Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rick's Thanksgiving Turkey and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

For many a Thanksgiving (before my mom passed away at age 96) our family decided that it was just too much to expect mom to prepare a huge meal by herself.  My brother, sister and I convinced mom that we would cook and bring all the food   I always volunteered to make the turkey and garlic mashed potatoes, a family favorite.  My brother Bill and his wife Mary made the stuffing and sauerkraut, and my sister Sally and her husband Herm made the green beans and awesome candied yams.  We usually gathered around noon on Thanksgiving, so that our families could still visit our various in-laws later for yet another meal (the food coma set in by 6 PM).  Now preparing a 20 pound turkey and two big pans of garlic mashed potatoes to be ready by 11 AM had been a huge challenge!  I used to have to get up really really early to have the turkey in the oven by 5 AM, that is until I found this method that cuts the cooking time to about 2 hours (not including the time for prep and brining)!  Butterflying the turkey and roasting it at high heat yields a juicy, tender bird with a delightfully crisp, mahogany colored skin.  Once you try this, you will never go back to cooking a whole stuffed bird again!


1 fresh organic Turkey (20 lbs or less to keep handling it reasonable.)
Note: The turkey should NOT be a Butterball, Kosher or otherwise salted injected or seasoned bird!

For the brine: (adapted from Alton Brown’s “Good Eat’s” Turkey recipe)
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock (four 32 oz. packages)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 Tbs chopped candied ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the herbed salt:
You can make this delicious herbed salt by placing coarse sea salt, fresh Rosemary, sage, thyme and a garlic clove in a food processor, and processing it until the herbs are incorporated.  You can store any unused herbed salt in a jar with a tight fitting lid in the fridge for several weeks to use later.
3/4 cup coarse sea salt
1/4 cup fresh Rosemary leaves
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove


Remove the turkey from its package and take the neck and giblet packets out of the body and neck cavities.  Place them in a plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator. You will use these later to make stock for the gravy.  Thoroughly wash the bird inside and out. To make the brine, pour one of the packages of vegetable stock into a large stockpot.  Add the cup of Kosher salt, cup of brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, candied ginger and a cinnamon stick to the pot.  Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Remove from the heat and add the other three packages of veggie stock.  Doing it this way keeps you from having to deal with a full gallon of boiling hot stock (it will be lukewarm.)  Add ice to cool the stock down to below 40 degrees.

Place the washed turkey in a cooler.  Pour the cooled brine into the cooler with the turkey and add enough additional ice (and cold water if needed) so the brine fully covers the submerged bird.  Place a glass bowl on top of the turkey so that when the lid is closed, it holds the turkey under the brine.

(OPTIONAL) I have a small submersible fountain pump (temporarily removed from the cooler and shown here so you can see what it looks like) that I usually use to circulate water to thaw frozen meats in the cooler.  I placed this pump into the cooler with the turkey to circulate the brine.  This really made a difference because fresh brine is always moving around the meat, which allows the brine to impart its goodness more efficiently   Allow the turkey to stay in the brine overnight or at least 8 hours.  After the brine has done its work, remove the turkey from the cooler and wash the bird thoroughly.  Discard the used brine and dry the turkey thoroughly with paper towels.

Place the turkey breast side down and using a sharp knife or VERY STRONG butcher shears, cut along both sides of the spine to excise the backbone.

The remaining rib ends get really sharp once they've been cut, so be careful with the next step.

Crack the breastbone by pressing firmly on each side of the carcass where you removed the backbone (AGAIN, WATCH OUT FOR THE SHARP BONES).  You may want to use a cleaver to separate each side of the breastbone first before flattening the bird.

Using a knife and your shears, remove the breastbone, being careful not to cut through the remaining meat and the skin.

Once the breastbone is removed, use a sharp knife to cut out the rib plates and the wishbone.  Just follow the bones with the tip of your knife, cutting away the meat until the bones are loose.

Once the rib bones are removed, you can flatten the bird (Removing the rib bones makes slicing the cooked bird super-easy.)

Season the meat with herbed salt.

Further season with fresh ground black pepper.

Cut two or three large onions in half and place the halves, cut side down, in the bottom of a large roasting pan.  The onions will form a roasting rack to raise the bird from the bottom.
(This keeps the meat from sticking to the pan and the roasting onions add flavor to the drippings that will flavor the gravy later.)

Flip the bird over, skin side up now, and place it in the roasting pan on the halved onions.  Season the skin side with the herbed salt and fresh ground pepper.

Place two large dollops of mayonnaise on the skin.

Rub it over the turkey until the skin is coated.  The mayonnaise will give you a deliciously crisp and brown skin.  Tuck the wing tips against the body and pin them with toothpicks if needed.  Place the turkey into a pre-heated 450 degree oven and cook for 30 minutes to jumpstart the browning process.

Reduce the heat to 350 degrees.  Place a oven thermometer or remote reading thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast.

Continue cooking until the thermometer reads 165 degrees.

Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest at least 30 minutes before carving.

Make Ahead Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes


  •  2 whole garlic heads
  •  1/4 cup pure olive oil
  •  Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  •  5 pounds russet potatoes (about 9 medium), scrubbed and poked several times with a fork
  •  3 cups heavy cream , hot
  •  8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted


For the Garlic Paste:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut off the top 1/3 of the garlic heads to open the cloves. Wrap each prepared head in a small piece of heavy aluminum foil, leaving the cut top exposed.  Place each foil-wrapped head in a small oven safe dish, drizzle the tops of the heads with olive oil and roast them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the roasted garlic heads from oven and let cool. Pop garlic cloves from their skins and place the cloves in a blender, along with any olive oil left in the foil. Puree until smooth; you should have a paste-like consistency.

For the Potatoes:

This method is not traditional, in that I use Russet potatoes that are are first micro-waved and then baked in the oven.  I found this technique in Cooks Illustrated.  This method gives the potatoes a superior texture and fluffiness that boiled potatoes don’t have.  Be sure to bake the potatoes until they are completely tender; err on the side of over- rather than undercooking. You can use a hand-held mixer instead of a standing mixer, but the potatoes will be lumpier.


Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.  Microwave the potatoes on high power for 16 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and place them directly on the hot oven rack. Bake until a skewer glides easily through the flesh, about 30 minutes, flipping them over halfway through the baking time (do not undercook).  Remove the potatoes from the oven, and cut each potato in half lengthwise. Using an oven mitt or a folded kitchen towel to hold the hot potatoes, scoop out all of the flesh from each potato half into a medium bowl. Break the cooked potato flesh down into small pieces using a fork, potato masher, or rubber spatula.  Transfer half of the potatoes to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the potatoes on high speed until smooth, about 30 seconds, gradually adding the rest of the potatoes to incorporate, until completely smooth and no lumps remain, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the garlic paste and 2 cups of the cream, followed by the melted butter and 2 teaspoons salt. Gently fold in up to 1/2 cup more of the cream as needed to reach your desired serving consistency. Once the desired serving consistency is reached, gently fold in an additional 1/2 cup cream.  To Store: Transfer the mashed potatoes to a large microwave-safe bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 2 days.  To Reheat: Poke lots of holes in the plastic wrap with the tip of a knife, and microwave at medium-high (75 percent) power until the potatoes are hot, about 14 minutes, stirring gently halfway through the reheating time and cook quickly. Add the cream, season, to taste, with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and fold in potatoes with a wooded spoon or large whisk. Add the remaining butter by tablespoons, stirring after each addition. Stir in the extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.

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