As every child knows, the culinary world is divided into two categories—the stuff that tastes good and the stuff that’s good for you. In the former category, you’ll find hot dogs, pizza, and potato chips; in the latter, broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower.
In a category all by itself, we find a real reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. Turkey is that rara avis—something that is good for you and tastes wonderful. The kids may turn up their noses at Aunt Millie’s famous (infamous?) greenie-beanie casserole, but nobody says no to turkey.
In fact, we are saying yes to turkey more often than ever. What was once the bird of Thanksgiving and, perhaps, Christmas has become the bird for all seasons. In addition to whole turkey for special occasions, we more frequently turn to turkey breasts and sliced turkey for everyday use—the single most popular form of consumption being turkey sandwiches.
Still, Thanksgiving is turkey’s big day. The wonderful thing about turkey is that it can be prepared plain or fancy and come out smelling and tasting great any of a thousand ways. Unlike many other foods that taste good, turkey does not depend on high fat or sugar to stimulate our taste buds. Kids who won’t touch squash unless it’s baked in a crust of marshmallows will gobble up turkey just about any way you’d care to prepare it.
Speaking of gobble—did you know that only tom turkeys gobble? It is a seasonal call used for mating purposes during the spring and fall. The hens make a clicking sound.
Although turkeys are associated in popular lore with annual celebrations of Thanksgiving since 1621, history tells us a different story. That “First Thanksgiving” was a feast of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony after the harvest season, but the feast was not repeated as an annual event. Nor did the colonists call it a Thanksgiving feast. Actually, a day of thanksgiving was more likely to be set aside for fasting and prayer rather than celebration and stuffing oneself as well as the bird. Even so, that feast in 1621 serves as a model for our own celebrations.
The annual celebration of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November began by proclamation of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. That was the year the tide of the Civil War turned in favor of the Union. It is undoubtedly coincidental, but Thanksgiving is still a day to celebrate the union—or reunion—of our families and loved ones gathered around tables throughout the country. And everyone knows what’s for dinner.
The first recipe below is a simple but aromatic way to prepare your turkey. If you prefer to stuff your bird, try the second recipe.
Herbed Turkey, Italian Style
1 turkey, 10-12 lbs.
8-10 cloves garlic
2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped
1Tbs. fresh sage, chopped
2 large lemons
Make small slits in the skin of the turkey and gently insert the garlic cloves between the skin and the meat. Cut the lemons in half. Squeeze the juice of one lemon inside the turkey and leave the halves there. Squeeze the other lemon over the outside of the turkey. Coat the outside of the turkey lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle on the herbs. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and bake uncovered for one hour at 325°F. Cover with foil and continue baking for another three hours or until a meat thermometer reads 185°F.
Four ounces of the white meat, without skin, has only 144 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 88 mg. cholesterol.
Herb-Basted Turkey with Dressing
(for 16- to 18-lb. turkey)
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup margarine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbs. dried chives
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. each dried rosemary, sage, and marjoram
Bring the broth to a boil and stir in the margarine and herbs. Set aside.
1 lb. loaf of bread, sliced, toasted,
and cut into ½-in. cubes
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup chicken broth
1 lb. sausage
4 eggs, beaten lightly
4 cups celery, sliced thin
3 cups carrots, sliced thin
1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
1/2 lb. cooked ham, cubed
2 cups green onions, sliced
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple, chopped
1 Tbs. sage
2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Brown the sausage and remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat behind. Place the sausage with the toasted bread cubes in a large bowl. Add the margarine to the sausage drippings and sauté the celery, carrots, mushrooms, ham, and onions for about 15 minutes. Add this to the bowl with the sausage and toasted bread. Stir in the apple, pecans, apricots, sage, marjoram, rosemary, salt, and nutmeg. Add the beaten eggs and 3/4 cup of the basting sauce.
Stuff the turkey with 8 cups of the dressing, skewer the opening, and tie together the drumsticks. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and baste with part of the remaining sauce. Bake at 325°F, uncovered, for about 5 hours or until the meat thermometer reads 185°F, basting every half hour. When the turkey begins to brown, cover it lightly with foil.
To bake the remainder of the dressing, stir in the chicken broth and place in a 2-1/2-qt. baking dish. Chill. Cover the dish and bake for 1 hour at 325°F. Uncover and continue baking for 10 minutes.