classic interpretation of "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic." The confit fat basting is Ben's contribution and yields a gloriously deep mahogany skin and fantastic flavor.
Numerous sources are available for organic, hormone-free turkeys, which are vastly superior in every way. Exercise caution, however, as they cook much faster than commercially injected birds, and while the overcooked turkey may be traditional, it is a revelation to eat a juicy, moist Thanksgiving fowl.
Ingredients for The Turkey
1 21- to 25-pound fresh turkey, preferably a free-range organic bird
4 large sprigs fresh sage
6 large sprigs fresh thyme
6-8 fresh bay leaves
as many peeled garlic cloves as you can stuff into the turkey
2 cups cold rendered duck fat--or better, fat from duck confit
salt and black pepper
Ingredients for The "Gravy"
2 tablespoons duck fat or peanut oil
1/2 onion, sliced thin
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1-1/2 cups Madeira
1-1/2 quarts roasted chicken stock
roasted garlic cloves (from the turkey)
1 tablespoon fresh sage leave, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
Preparation for the Turkey
1. The day before, remove the turkey from its plastic wrapper. Remove the giblets and neck and set them aside. Wash the turkey inside and out; dry thoroughly and put in the refrigerator overnight to dry out the skin and cavity. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season the interior cavity and neck cavity liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide the sage, thyme, and bay leaves between the body cavity and neck cavity. Shove as many cloves of peeled garlic into each cavity as possible; secure the neck skin with a skewer or toothpick and reposition the legs or tie them with butcher's twine.
3. Using your hands, slather duck fat on all the exposed skin of the turkey until well coated. Season liberally with salt and pepper and position the bird in a roasting pan, breast-side down. Place the neck in the immediate proximity of its original location; reserve the remaining giblets for another use.
4. Roast the turkey, breast-side down, for 45 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven. Remove from the oven and, with an assistant, turn the bird breast-side up. Using a pastry brush, baste all surfaces of the bird with melted duck fat from the roasting pan.
5. Return the turkey to the oven and roast for 10 minutes per pound, basting thoroughly every 20-30 minutes with the duck fat renderings in the roasting pan. Be careful not to overcook; test doneness by inserting a skewer into the inner thigh muscle; juices should be barely pinkish and the flesh still moist.
6. Remove the turkey to a cutting board to rest for at least 20 minutes, preferably 30. Extract the garlic cloves from the cavity and complete the gravy. Pour off all fat from the roasting pan; set the neck on a plate to snack on while finishing the gravy. (The neck will be meltingly tender and thoroughly infused with the duck fat flavor; it is the cook's prize, but be generous and insist that everyone taste "a little bit.") Deglaze the roasting pan with a little chicken stock so you can add the juices to the gravy.
7. Carve the turkey and transfer the meat to a platter.
Preparation for the Gravy
1. In a medium saucepan, heat the duck fat or peanut oil over medium heat. Add the onion and bay leaves; cook until the onion is soft and beginning to carmelize. Add the sherry vinegar and Madeira, bring to a simmer, and reduce by two-thirds.
2. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, and reduce by two-thirds, skimming. Strain into a clean saucepot and reserve until the turkey is finished roasting.
3. Add as many roasted garlic cloves as you like to the gravy and strain in the juices from the deglazed roasting pan. Warm over low heat, stir in the herbs, and season, adding a dash of sherry vinegar if necessary to bring into balance. Pass the gravy separately at table.
Reprinted from Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill, with the permission of UNC Press.