I have made my Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey this way for the past couple of years and it is tender and juicy. It is very different placing the turkey upside down in the pan but it truly is a way to keep the turkey breast moist. I spent my entire childhood stuffing the turkey with dressing with my mom, but cooking it outside the turkey is safer and you can use turkey stock for flavoring. My mom’s gravy recipe follows.
- 1 turkey, approx. 15 lbs
- Juice of a lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil or melted butter
- 1/2 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
- Tops and bottoms of a bunch of celery
- 2 carrots
- Sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme
- Bay leaf
Bring the turkey to room temperature before cooking. Keep it in its plastic wrapping until you are ready to cook it. If you get a frozen turkey, you will need to defrost it in the refrigerator for several days first. Allow approximately 5 hours of defrosting for every pound.
Remove the neck and giblets (heart, gizzard, liver). Use the heart and gizzard for making stock for the stuffing and gravy. Put the turkey giblets into a small saucepan, cover with water, add salt and a bay leaf. Bring to simmer and continue cooking until you are ready to make the gravy (add more water as needed).
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash out the turkey with water. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Rub the inside of the cavity with the juice of half a lemon. Take a small handful of salt and rub all over the inside of the turkey. Use caution with this step, too much salt leads to over salted gravy since you will use the drippings. I made this mistake two years in a row.
Do not make the stuffing in the turkey because it increases the cooking time and is unsafe due to the possibility of bacteria in the stuffing. For flavor, insert 1/2 a yellow onion, peeled and quartered, a bunch of parsley, a couple of carrots, and some tops and bottoms of celery inside the cavity. Close up the turkey cavity with either string (not nylon string) or metal skewers. Make sure that the turkey’s legs are tied together, held close to the body, and tie a string around the turkey body to hold the wings in close.
Rub either melted butter or olive oil all over the outside of the turkey. Sprinkle salt generously all over the outside of the turkey. Sprinkle pepper over the turkey.
Place turkey breast down on the bottom of a rack over a sturdy roasting pan big enough to catch all the drippings. Cooking the turkey breast down means the skin over the breast will not get so brown. However, all of the juices from the cooking turkey will fall down into the breast while cooking. If you do not want to cook the turkey upside down, that is okay. Be aware that it will not be as juicy if it’s right side up.
Add several sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary to the outside of the turkey.
Put the turkey in the oven. Cooking time of about 15 minutes for every pound. For the 15 lb turkey, start the cooking at 400 F for the first 1/2 hour. Then reduce the heat to 350 F for the next 2 hours. Then reduce the heat further to 225 F for the next hour to hour and a half.
If you want the breast to be browned as well, you can turn the bird over so that the breast is on top, and put it in a 500°F oven or under the broiler for 4-5 minutes, just enough to brown the breast. Note that if you do this, you will have a higher risk of overcooking the turkey breast.
Start taking temperature readings with a meat thermometer, inserted deep into the thickest part of the turkey breast and thigh, an hour before the turkey should be done. You want a resulting temperature of 175°F for the dark meat (thighs and legs) and 165°F for the white meat (breast). The temperature of the bird will continue to rise once you take it out of the oven, so take it out when the temperature reading for the thigh is 170°F, and for the breast 160°F. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, spear the breast with a knife. The turkey juices should be clear, not pink.
Mom’s Gravy Recipe
This is a very simple recipe but needs some attention to get it right. I have finally perfected mom’s turkey gravy and it sure does dress up a turkey dinner.
- Giblets from turkey
- Bay leaf
Take the giblets from the turkey and place in a pan of cold water. Add bay leaf and a few dashes of salt and pepper. Simmer while turkey is cooking to make stock. Add water if necessary just keep the heat low.
When turkey is done, remove from roasting pan and use drippings for gravy. Place roasting pan on stove and shake some flour and water in a small container. Add flour mixture with turkey stock to drippings and simmer until gravy is the appropriate thickness for you. Keep adding flour mixture and stock until flavor is good. Season with salt and pepper.