My Best Turkey Recipe

So Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone and with all the turkey making exploits I’ve finally figured out my final go to turkey recipe. I’ve actually been using the same recipe for about 15 years and never changed because the turkey always turned out flavourful and absolutely moist. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dry turkey with this pancetta and sage turkey. But this year I decided to tweak the recipe this year to ensure an even browning over the turkey…who doesn’t like a pretty turkey right? But the irony was that I was so busy with the Christmas cooking and baking and entertaining that I never got a pretty shot of the turkey! Yikes. But here’s some views of the Christmas dinner that would give you an idea why my hands were fully tied up:

Pineapple gammon ham and roast turkey. Both took 5 hours each to cook.

Appetizer corner with charcuterie board and a trio of dips – smoked trout dip, chicken liver pate and red pepper dip.

Buffet line (clockwise from left) with roasted broccoli, bacon and Brussels sprouts, Italian sausage stuffing, roasted garlic cauliflower mash, kale salad with poppy seed dressing, Mexican dirty cauliflower rice, avocado and tomato salsa and beef mole chili.

Dessert corner with fruits and a somewhat low carb carrot cake.

All this effort on Christmas Day was for the benefit of 33 adults and 2 dogs! It was crazy doing the massive cooking effort; it was like playing the game Traffic Jam when it came to shifting food in and out of the fridge over the cooking process which literally took 2-3 days and multiple visits to various supermarkets. In the end I got so sick of running to the supermarket for yet another forgotten item that I threw the job to hubs and kid#2 who fortunately is an observant kid and knew exactly what I wanted.

The even more exciting thing was that we had to feed everyone Christmas dinner and then catch a midnight flight for our family holiday. It was truly a soldierly effort in precision timing and crowd control and movement! But I think it would probably not be a good idea to combine travel and entertaining on the same day in future.

Anyway, since I use this blog as a repository of my recipes; this turkey recipe is likely to be used for the next 15 years, here is the best turkey recipe as I know it. No need for all the acrobatics I’ve tried in the past – brining, muslin cloth over the turkey breast etc etc. Don’t bother! This recipe absolutely works but it takes what Paula Deen would call “a gracious amount of butter”. It is the pancetta that infuses a salty bacon-y flavour to the turkey and the butter keeps it absolutely moist.

Final tip. I live in Singapore and fresh turkeys are way out of my budget, so Butterball turkeys are my go to frozen turkey. I’ve tried the rest and it’s not worth saving the couple of dollars. Every year however I angst over the perfect size of turkey because I don’t have a very big oven. A medium turkey about 7-8 kg is my ideal, but part of the distress and multiple supermarket visits this year was because ALL the medium sized birds were sold out!!! But on the bright side, I managed to get a 9 kg bird at $10 discount since it was so close to Christmas (I usually buy the bird 2-3 days before) and the large turkey had 1.5 cm distance from the upper heating coil in the oven! With judicious aluminum foil protection I was able to prevent the turkey breast from being burnt.

And the final most thought. Why do I do this year on year when hubs tells me to cater or do a potluck? I confess it’s my OCD trait at full bloom. I love a full on traditional Christmas dinner and somehow pot luck results in strange dishes appearing on the table, ranging from Campbell’s mushroom soup to stringy ham slices from the supermarket. I guess this crazy cookout will happen as long as we can do it!

My Best Turkey Recipe

  • Servings: 20
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

Begin the turkey thawing process 3 days before.

Pancetta Sage Butter (make 2 days ahead)

  • 4 ounces of thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place the pancetta, garlic, shallots, rosemary, sage, pepper into a food processor and chop finely. Add the butter and olive oil and pulse, blending into a coarse paste. Use clingwrap to roll up the pancetta-sage butter and refrigerate.

Turkey Stock (Make a day ahead)

  • 8 cups of homemade chicken broth
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 celery ribs, cut into large pieces
  • 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 bunch of Italian parsley
  • Reserved turkey neck, heart and gizzard

Bring all the ingredients to the boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Alternatively place into an Instant Pot and pressure cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

Turkey

  • Preferably 7 kg turkey (I’ve used this same recipe for a 5 kg and 9 kg turkey) thawed, patted dry and innards reserved for stock.
  • 8 fresh sage sprigs
  • 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1/2 bunch of Italian parsley
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups turkey stock
  • Pancetta sage butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 tbsp butter at room temperature

Method

  1. Start thawing the turkey 2 days before cooking. Pat the turkey completely dry. Dress the turkey the day before roasting.
  2. Using your fingers (I wear gloves for this so I don’t smell of turkey after!) gently separate the skin from the turkey breast and drumsticks. Cut the cold pancetta sage butter into slices that can be easily inserted and slide under the skin of the turkey breast and drumsticks. Massage the skin gently so that the butter spreads evenly under the skin for maximum coverage. Rub some pancetta sage butter into the cavity of the turkey as well.
  3. Tuck the wing tips under. If there is remaining pancetta sage butter, rub this all over the surface of the turkey.
  4. Fill the turkey cavity with the lemon, onion, garlic, herbs and tie the turkey legs together with kitchen twine.
  5. Cover the turkey in the roasting pan with clingwrap and refrigerate.
  6. On the day of roasting, take the turkey out of the fridge and bring to near room temperature. Remove the clingwrap.
  7. Spread the plain butter over the turkey, drizzle olive oil over the skin and sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over the turkey.
  8. Prepare a large piece of aluminum foil fold it into half. This should be large enough to cover the breast and legs of the turkey. Butter one side of the foil.
  9. Before roasting, turn on the oven to 220 deg C.
  10. Roast the turkey open for 20 minutes, then remove from oven. Bring the oven temperature down to 180 deg C. Baste the turkey with the butter that has collected in the roasting pan. Cover the turkey with the aluminum foil, pressing against the breast and legs but do not cover the sides of the turkey or the pan.
  11. Pour 2 cups of turkey stock into the pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh of the turkey and set the alarm for 170 deg F or 75 deg C. Put the turkey back into the oven.
  12. Roast the turkey according to the calculated time. Cooking time should be approximately 15 min for every 500g turkey. A 5 kg bird should take about 2.5 hours and a 9 kg bird about 5 hours.
  13. Baste the turkey every hour of cooking. Remove the foil in the last 20-30 minutes of cooking to allow even browning.
  14. Remove the turkey from the oven and with another clean piece of aluminum foil, loosely tent the turkey. Let the turkey rest approximately another hour before serving.

Turkey gravy

  • 60 g pancetta
  • 3/4 cup shallots
  • 3 cups turkey stock
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped sage
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum

Method

  1. Scrape the brown bits and juices from the roasting pan into container.
  2. Sauté the pancetta till browned, then add the shallots and sauté for another 1-2 minutes till caramelized.
  3. Add the stock, pan juices and wine to the saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the rosemary and sage and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Sprinkle the xanthan gum over the gravy and stir well for about a minute to thicken.
  6. Serve together with cranberry sauce on the side with the roast turkey.