They ate by candlelight, the candles of all shapes and sizes flickering around the kitchen. Their plates were piled high with turkey and chestnut stuffing, candied yams and potatoes, peas and gravy.
Makes 8 generous servings, with leftovers
For Brining and Roasting the Turkey
- One 12- to 14-pound (5.5-kg) fresh turkey
- 1½ cups kosher salt
- ¼ cup (50 g) sugar
- 1 large bunch fresh sage leaves (save a few for the stuffing)
- 3 carrots, peeled and left whole
- 3 celery stalks, trimmed and left whole
- 3 large yellow onions, peeled and cut into quarters through the core
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the Stuffing
- One 1-pound (450-g) loaf of coarse-textured country bread, crusts left on, whole loaf cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) dice–about 8 cups/2 liters (Note: a mix of country bread and soft bread, such as challah, can be nice, too.)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, trimmed and finely diced
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
- 1½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
- 5 to 6 ounces (150 g) dried chestnuts (about 1 cup), coarsely chopped
- 1 cup (230 ml) chicken broth, preferable homemade
- ½ cup (120 ml) light or heavy cream
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
1. Prep and brine the turkey: Remove the turkey from its wrapping and remove the package containing the gizzards, liver, etc. Also, look for the neck (sometimes left loose in the cavity) and check the “crop” (the opening on the neck end). Refrigerate the gizzards and neck. Reserve the liver separately if you plan to use it for something else, as it will not be part of the gravy. Rinse the turkey well, inside and out, under cold running water and let drain thoroughly in the sink.
2. Choose a large (10-quart/10-liter or so) pot and pour in 8 cups (2 liters) of room- temperature water. Stir in the kosher salt, sugar, and all but a few of the sage leaves. Make sure the salt and sugar have dissolved, then put the turkey in the pot. Pour in additional water, if needed, to completely cover the turkey. Refrigerate at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours.
NOTE: The entire brining process can be omitted. Instead, season the turkey well, inside and out, with sea salt in addition to the pepper and butter. Roast on a “rack” of vegetables and gizzards as described above.
3. While the turkey is brining, make the stuffing: Put the bread into a large bowl. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and celery, the sage and thyme, and the chestnuts. Cook, stirring often, until the onion and celery have softened, about 8 minutes. Scrape the chestnut mixture over the bread in the bowl, slowly pour in the chicken broth and cream while tossing to moisten the bread evenly. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the stuffing to a heavy baking dish (a 14-inch (36-cm) oval dish works well). Refrigerate until you remove the turkey from the refrigerator and brine to bring it to room temperature, and preheat the oven.
4. Scatter the whole carrots and celery, the onion wedges, and the neck and gizzards (no liver!) over the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey comfortably. Carefully drain the turkey in the sink. Pat it dry, inside and out, with paper towels and set on the bed of vegetables and gizzards in the pan. Season inside and out with black pepper and smear the skin with the butter. (Don’t worry about covering the skin evenly; the butter is mostly to enrich the pan sauce later.)
5. With the rack set in the lower third of the oven, preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Let the turkey come up to room temperature while the oven is preheating. Roast the turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone reads 170°F (80°C). To be sure the turkey is fully cooked, test both thighs and also the joint where the wing connects to the breastbone. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 30 minutes. As soon as the turkey comes out of the oven, put in the stuffing; it will take about 30 minutes to brown and cook.
6. Transfer the turkey to a carving board, first tipping the turkey slightly so the juices inside dribble into the pan. (A sturdy wooden spoon and large metal spatula or fork are helpful for tipping the turkey and transferring it to the board.)
7. Pour the chicken broth into the pan and heat over low heat, stirring, until the little brown bits stuck to the pan have loosened. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
8. After the turkey has rested for about 30 minutes, and the stuffing is ready, carve the turkey and arrange it on a platter. Pass the stuffing and pan gravy separately.