A tried-and-true method for the perfect Thanksgiving turkey

Tribune News Service Sage-seasoned butter was rubbed all over this turkey before roasting, resulting in a golden brown, moist and tender bird.

Thanksgiving is a meal about comfort food, and that’s a good thing.

Comfort food doesn’t always come easy, but smart cooks know that a good game plan will get them through the big meal.

If you haven’t begun planning your feast for the holiday, fear not. We’re here to help. After all, Thanksgiving is about giving and sharing.

As the holiday approaches every year, we get bombarded with turkey recipes, tips and cooking suggestions from all sorts of sources, but we believe in sticking to tried-and-true techniques to help achieve our ultimate goal: a deep honey-brown turkey with crisp skin and meat that’s tender and juicy.

There are so many ways to cook a turkey. You can roast, grill or fry it and cook it in a bag, in a pan or on a rack. You can even take it apart and roast it or cut the back out and flatten it (a process called spatchcock) so that it cooks in half the time.

But in our test kitchen, we’re creatures of habit. We wet or dry brine the turkey or apply a seasoned butter under and on the skin. Brining helps ensure that the turkey stays moist. Using seasoned butter means there’s no need to baste the bird. When it’s time to cook, we roast or sometimes grill, which frees up oven space.

ROAST TURKEY WITH SAGE PAN GRAVY

Start to finish: 3 hours

Servings: 12

One (12- to 14-pound) fresh turkey (or frozen and thawed)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

11/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 lemon, halved crosswise

6 garlic cloves, peeled

3 carrots, coarsely chopped

3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

1 bay leaf

3 cups no-salt-added or less-sodium, fat-free chicken stock, divided

2 cups water

3 tablespoons white wine

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Remove giblets and neck from turkey; discard liver. Reserve turkey neck and giblets. Pat turkey dry with paper towels; trim and discard excess fat. Starting at neck cavity, loosen the skin from the breast, using your fingers at first. Then, gently slide a thin plastic spatula under the skin, pushing it gently to loosen the skin under the entire breast, legs and thighs.

Combine 2 tablespoons sage, oil, butter, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Rub sage mixture under the loosened skin and over breasts and drumsticks. Squeeze juice from 1 lemon half over turkey; place remaining lemon half in cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen string.

Place the reserved giblets, neck, garlic, carrots, celery, onions and bay leaf in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup stock and 2 cups water to pan. Place roasting rack in pan. Arrange turkey, breast side up, on roasting rack.

Bake turkey for 1 hour and 20 minutes, rotating pan every 30 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees (do not remove turkey from oven). Bake turkey an additional 30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh registers 160-165 degrees. Remove turkey from pan; place on a cutting board. Let stand for 30 minutes. Carve turkey.

Place a large zip-top plastic bag inside a 4-cup glass measure. Strain pan drippings through a colander into bag; discard solids. Let drippings stand 10 minutes. Seal bag; snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain pan drippings into a medium saucepan, stopping before fat layer reaches the opening.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon sage, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 11/2 cups chicken stock and the wine to drippings in pan; bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes or until reduced to 21/2 cups. Combine the flour and remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir flour mixture into stock mixture in pan; bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring gravy constantly. Serve gravy with turkey.

Nutrition information per serving: 315 calories (26% from fat), 9 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 3 g carbohydrates, 52 g protein, 349 mg sodium, 172 mg cholesterol, less than 1 g fiber.

— Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, November 2012

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