For the past three years, my roommates Kat and Sara have hosted a Thanksgiving celebration a few days early, among friends, affectionately known as “Fakesgiving.” I know that many do a variation on this same theme-- my friends in the Philly area host their own annual, “Friendsgiving.” Now in its third year, “Fakesgiving” has become a wonderful pot luck tradition. The host makes the turkey and makes sure all the other Thanksgiving staples are accounted for-- Kat has perfected this through use of her notorious Google spreadsheet—where everyone signs up for what they will bring, the stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie etc. Yet, in the past, the turkey was made by putting a turkey breast in a slow cooker with white wine, butter, carrots, onions and water (not a bad alternative as Sara said, “that way the turkey was still really delicious but also really ugly.”). This year we decided to be ambitious. After talking it over with my mom and Kat and Sara, we decided Fakesgiving was the perfect moment for me to cook my very first turkey —in a setting with low expectations and lots of booze.
That being said, I was still cooking a turkey for 20 plus people!! The pressure was definitely still on!!
After chatting again with my mom, I decided I would do a turkey and two other Thanksgiving family favorites: cranberry relish and sweet potatoes with honey and lime. We bought a fresh organic 18 lb turkey from Whole Foods for $62. My friend Abby and her boyfriend Chris, who are both 2nd year Medical Students at UVA, were driving from Charlottesville to NJ and decided to make a pit stop at my apartment for Fakesgiving. Lucky for me, they arrived late Saturday and were up early to be my assistants on Sunday. Chris was such a rock star-- he pulled out the neck and giblets from inside the turkey helped me rinse and pat it dry. Meanwhile, might I add that my dear mother was MIA. My parents had gone into Philly early that morning to watch my Aunt Joanne run the Philadelphia Marathon and of course they went to cheer her on (Go Aunt Joanne!). BUT SERIOUSLY MOM? I am calling and texting like crazy and she is MIA. (She did answer the phone, but said she couldn’t hear because everyone was cheering so loud at the finish.) She hadn’t even given me a recipe—here were her instructions. Salt the inside of the turkey, salt and pepper the outside, brush it with butter and olive oil, put it in the oven and cook for 4-4.5 hrs at 325ᴼF. In the end, that is pretty much all I did. But I work in clinical research, mom; we follow very detailed, very exact protocols.
Salt the inside of the turkey—how much salt? I need answers, woman.
I ended up using a teaspoon of salt and rubbed in on the inside cavity of the turkey. My coworker and told me to put butter under the skin of the turkey – Chris took charge on this. It was pretty funny to watch him and Abby with the turkey; they were in serious med school mode. Abby: “Did you have to make an incision?” Chris: “No, I just did a blunt dissection.” Me: “Seriously guys?!”
Once Chris was done, I melted 1/3 cup of butter and added ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Then I brushed the turkey with the butter mixture. We weren’t stuffing the turkey, someone else had signed up to bring the stuffing. So we were ready to stick that big bird in the oven.
I set the timer for 45 minutes, because my mom has also told me to baste every 30 to 45 minutes. Because I couldn’t really get help from my mom, I started reading on the internet. There were instructions to turn it breast side down, add chicken broth, to put a lemon in the cavity and I kept reading something about a tent over the turkey.
I tried my mom again. “You don’t need to do any of that stuff, just stick the thing in the oven,” she said, acting like this was no big deal. My mom said, just watch it, and if it starts getting too brown, then cover it with foil.
So, believe it or not, it really wasn’t that hard. Every 30 minutes, I basted and babied that turkey, for 4 and a half hours. And checked it with a meat thermometer, and it read 185. We were done. I let it sit for 30 minutes while my most foodie friend Dan made the gravy.
I do have to say I was really proud of that turkey. People raved all night and I don’t think it was just the booze.