Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to prepare and roast a turkey with all the trimmings

Hi everyone, Quay Lo here. When it comes to making turkey for the holidays Quay Po surrenders her apron to me. She takes it back again when it comes to preparing the many other dishes we serve, especially the pies.

I’ll start with a promise. If you follow the recipes below you will make a perfect turkey, perfect gravy, and a perfect side dish called “dressing” not to be confused with “stuffing” which I will explain below.  In my family Thanksgiving and Christmas were crowned by the dinner at which the turkey was featured. It was highly anticipated and with all of the various recipes for ways to use the left overs we ate turkey for a week beyond the holidays as well. Those were my favorite two weeks of the year. The smell of sage and roasting bird in the house is enough to almost bring tears to my eyes (or was that the onions I’ve just chopped?)   
Let’s start with preparing the turkey. If you want a moist, savory roast turkey, marinating the whole bird in a brine solution for several hours before the roasting will provide the best results. Since most turkeys come frozen in the market, we’ll start about 3 days before the big event by placing the frozen turkey in the regular side of the refrigerator to allow it to thaw slowly. Another solution that will make more room in the fridge is to simply put the turkey in an ice chest, and cover with ice. This keeps big bird safely out of the way, as long as you don’t have a very clever dog.  

About 16 hours before you are ready to pop the bird in the oven, we are going to prep it with a soak in a brine solution. You will need a large, deep soup pot with a lid or a bucket that can be covered and is large enough for the whole bird plus the brine solution.

Brine Ingredients
  • 12 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped candied ginger
  • Herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, 2 bay leafs) any mix ratios, up to one cup.
  • Black pepper
  • 6 cups ice or one block of ice

Instructions 10 -14 lb turkey
  1. In a pot larger than the turkey simmer 6-8 cups of  water and add salt, sugar, and candied ginger. Stir until dissolved.
  2. Stir in 6 cups cold water, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, herbs and 4-6 cups of ice cubes.
  3. Remove giblets and neck from the thawed bird’s cavity. Rinse the outside and inside of the turkey under a cold faucet. Completely submerge the turkey in brine solution without the turkey rubbing the sides. Cover with a lid. Marinate for 12 hours for a small turkey (8-10 lbs), 16 hours for a 12 – 16 lb. and a full 24 hours for a bigger bird. You can wrap wet towels around the pot and keep it inside an air conditioned room as long as you replenish the ice before you sleep. Overnight it should be fine, just pack it full with ice before retiring and again in the morning.
  4. Pre heat your oven to 165ᴼC (325ᴼF). Rinse turkey inside and out thoroughly. Pat dry with paper towels. Chop some herbs, (sage, rosemary, and thyme) and add them, and some black pepper, to a ½ cup of butter and rub every part of the turkey. The herbs and butter will eventually join the natural juices at the bottom of the baking pan and become the basis for your flavorful gravy. Place a whole orange or a lemon, halved, plus four stalks of celery halved, fresh herbs (not chopped), and 3 large carrots split length wise and halved, inside the cavity of the bird.
  5. Place a rack inside a large roasting pan. Place the prepared bird on the rack, breast side up. Place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast, taking care not to touch a bone. The thermometer should read 74ᴼC or 164ᴼ F to be done and still moist. (It will continue to cook a bit as it rests out of the oven and that is fine, it is in the calculation) A 12 pound turkey should take about 3 hours or a little over to reach the desired temperature. Be sure to monitor for surface doneness. Most often, the turkey will get a nice golden brown on the surface but still require some baking time. If your bird gets that lovely lacquered appearance, but still needs time, just baste it again then lay a piece of aluminum foil, with the shiny side out, on top and loosely formed over the bird, and let it continue until the temperature is reached.
  6. Remove and discard the aromatics in the cavity, place the turkey on a platter and cover with aluminum foil (shiny side facing the bird this time) and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before carving. Do NOT discard the roasting pan drippings. While your bird rests, move on to make the gravy. You are going to perform wizardry with the pan drippings.

Most stores sell heavy gage aluminum foil roasting pans during the holidays and they work just fine. Place the bird on a small rack set inside the pan.

Throughout the baking process, baste the turkey every twenty minutes or so, drawing from the juices collected in the pan. If the turkey gets a nice golden brown but the thermometer suggests there is still more baking time required, lay a sheet of aluminum foil, with the shiny side facing outward, over the turkey and continue baking until done. Be sure to monitor this closely as it can happen
We’ve had better luck with smaller birds in the 12 – 14 lb range. Much larger turkeys tend to be more tough and sinewy. If you need more meat,  just bake a second turkey the day before and warm up the pre-sliced meat in an oven or microwave before serving.

  • 24 ounces chicken broth
  • 8 ounces red wine
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme or rosemary
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

  1. After you remove the turkey from the roasting pan and set aside to rest, leave the drippings from the turkey in the pan and place the roasting pan over medium heat. If you’ve used a temporary aluminum foil pan transfer the contents into a large frying pan. Heat up the drippings, then transfer to a quart size, heat resistant measuring cup or a jar. Allow it to sit for 5 -8 minutes to allow the fat to separate and to rise to the top.
  2. Return 2/3 cup of the fat to the roasting pan and place over medium-high heat. Skim any remaining fat from the pan drippings liquid and save while discarding the excess fat.
  3. With the fat heated up in the pan, add the flour and whisk to combine into a roux. Cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture starts to thicken and becomes smooth and brown, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Once this happens, gradually add the reserved liquid back to the pan and whisk until smooth.
  4. Add 1 cup of red wine and 3 cups of chicken stock, all at once. Whisk to combine, continuing to scrape the bottom of the pan until all of the bits have come loose and you have reached your desired consistency, approximately 5 to 6 minutes.
  5. Season the finished gravy with salt and pepper but be sure to taste before that.


There are two terms used to describe this favorite side dish; “dressing” or “stuffing”. In general it is called stuffing if, in fact, you cook it inside the turkey’s chest and stomach cavity along with the turkey. The resulting combo can be delicious as the seasoning of both the bird and the stuffing co-mingle along with the roasting juices absorbed by the stuffing.  However, I don’t recommend this approach for a couple of reasons. One is that the pan juices are not going be as generous for gravy making because the stuffing absorbs much of it.  Secondly, it takes longer for the stuffing to reach a safe 165ᴼ. In the meantime, the turkey itself risks becoming considerably overdone.  That would be tragic in my humble opinion given all of the effort to brine the turkey for exactly the opposite. Besides, no one wants to try to eat a “tough old bird”. So let’s talk “dressing” which is named that simply because it is specifically designed to accompany and complement the turkey, carrying it savory notes into a carbohydrate side dish. (Not that we need one as typically there will be mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, and hot dinner rolls also served. I once heard it said that Thanksgiving and Christmas were holidays invented so that Americans could eat four or five kinds of starchy dishes at one meal.

So while I would concede that the following recipe may be easily sacrificed by families here in Asia, I must also stipulate that if I am cooking, I will make it every time. The fact is that two days later, when half a pan of dressing is in the fridge and you need something right then, the dressing will taste like it has transformed into something far more exquisite than you imagined.

  • 3 cups cubed dry bread
  • 3 cups cubed or crumbled cornbread
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1  cup chopped celery
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 6  tablespoons melted butter
  • 500g pork sausage, crumbled
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2  eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon each dried sage and poultry seasoning
  • ½  teaspoon seasoned salt

Note: Serves 8, double recipe if you are feeding more people and if you want some generous leftovers. Hint: You DO!
PREHEAT oven to 375°F (190ᴼC).

  1. Grease with butter or olive oil, a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
  2. COMBINE bread and cornbread in large bowl, set aside.
  3. COOK onion, celery, and 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened. Add crumbled sausage; continue cooking, stirring frequently, until sausage is half done.
  4. STIR sausage mixture into cornbread and bread bread cubes.
  5. Stir in remaining ingredients; mix well.
  6. BAKE 40 to 45 minutes until lightly browned.
  7. If there is still some time to go to finish the baking and the top is already golden brown, just lay a piece of aluminum foil over the pan with the reflective side out.
Note: Sausage is a matter of taste and tradition. We’ve tried making our own by chopping a pound of pork shoulder and adding a bit of red cayenne pepper, 2 tbs of chopped sage, salt, and pepper. This carries the sage flavor profile all the way through the meal, which I am fond of. However, we have also tried purchased chorizo, removed from the skin, and cooked in the manner prescribed above. This gives the dish a definite spicy boost and works in contrast to the sage in the turkey which can be equally pleasant. Someday I want to try merguez sausage, the quite spicy lamb sausage thought to originate in Morocco.


  1. Replies
    1. Any time! Quay Po and I are sort of the "more is better" people but that is particularly true with regard to friends. Happy Holidays!

  2. Wow....this sounds and looks good, even though challenging to make. I have never roasted a turkey before. Maybe this year I should try. I'm printing this out just in case I manage to gather enough courage to try :D Last year after Christmas, fresh whole turkey cost only £5 per bird!! That cheap huh. Hope I have some luck to get such cheap ones again. Thanks very much for sharing and hope u have a great week! MaryMoh at

    1. MaryMoh, exactly. On top of that it is delicious. Finally, it is onee of those meals that typically yield several meals to come. Even if we use every scrap of meat from the bird for the main meal, the bones make a first class stock for use with several favorite soups. Because the turkey has a very slight smoky flavor compared to chicken, the spoups we like are on the hearty side and include bean and chorizo, celery, turkey dice, & rice, and albondigas. And honetly, it isn't all that hard. The steps are easy though it looks more daunting than it is. Happy Holidays!

  3. Impressive, Quay Po!

    1. Thank you Yummy, that is truly high praise. I meant to ask you a question the other day about your chicken with apples and creme à la Normande but was distracted by a call. Now my problem is I cannot recall what the question was. I do know that I was going to add a comment about my love of the lemon chicken that Quay Po makes and how the similar sweet & sour profile in your Normand chicken sounded good. Years ago when I lived in Chicago I had a young sous chef as a neighbor and he taught me how to make sauteed carrots and grapes. I remember how strange that sounded at the time and how surprised I was that it worked. On our table in Oklahoma, all of the sugar was saved for the end of the meal. He opened my eyes a bit. Damn I miss that city sometimes. Happy Holidays!

  4. oh we don't have Turkey here, I bet I could do this with chicken... yay good for Christmas<3

    1. Genskie, I believe that you could do that with great reward. The key is whether you find the sage flavor to be tasty or not. In my experience the local palate tends to react either way rather decisively. It also took a while for my family to begin to appreciate the delight in "dressing". Good luck and Happy Holidays!

  5. Hello there, Quay Lo! That was a very detailed but easy to follow instructions. I must say that it is quite a bit of work! I would not be surprised if most of us would prefer to surrender our aprons to you just like Quay Po :) I must confess that I have never eaten turkey before (sad isn't it?) and who knows I may try it some day. The dressing does sound very delicious. I suppose it could accompany roast chicken too, right?

    1. Hi Phong, thank you for your note. I hope you are a believer in "better late than never" as I became entangled in last minute work related chores these past few days that needed to be done before the holidays arrived. Don't feel too bad about not having eaten turkey. In my own case there are lots of culinary experiences I haven't had yet. Your assumption that dressing (stuffing?) is suitable for chicken is absolutely correct. Any fowl can be dressed up with that savory dish as can pork or lamb. Of course there are almost as many variations of this classic home style dish that you can play with the recipe to your hearts content. For eample, the use of chicken stock that is typical could be modified to the broth from a winter melon soup with a happy result in my opinion.

  6. that's way too much commitment to make a meal, can i just go over? :D

    1. Sure can KY. Where are you going over too? Happy Holidays!

  7. Well well well now we know the man can cook! And a man who likes a moist but well basted breast! All jokes aside - a turkey takes quite a bit of love and attention that cannot be rushed and you have done us proud with a blow by blow account on how to achieve this. Bless you and have a Merry Christmas.

    1. Hi Magnolia, many thanks for the kind words. I am not sure that I have "done us proud" but I regard it as a great success if I can just avoid embarrasing myself. My procrastination in responding has led me to Christmas Eve so I am as full of the "spirit" as possible, and am in the midst of the blow-by-blow process with one of the two turkeys we are preparing for tomorrow's feast. Both are luxuriating in their brine baths in large plastic food bags and in a cooler next to my desk. The cooking starts today in earnest. Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

  8. Taking notes. Looks so good. But in in Netherlands a huge turkey is hard to find. I miss turkeys in the US.

    1. Merry Christmas Desperate,

      I guess all of us who live overseas miss certain things from our respective homes. However, in this case, having prowled the bakeries, and markets of the streets in Amsterdam on several occasions, I know you have access to food that many Americans know nothing about. As an expat in Asia I focus on what is here that wasn't so accessible in the U.S. Of course, I enjoy introducing American food to locals as well. The resulting balance is certainly not a bad place to be. How about trying a goose instead of a turkey? Or baking two turkeys as we are doing this holiday? Whatever you choose we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous New Year.

  9. Hi, Quay Lo. I am rachel Lai from Kota Bharu, Kelantan. I'm a silent follower of Quay Po. I follow your steps of roasting turkey (about 6 kg). I am very happy with the out come. My sister-in-law, who is from Texas, US, was praising about the turkey. Thank you for sharing. Happy Boxing Day!!

  10. Hi Rachel, Many thanks for the feedback. It is always good to hear how things went with the recipes. I am delighted that it worked for you. We prepared two turkeys for Christmas because of the size of the group we had coming to dinner, (We had a baked ham as well). All went perfect and the turkey was much applauded. We made the first one the day before and completely carved it as soon as it had rested long enough to cool down. We laid all the turkey meat out on a large platter and then used microwave-able plastic wrap to store the platter of turkey meat in the ice chest we were using for additional cold storage. The next day we put the platter of turkey in the microwave oven for two minutes on high. It was hot and delicious and let us get the dinner started while we carved the second turkey. Everyone ate too much which is like winning the gold star for home chefs like us. Happy Leftovers!

  11. Happy New Year my friend! Have a good start! :)



I love to hear from you. Your comments mean a lot to me. Thanks!