Every year, there’s a different newfangled way to cook turkey, from brining it in salted water overnight to dropping it into a deep fryer. We grew up with this recipe for traditional Thanksgiving turkey with a New England stuffing and prefer its simplicity and the way it infuses the house with a delicious aroma as it slowly cooks. Some people prefer to add sausage to their stuffing; here, we stick to a simpler style, with chopped apples and fragrant herbs that are naturally moistened from the turkey drippings. We use our Farmhouse Whole Wheat Honey Bread (page 148 of The Vermont Country Store Cookbook) but any good honest loaf of country bread will do.
Grandmother Wilcox’s trick to keeping the turkey meat moist and evenly cooked was to cover it with cheesecloth saturated with melted lard (we use butter or olive oil), as described in this recipe. Always select a fresh free-range turkey from a nearby farm — the taste is completely worth it.
1 loaf Farmhouse Whole Wheat Honey Bread (page 148), or a bag of dried stuffing
1 12- to 15-pound fresh turkey
2 tablespoons Fragrant Herb Salt (page 59) or coarse sea salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, plus 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, melted or I cup heated olive oil
2 large yellow onions coarsely chopped (2 cups)
6 stalks celery, cut into ¼-inch slices (1 ½ cups)
3 Cortland apples, unpeeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch cubes (1 ½ cups)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken stock
The day before you plan to make the stuffing, slice the loaf and cut the bread into ½-inch cubes (you should have about 8 cups bread cubes). Spread out the cubes on a rimmed baking sheet to dry and harden. If you want to dry the cubes on the day of cooking, place them in a preheated 250-degree oven for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.
An hour before roasting, take the turkey out of the fridge. Remove the bag of giblets and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle the interior of giblets and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle the interior with the herb salt and set the turkey breast side up on a roasting rack in a large roasting pan. This will help the meat cook more for evenly because it dries out the skin, which promotes browning and crisping.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
In a large skillet, melt 8 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery and the apples and cook for 5 minutes more, then add the herbs, table salt, and pepper. Transfer the bread cubes to a large bowl, add the mixture from the pan, and toss with a wooden spoon or both hands to mix well.
Spoon the stuffing into the turkey, pressing to fill, but be careful not to stuff it too full — the stuffing will expand as it cooks. Truss the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings under the bird. Cut off a piece of cheesecloth that will cover the bird and be long enough to rest in the pan. In a small saucepan, heat the stock with the 1 cup melted butter.
Immerse the cheesecloth in the stock and butter, then evenly spread it over the bird, tucking the edges alongside the bird. Pour the remaining stock-butter mixture over the bird, keeping the edges of the cheesecloth immersed while it cooks. The juices will wick up through the cotton weave, to crisp up the skin and turn it a beautiful deep golden brown, while keeping the meat moist and evenly cooked.
Roast the turkey for 45 minutes, tilting the pan to capture the stock and butter juice, and with a turkey baster, scooping up the liquids and releasing them on top of the turkey.
The rule of thumb for cooking a turkey is 13 minutes per pound. This 15-pound turkey should take about 3 hours to cook. To make sure the turkey is fully cooked through, check its temperature with a meat thermometer in three places — the breast, the outer thigh, and the inside thigh — to be sure it registers at least 165 degrees. If any place is under that temperature, put the turkey back in the oven for 20 minutes more. Shield the breast meat with aluminum foil, if needed, to keep it from overcooking.
Once you determine that the turkey is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it rest in the roasting pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cutting board. Tent the turkey with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes more. This gives time for the juices to be reabsorbed into the muscle tissue so the meat is firm, making the turkey easier to slice and juicier.
Before you carve, spoon out all of the stuffing and transfer to a heated serving dish. You can keep the stuffing in the turned-off oven while you carve the turkey.
One Final Note: Once you sit down at the table and finish your meal, the leftover meat needs to be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking. Leftover stuffing and meat can be mixed together with gravy to make a wonderful casserole the next day.