Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bacon Herb Stuffed Turkey

Thanksgiving Day this year was one of those rare but special holidays that we actually got to spend at home just enjoying each other.  In celebration of the big day, I decided to do things up big and make a full meal all from scratch.  My husband went hunting first thing in the morning as he usually does on Thanksgiving Day.  This actually is nice because the kids and I tend to get extra snuggles and a little extra snoozing those mornings - somehow we are just busier when daddy is home.  Plus he generally stays out until 10:30 a.m. or later so the kids and I grab a light and easy breakfast and then I make some hearty snacks and nibbles to hold us until the main meal.
Preparation actually started with the turkey the night before.  I removed the neck, giblets, heart, liver and gravy packet from the inside and thoroughly rinsed the whole bird.  I placed it breast side up in a 13x9x2 glass baking dish and tucked the wing tips under the fat flap.  I seasoned well with a combination of cumin, paprika, garlic salt, pepper, and oregano.  (I like to do this by sight and sprinkling on what looks good rather than measuring into a bowl and mixing ahead.)  I also took a few sprigs each from my frozen herb collection and finely chopped them and added them to the top of the bird.  Then I covered the whole thing tightly with foil and refrigerated it overnight.

I also took the neck, heart, liver, giblets, 1 diced onion, 2 diced celery stalks, 1 large sliced carrot and put them in a small pot with enough water to cover them.  I added salt, pepper, caraway seed, fennel seed, sage and parsley.  I covered the pot and simmered for about 1 1/2 hours until a nice broth was formed.  I removed and discarded the neck.  Then I removed the heart, liver and giblets and chopped them finely and added back to the broth.  I stored this overnight in the fridge.  I sauteed 4 strips of bacon (diced) and 1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms in a small saute pan and stored that in the fridge overnight too.
Thanksgiving morning I think I was so energizes by the fun opportunity to have Thanksgiving Day at home that I was up fairly early and dug right into the day.  I started by pulling the turkey out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to put it in the oven.  Then I made the stuffing.  I scooped all the goodies out of the giblet broth and placed it all in a large mixing bowl and set the broth aside.  Then I added 1 large egg, the sauteed bacon and mushroom mix, 1/2 cup cooked rice, and about 10 slices of assorted breads shredded.  I used a marble rye and regular white bread here but you can use whatever your family likes.  The different textures and firmness of the breads work nicely together.  I added about 3/4 cup of the giblet broth and mixed everything together really well.  (The pups enjoyed the remainder of the broth over their dry dog food for a special treat.)
The stuffing mixture got crammed into both cavities of the bird.  Then bacon strips got laid overlapping over the entire exposed surface of the turkey.  You can lay strips along both sides and weave the ends of the cross pieces to hold them in place.
Don't preheat the oven unless you are sure your baking dish is room temperature or you can run the risk of shattering your pan.  I prefer to just start the oven when the turkey goes in.
Bake for the first 45 minutes on 450 degrees uncovered.  Then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue baking.  Your total time will depend on the size of your bird but figure about 15 minutes per pound.  This was a 16.6 lb. turkey.  I put it in at 9 a.m. and it was done at 1:30 p.m.  About every hour, take a baster or large spoon and scoop your juices from the bottom of your pan over the entire turkey.  This will keep the moisture dripping through the bird the entire cooking time and also help keep your bacon from burning.  If your bacon starts looking rather dark, loosely place foil over the bird but do not seal the edges.  This will keep your bacon at about the same done-ness while the rest of the bird continues to cook.
Make sure to use a meat thermometer to make sure your bird is thoroughly cooked.  Insert the thermometer into the lower part of the thigh near the bone but not touching bone.  The thigh reading should be at least 180 degrees and the stuffing should read 165 degrees at the center of the bird.  Take the turkey out of the oven and spoon the juices over it one more time, then recover with the foil.  I let this rest about 30 minutes before carving.
To carve, use an electric meat carver or sharp carving knife and start by removing the drumsticks and wings. Then make long downward cuts through the breast meat to create slices.  Continue to slice pieces until you reach the backbone, then repeat on the second side of the turkey.
If you want to make the optimum use of your turkey, you can follow the same principles and recipes as I outline with roasted chicken starting here to create many follow-up meals for your family.  If you find its a bit dry after you get it sliced, skim the grease from the top of the pan juices and set those aside and then scoop some of the pan juices over the sliced turkey, cover tightly with foil and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Use the rest of the pan juices and a simple rue of water and a couple tablespoons of flour whisked together to make a gravy to serve on top.
One turkey will yield a lot of meat and you will find that it is no more difficult to do than roasting a chicken.  Watch for sales now and after Christmas on whole turkeys - I got this for $.78/pound a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving but they often go down even farther after the holidays when most people don't eat them regularly.
Don't forget to scoop your stuffing out of the middle and serve that as well.  The stuffing not only absorbs the seasonings and juices of the turkey but helps provide the turkey with flavor and moisture as well.
More recipes from our Thanksgiving Day to come!

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