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Time for Turkey

For many, the turkey is the one thing on the Thanksgiving menu that doesn’t change much from year to year. A few insider tips can take your holiday centerpiece to the next level.

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Whether this Thanksgiving marks your first or fiftieth time cooking the turkey, there’s always something new to learn. So this year, with an eager curiosity to step outside the usual, we tapped Ariane Daguin to share her favorite method for preparing a big bird. And as the founder, owner, and CEO of D’Artagnan, a gourmet food purveyor that has been a pioneer in bringing organic, free-range, and humanely-raised meats, poultry, and game to the U.S since 1985, she knows a thing or two about doing just that.

“I never want to end up with a dry turkey, and the way I do that is to follow a traditional French technique from Bresse in which I cook over two days instead of one,” says Ariane. “It starts with poaching the bird the day before, and it makes your life so much easier. Plus, poaching incorporates all the flavorful liquid inside the turkey, so on Thanksgiving Day, all you have to do is roast it in the oven for an hour and a half, and it will always be perfect.”

It’s a foolproof method with only one catch: You need a pot large enough to fit your turkey. Find one that holds at least 20 quarts (depending on the size of your bird), and you’re set. The result of this smart and simple method is a turkey with crispy, golden brown skin and moist, juicy, flavorful meat every time.

Plus, there’s a bonus: With all that flavor-packed liquid left over from poaching, you can make an elegant first-course soup with the snap of your fingers while the turkey roasts. We’d call that a major two-for-one win.

Ariane Daguin’s Bresse-style poached and roasted method will make you rethink how you cook your bird.

Buy the bird

There is a diverse range of options when choosing the turkey you’ll serve. Here’s a brief rundown on the size, flavor, and farming practices of a few varieties you might consider.

Self basting, basted, or injected turkeys

These are the most affordable and readily available. These birds are usually factory farmed and injected with a saline solution to tenderize their breasts. Since they’re available at most large retailers, they’re a convenient choice, but be mindful if you plan to brine—they have already been salted.

Wild turkey

If you are planning a smaller gathering and your guest list includes mostly dark-meat lovers with sophisticated palates, a wild turkey might be worth trying. Wild turkeys typically grow no more than 10 lb. and have naturally rich meat with a slight gaminess.

Heritage turkey

Heritage turkeys have a slow growth rate as listed by the Livestock Conservancy. (Heritage birds take 6 to 7-1/2 months to reach market weight, whereas conventional birds reach that in 4 months or less.) They don’t get as large as conventional birds, and their meat is finer in texture and richer in flavor.

Organic free-range turkey

This is the most expensive choice due to the labor-intensive practices involved in farming and breeding these birds. To be certified organic, these turkeys are fed only pure well water and certified 100% organic grain. They also tend to be a bit smaller than conventional varieties.

You’ve spent hours prepping, poaching, and roasting your beautiful bird. Garnish it with one of these platter-worthy trios. 1. Roasted Carrots + Lemons + Thyme Sprigs 2. Pomegranates + Oranges + Rosemary Sprigs 3. Grapes + Figs + Fresh Bay Leaves 4. Small Pears + Cranberries + Sage Leaves

Carving 101

What good is producing the perfect bird if you’re then going to mangle the carving? That won’t happen if you follow these steps. But before you pull out your carving knife, remember to let the bird rest. This allows time for the juices to circulate, yielding moist, succulent meat.

Gravy Train

We all know that person for whom the Thanksgiving meal is merely a vehicle for gravy. Made by thickening the drippings and broth with a dark brown roux, gravy is pure turkey gold.

A rich, brown pan gravy starts with the drippings—the liquid fat and juices released as the bird cooks. Those in your roasting pan are loaded with flavor, as are all those browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Start by placing your roasting pan over 2 burners on your stove top, add 1 cup of turkey stock, and use a wooden spatula to scrape up the bits. Pour the mixture into a glass measuring cup, and skim the fat (you’ll need 1/4 cup).

Now it’s time to make the roux (a mixture of flour and fat). Return the reserved fat to the roasting pan, and heat over medium heat. Once heated, sprinkle 1/4 cup flour evenly over the fat, and stir until blended and smooth. Continue to cook, stirring, until it starts to bubble and thicken, about 2 minutes. The goal is a toasty walnut color.

Gradually pour in about 1/2 cup of hot turkey stock, whisking vigorously to disperse the flour into the liquid. The liquid will thicken quickly. Once it does, add another 1/2 cup stock, whisking continuously. Continue adding broth and whisking until you’ve reached a thick, smooth sauce (about 2 cups total). If your gravy base starts to bubble too much, lower the heat to avoid scorching.

To finish your gravy, add one last splash of broth, and simmer until your desired consistency. Remove from the heat, and use a slight hand to season with salt and pepper. Taste, adjust your seasonings as you see fit, and serve warm.

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