Somewhere in the first few years of my marriage, my husband’s family decided that the only place that could hold all 50+ people for Thanksgiving dinner was Old Country Buffet, followed by pie at his mom’s house. Somewhat understandable, afterall, who has room to have 50 people over for dinner? But, upon hearing that news, he announced we were boycotting the meal and would be having a tiny Thanksgiving meal of our own. Being a brand new-ish wife, I figured this was my time to shine in all of my domestic glory, so I dug into Ina Garten’s recipes (they never fail!) and set out to make the most perfect little Thanksgiving. This is not at all because I’m amazing in the kitchen – I have SO many friends who are far better with cooking and creativity with food, but making your first turkey is so much easier than you think.
SO, since Suzanne hadn’t yet made one, we figured now was the time, and here it is – TCMB’s guide for How to Cook Your Very First Turkey. Get ready – this is gonna be fun!
Well, what do you need? Obviously, the recipe – Herb Roasted Turkey Breast (2008, Ina Garten, All Rights Reserved):
- 1 whole bone-in turkey breast, 6 1/2 to 7 pounds
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup dry white wine
I’ve always loved Ina Garten – mostly because her recipes are straightforward, easy to follow and just basic regular ingredients, nothing weird, but her cooking show is also incredibly calming to have on in the background of your afternoon. You can find all these things at your regular Target, Byerly’s or wherever. You can use these ingredients on pretty much any size bird, whole or breast only – totally up to you and your preferences and the general rule of thumb is to plan for 1 lb. of meat per person, plus extra.
You’ll also probably want to have a cup of coffee, and if you can, please send a relative out to get it for you or ask someone to pick it up on their way over. Listen, if you are cooking the star of the show, somebody owes you a handcrafted beverage. Lastly, it’s much more fun to cook in a cute little apron while wearing sparkly jewelry. Obviously. Just know that aprons and baby bumps simply don’t mix well, and if you’re in the same position as myself, you’ll have to just get over that.
Back to the bird. Take out the stuff they shove into the cavity (what an awful word!), then pat the turkey dry with paper towels and plop it in the pan.
Plenty of recipes say to rinse the turkey, but it’s totally unnecessary – all it does is spray poultry germs all over your kitchen. I might be a bit Type-A, so I always clear the space around the sink first, and after the turkey is in the pan, I wash the sink with soapy water.
Chop the garlic and herbs, then mix those in a bowl with the mustard, salt, pepper, oil and lemon juice – instant herb rub. Bonus: your kitchen smells amazing already.
The next part is
kind of super gross – you need to separate the skin from the meat of the turkey…with your hands. It feels slimy, but it’ll taste so good, you’ll be happy you did it. Grin and bear it (or gag and make faces – whatever works) and move on.
Take half of your herb rub and well, rub it between the skin and the meat (aren’t you excited you get to put your hands back in there?!). Take the other half and rub it all over the outside of the turkey – try to hit every part of the skin, other than the underside. I usually sprinkle a bit more salt on top as well.
It’s not in the recipe, but I like to put half a lemon and half an onion in the cavity and the other half in the bottom of the pan, with the cup of wine. ‘Cuz that’s what you want to do with wine – pour it under an overgrown chicken, right? Make sure you get yourself some extra, because you just prepared your first turkey – you’ll want to toast that! If you don’t have wine on hand, chicken broth is just as good – it’s all about keeping the meat moist in the oven.
Put your bird in the oven – if it’s a turkey breast the suggested size on the ingredient list, it’ll take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook, if you choose a whole turkey, it will take longer, but either way a few other items you’ll want on hand are tin foil and a meat thermometer. The skin of the turkey will brown up before the meat is done.
Just look at how excited she is. Note: recipe works best when the oven door is closed 😉
Keep an eye on it and once it’s beautifully tanned, lightly cover it with some tin foil to keep the skin from burning. The meat thermometer will give you an idea of how close you are to being “done,” however, because it’s poultry, I always cut into the thickest part of the breast meat to be sure it’s all white and no pink before officially calling it cooked.
Once it’s finished, you can make it all pretty on the platter with the leftover herbs, just like Suzanne did. Ain’t she the prettiest thing you ever saw? Not so hard at all – promise, plus your house will smell.so.good. Just try and make sure there’s someone “handling” your children so you can just sit in the glory of what you just did. And when your mother-in-law oohs and ahhs over it, make it sound a lot harder than it was.
So, what about the rest of the meal? Hopefully other people will be bringing side dishes, but we have just a couple ideas as well. Again, I love Ina’s…anything she makes, so here’s one I’ve used in the past as well as some of our favorites from Melissa at Nourished Peach. Everything I’ve ever tried from her site turns out perfectly too, so she’s worth betting a holiday meal on.
Autumn Salad – Nourished Peach
Gorgeous and perfect match for that turkey and as a side dish, you can easily omit the chicken.
Classic Mashed Potatoes – Ina Garten
Love these, but you can easily swap cheddar cheese if you’re not a sour cream fan (like me). Also, always add a clove or two of garlic. Always. If you are responsible for this side dish, make them the night before and put them in an oven-proof bowl in the fridge. The next day, you can plop the bowl (covered with plastic wrap) over a pan of simmering water for about 45 minutes while you work on other things and that’s one less thing to make the day of.
Green Bean Gratin – Nourished Peach
An obvious side dish, plus someone commented on the recipe that they made this for Thanksgiving and it was a big hit.
We had so much fun cooking in the kitchen – if you don’t do this for your family, maybe host a friends Thanksgiving, or just spend a morning in the kitchen with a friend, learning something new. Thanks also to Nealy for taking the best pics of the process, as always!
The turkey isn’t nearly as hard as you may have heard it to be, but hosting a family holiday might be, so do what you can to take it one step at a time, and remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect – just cooked thoroughly. Enjoy and if you cook your first turkey this year, tag us in your Instagram pic – we’d love to see it!