Thanksgiving Dressing

turkey-dressingMany will argue that the most important fixture at a Thanksgiving meal is the dressing rather than the bird.  I am prone to agree as members of my family will often engage in rather heated debate over the “best” way to prepare dressing. I have no intention of raising Thanksgiving tensions any further but I have recently come across a couple of tips (Cook’s Illustrated on the Food Channel) that I felt were quite useful. In addition, I will share our traditional dressing recipe (sans meat or oysters) for those prone to making their own dressing rather than buying it at a grocery store.

Tips to Prepare Dressing

  1. We have long ago given-up cooking dressing in the cavity of the bird.  Aside from being a chore that yields only a limited amount of dressing, some studies suggest that the undercooked drippings of the turkey can be harmful to your health.  Why take the chance?  As such, we prepare and cook the dressing separately.
  2. Yes, Sheila makes turkey stock by slow-cooking turkey wings and legs overnight using the same ingredients (but three times as much) described in GourMay’s recent recipe on chicken stock.    (Editor’s Note:  Most people will use chicken stock for Thanksgiving dressing, but it isn’t quite the same.)
  3. Our family prefers the dressing to be a bit drier than most and this is accomplished by removing the aluminum foil some 20 minutes before the end of baking and/or reducing the amount of stock that is added to the dressing.
  4. NEW TIP – You should slowly bake the bread pieces (about an hour at 250ºF to remove the moisture.  Cook’s Illustrated has proven that it removes moisture far more effectively than the traditional way to let the bread harden on the kitchen counter for a couple of days.
  5. NEW TIP – Cook’s Illustrated rendered fat from turkey wings by poking holes in the wings and then browning them quickly on both sides (about 10 minutes) before setting the wings aside.  They then sautéed the vegetables (see below) in the drippings with a couple of Tbs of butter.  Most importantly,  they placed the turkey wings on top of the dressing to allow more “natural” drippings to infuse the dressing while it baked.   The dressing and turkey wings are covered in foil and returned to the oven to bake for about an hour.

GourMay’s Traditional Thanksgiving Dressing


  • 12 Cups of bread cubes (if possible, 1/2 of which should be traditional unsweetened cornbread)
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 3 cups finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 Tbs poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 1 cup of turkey stock (add more if you want a “wetter” dressing).  Note:  The stock should only be added shortly before baking.


  • The dressing maybe prepared a day or two earlier, but do not add the stock until shortly before baking.
  • Saute onion and celery in butter.  Combine with other ingredients (except the stock) and adjust seasoning to taste.
  • Preheat oven to 325º
  • Add turkey stock to dressing mixture, place in a casserole and cover with foil and bake for about an hour.
  • Uncover for the last 20 minutes or so for a slightly crisper dressing.

Peace to you and your family this Thanksgiving.


Spatchcock Heritage Turkey for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving-Turkey-Cartoon-4As the few remaining loyal readers of GourMay are aware, Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.  I am obsessed with the struggle to cook the “perfect” turkey and each year fortunately brings me closer to achieving that goal.   This year (with a few minor and inconsequential variations), I will “spatchcock” my heritage turkey using the preparation method described in the latest edition of Cook’s Illustrated (Nov – Dec 2014).   For Tea Party activists who no longer read, there is a FREE video demonstration that will be on the Cook’s Illustrated website for 4 months.

Cook’s Illustrated follows two techniques already highly recommended by GourMay:

  1. Make sure you use a Heritage turkey.  We will use a Bourbon Red, but Cook’s Illustrated (“CI”) plans to use “Mary’s Free-Range Heritage Turkey.”  According to CI, Heritage turkeys were “nearly extinct in 1997,” but have rebounded nicely and are vastly superior to the factory-processed turkeys sold at most markets (even under questionable “organic” labels).
  2. Also, I thoroughly agree that the dry brine cited by CI is as good as most complicated wet brining techniques that I sadly recommended in 2009.   By all means brine the turkey with salt and allow it to rest uncovered in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

The most difficult part of cooking a turkey is to make sure the white meat is moist and the dark meat is thoroughly cooked.   The white turkey breast is generally moist at 155ºF, but the dark meat (leg and thigh) needs another 20ºs or 175º.  Last year, I cooked the turkey on a closed Weber and almost achieved perfection, but I couldn’t control the internal temperature and it could have done with about 30 minutes less cooking.  This year, I will spatchcock the turkey using the technique beautifully illustrated in CI.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe is quoted in its entirety below:

Cook’s Illustrated:  How to Cook Heritage Turkey


  • 1(10- to 12-pound) heritage breed turkey, neck removed
  • Kosher salt


  1. 1. Place wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and lightly grease rack. With turkey breast side up, using sharp knife, slice through skin between breast and thigh down to joint on both sides. Using your hands, pull each leg quarter back to expose joint between leg and breast. Remove legs by cutting through hip joint and then skin. Slice through membrane connecting breast to backbone. Bend backbone away from breast to break where it meets rib cage; use knife to remove completely.

    2. Using your fingers, gently loosen skin covering legs and breasts. Rub 1 1/2 teaspoons salt evenly inside cavity of turkey breast, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt under skin of each breast, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt under skin of each leg. Tuck wings underneath breast. Place turkey legs and breast, skin side up, on prepared wire rack. Refrigerate turkey parts, uncovered, for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.

    3. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Transfer breast to large plate and set aside while leg quarters start roasting. Flip leg quarters skin side down and transfer to oven; roast until thighs register 140 degrees, 45 to 75 minutes.

    4. Flip leg quarters skin side up and place breast, skin side down, on wire rack next to leg quarters. Return to oven and roast for 1 hour.

    5. Flip breast skin side up and continue to roast until breast registers 155 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1 1/4 to 2 1/4 hours longer. Remove turkey from oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 60 minutes.

    6. While turkey is resting, increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Stack turkey assembly on second baking sheet to prevent excess smoking. Return turkey to oven and roast until skin is golden brown and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes.

    7. Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest for 20 minutes. Carve turkey and serve.

I wish you all a warm and caring Thanksgiving.

Roast Chicken Cacciatore with Red Wine Butter

Many moons ago before I tasted “real” Italian food, I sincerely believed that Chef Boyardee epitomized Italian cooking.  In fact, some of my family members would argue that a trip to Mama Leone in New York City was as “good as it gets” when it comes to Italian cooking.  (Editor’s Note:  Diners apparently disagreed as Mama Leone closed its restaurant doors in midtown Manhattan in 1994.   I suspect that some Mafia hit-men were disappointed, but most aficionados of Italian cuisine were not).

In any event, Italian cooking in the 60s and 70s in the United States was characterized by large portions of pasta and some meat or fowl swimming in a pool of tomato sauce.    Dump a bunch of grated Parmesan cheese on it and you were off to the races.  Let’s face it,  the “good” Mama’s food was filling but not particularly tasteful.

Chicken Cacciatore

With the exception of penne all’ arribbiata, I am a leery of Italian food with too much tomato sauce.   As such, I was intrigued with this colorful recipe from the latest Food & Wine (May, 2014) which allegedly features the “best Italian dishes from Tuscany to America.”   I have no way of knowing if “Roast Chicken Cacciatore with Red Wine Butter” comes from Tuscany or not, but this is simply a delicious recipe.   While the “wine butter” is intriguing, the jarred Pappadew peppers make all the difference.  Bravo, Food and Wine!

 Roast Chicken Cacciatore with Red Wine Butter


  • One 3 1/2-pound chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 thyme sprigs
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 basil sprigs, plus leaves for garnish
  • 4 oregano sprigs
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 small fennel bulb, cut into 3/4-inch wedges through the core
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup pearl onions
  • 8 jarred sweet Peppadew peppers, halved
  • 6 baby bell peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and chopped


  1. Season the chicken with 2 teaspoons of salt and stuff the thyme sprigs in the cavity. Transfer the chicken to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and poke holes in the top; refrigerate overnight.
  2. In a saucepan, boil the wine over moderately high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons, 7 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the tomato paste, butter and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let cool slightly.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°. Loosen the breast and thigh skin of the chicken and spread three-fourths of the red wine butter under the skin. Stuff the basil sprigs, oregano sprigs and garlic into the cavity and tie the legs with string. Rub the remaining butter over the chicken and let stand for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large, deep ovenproof skillet, toss the fennel, tomatoes, onions, both peppers and olive oil; season with salt. Set the chicken in the center of the vegetables. Pour in the stock. Roast for 1 hour and 10 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 155°. Transfer to a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Simmer the broth over moderately high heat until slightly reduced, 3 minutes. Stir in the olives and transfer to a platter. Carve the chicken and arrange on the platter. Garnish with basil leaves and serve.

Barbera pairs easily with food, even when it’s young.
PUBLISHED MAY 2014 in Food and Wine