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a perfect turkey dinner

If you have retired from your turkey feast obligations, or only like to cook finger food, then I suggest you come enjoy turkey feast cooked by our chefs at Rock Salt Restaurant.  We will serve turkey feast in the restaurant every night from Thursday December 15th to Thursday December 23rd.  Two dollars from every turkey dinner will be donated to Cher’s recovery fund.

You can order it to go as well.  If you want us to vacuum pack you a Christmas dinner to enjoy at home email me at jill@rocksaltrestaurant.com.


Many years ago, my step son Jacob, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, requested a ‘turkey dinner like you see on TV.”   I think he imagined a shining family at a lavishly set table and mom emerging from the kitchen with a perfect brown bird on a china platter.  Since I lack aptitude for most domestic pursuits, I decided to indulge him this one thing.

Turkey dinner is now my family’s most cherished Christmas tradition.  Shopping, prepping and cooking the feast takes me ten hours over the course of three days and a stress free execution requires careful planning.  Below is detailed guide to my method with planning notes, a shopping list and all required recipes. It isn’t an easy approach, but rather a sound method behind an amazing feast.

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas I revise this article, based on what I learned the holiday before, and reprint it on my blog Island Chef.ca and on the Salt Spring Exchange.  This is the third time I’ve done this so I’m starting to sharing my turkey feast plan a tradition as well.  If you have any questions or comments, or are searching for different holiday recipe, then don’t hesitate to ‘Ask a Chef’.

Roast Turkey
Apple & Dried Fruit Stuffing
Cranberry Raisin Chutney
Apple Brandy Gravy
Lemon Butter Green Beans
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Marshmallow Yam Casserole
Aged Cheddar Biscuits

Basic Plan

Two Days Before

Read and review all recipes several times and make a shopping list.  I have included a shopping list for this menu at the end of this post.
Go shopping.

Day Before

Plan what time the turkey needs to go in the oven.  Plan for a ½-hour per kilogram and for taking it out of the oven 40 minutes before you want to serve dinner.
Make the brine and plan what time you need to start brining the bird.  You will need 2 ½ hours per kilogram and the turkey must be room temperature when it goes in the oven so it needs to be removed from the brine at least 2 hours before you cook it.
Peel and chop potatoes.  Store in cold water in the fridge.
Make the glaze.
Prepare the bread, herbs and other dry ingredients for the stuffing.
Make cranberry sauce.
Make the biscuits.
Trim and blanch the green beans.
Make the yam casserole.
Peel and food processes lots of garlic

The Morning of Feast Day

Prepare roasting pan with 2 each rough-cut, unpeeled white onions, celery stocks and carrots.  Use a shallow roasting pan.  Tall-sided roasting pans are for braising not roasting and will make your skin soggy.
Prep the diced garlic, lemon juice and lemon zest needed for the green beans and mashed potatoes.

Starting One Hour Before Dinner

Boil the potatoes.
Sauté diced garlic, butter, whipping cream and salt and pepper in a shallow frying pan for the mashed potatoes.
Take the turkey out of the oven remove the stuffing and then let it rest in a foil tent.
Get everything ready for the gravy and put the drippings in the freezer.
Warm the yam casserole in the microwave, add the marshmallows and put it in the oven.
Add wet mix to the extra stuffing, put in a buttered baking dish, cover it with foil and put it in the oven.
Drain and mash the potatoes, adding the whipping cream and garlic mixture.
Put the biscuits in the oven to re-warm.
Make the gravy.
When you are almost ready to serve everything pan-fry the green beans.


Brining the Turkey

Brining is easy and makes your bird so much juicier so don’t skip this step.  The only important part to this recipe is the water and the salt.  The rest of the ingredients are optional so use some or all of them as you wish.  Use other things that taste good if you want.


1 cup of salt
enough water to cover turkey
½ cup maple syrup
2 cups apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 Tablespoons all spice berries
4 star anise
parsley stocks (save the top part for stuffing)

Before brining, remove giblets and wash turkey.  Note that giblets are great for making turkey stock so save them.  There are recipes and a great description of how to make stock here.
Put turkey in brine and stir it up.

Preparing the Turkey for the Oven

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Wash turkey and then dry it well.
Pack the stuffing loosely into the turkey cavity.  It will expand and if it is too tight and get mushy.
Put lots of butter under the turkey skin.
Rub the outside of the skin with a generous amount of olive oil, coarse salt and fresh ground pepper.
Drape three or four pieces of thick cut bacon over the top of the turkey.

It is at this point that I remind you that turkey dinner is not supposed to be good for you.

Place bird on top of mire poix in roasting pan, breast side down.
Cooking it breast side down allows the back fat to percolate through the breasts, which make the meat taste really good.
It will not look as pretty but you should get over that.
If you really cannot stand an ugly turkey then cook it breast side up but cover the breasts with tin foil (only the breasts) until the last half hour.

Cooking the Turkey

Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Then cook at 325 degrees for the duration.
Flip the bird and cook it breast side up for the last ½ hour of cooking.
Once the turkey is in oven melt together 1 cup of butter and 1 cup of maple syrup and then use this to baste.  Baste turkey for the first time when you turn down the heat.  Then baste it again every 45 minutes.  If you didn’t brine your bird then you should baste every 20 minutes.

Most people have crazy ideas about how long it takes to cook a turkey. Remember your mom putting the turkey in the oven after breakfast for dinner at 4pm?  Don’t do this unless you like stringy dry turkey meat.  It is done when the juices run clear and the instant read meat thermometer reads 165 degrees near the wing.  If you don’t have a meat thermometer you should buy one because it is the only way to really know exactly when the turkey is done.  The turkey will continue to cook to 180 degrees while resting once you take it out of the oven.

You must let it rest for at least 20 minutes to finish cooking and allow the juices to redistribute in the bird. If you cut the turkey right away all the juice runs onto the counter and all your hard brining and basting will be for nothing.  You may let it sit for up to an hour which is what I do so that I have time to do all the other stuff like make gravy and beans. If you are going to let it sit for more then 20 minutes then tent it with tin foil.  This will make the skin a less crisp but will keep the turkey warm.

When you take the turkey out of the oven immediately remove the stuffing, place in a buttered baking dish and put it back in the oven or microwave to keep it warm.

Glazing the Turkey

This is only important if you are slicing the bird at the table and want it to look like a movie turkey.

3 cups apple cider
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage

When turkey is done remove the turkey from the oven and increase the heat to 400 degrees.  Then put the turkey back in.
  Pour half the glaze on the turkey and roast for 10 minutes, then put the rest of the glaze on and roast a few more minutes until dark brown.  Do not leave it in there too long.  It would be sad to over cook the turkey now that you have been so careful.


Minced means tiny and it is important not to have big chunks of onion and carrots in stuffing.
Fresh herbs are better and if you don’t have them that is fine then use dried but use half as much.
Good stuffing requires stale bread.  If you don’t have stale you should and put your bread in oven for 5-10 minutes until it is nice and brown.  Grocery bread cubes are fine as well.  I like them best actually.

Cook in heavy bottom skillet:
1/2 cup butter
3 heaping Tablespoons diced garlic
1 minced onion
½ cup minced fresh parsley (loose pack)
2 stalks celery -minced
1 carrot –minced
1 apple – peeled, cored & minced
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped figs
2 teaspoons fresh thyme  – stems removed and minced
½ teaspoon fresh sage -minced
½ teaspoon fresh savoury -minced
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon all spice

Put 8 cups of bread cubes in big bowl.
Add all the other ingredients and toss together lightly
Right before putting stuffing in the bird or in the oven stir in 3 cups chicken stock.  Should be moist but not soupy.  Add more liquid as needed.
You can cook extra stuffing in a separate baking dish.  To do so add 1/3 cup scrambled eggs and a little more stock to bind it and keep it moist.  Bake in a preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes in a shallow baking dish with stuffing spread about 4 inches thick on bottom of the pan.  Cook it covered with foil until it is hot and then uncover it dot some butter on top and let it crisp.

Lemony Green Beans

Tail the beans.  Take off the ends off but leave them long.
Bring a big pot of water to a boil, when it is boiling add salt.  Drop in the beans and cook until they are about half done.  They should till be quite crunchy, about 2 minutes. Strain the beans and throw into an ice bath to cool.  When they are totally cool strain again and set aside.

Zest 1 lemon
Peel all the pith (white stuff) off the lemon and slice into rings.  It doesn’t matter if it falls apart
Melt quite a lot of butter in a skillet
When the pan is hot add the zest, lemon and lemon juice
Add the beans
Toss in pan vigorously
Sprinkle with coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper

Cranberry Sauce

Put into heavy bottom sauce pan & stir well:

1 packet fresh cranberries
1 cup white sugar
½ cup water
1/2 cup of apple cider
pinch of cinnamon
1 Tablespoon of cherry kirsch (optional)
zest & juice of one lemon
zest & juice of one orange

Boil until all berries are broken down and sauce is getting thick.  Stir often and keep a close eye on it.  Remove from heat and refrigerate.

Cheese Biscuits
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a cookie sheet.

In large bowl mix well and break up lumps:
2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder

In a separate bowl mix well:
1 cup grated old cheddar
½ cup of sliced scallion
¼ cup of melted butter
1-½ cups of milk
2 Tablespoons of canola oil

Make a well in the dry mix and add the wet mix.  Combine while mixing as little as possible.  If you mix it too much your biscuits will be rubbery.  Spoon should stand up.  If you need more liquid add some more milk.
Spoon dough on cookie sheet.
Sprinkle more grated cheese on top of each biscuit.
Bake for about 20 minutes until bottom is brown and top is starting to brown.  Ensure they are not raw in the middle.

Apple Brandy Turkey Gravy

It is best to have good homemade stock for gravy.  You can make stock from a chicken you baked at some time in the past and froze or you can make stock from the giblets and/or chicken legs the night before your feast.  If not buy the good quality tetra packs of chicken stock.
Make sure you have everything ready when you start because you must whisk continuously.
Heat 5 cups chicken or turkey stock.  Set aside 1 cup of cold stock.
Prepare flour slurry by putting ¼ cup of flour into a tall glass.  Add 1 cup of cold stock and whisk until smooth and there is no lumps.
Remove mire poix from the mixing pan.
Pour pan juices into a measuring cup and put in freezer for 1-2 minutes until fat rises to top and then skim off excess fat.
Put the turkey roasting pan on two burners on medium high heat:

Then add:
2 Tablespoons of pan juice
1 Tablespoon of butter

Deglaze the pan with:
1/3 cup brandy
1/3 cup apple cider

Scrape brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Then add:
3 Tablespoons dijon mustard or mustard powder
1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
2 Tablespoons turkey stock paste unless have really good homemade stock (no msg is best)
fresh ground pepper

Stir constantly until it cooks down to brown syrup.
Add the heated stock and bring to a boil.
Whisk in the slurry, and continue boiling and whisking until smooth.
Make sure to cook long enough so that you cannot taste the raw flour.

Yam Casserole with Marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Prick 5 large yams all over with a fork.
Wrap each yam in a tin foil that is well greased with olive oil.
Wrap them so they are baggy not tight.
Roast until they are soft and cooked through (1 ½ hours approximately).
Remove from the oven and remove foil.
When the yams are cool enough to handle strip away the skin and put the flesh into a large bowl.
Pour in any juices from the potatoes.

Then add:
Juice and zest from 4 limes
Juice and zest from one orange
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 a teaspoon ground nutmeg

Mash well and mix together.
Spoon into casserole dish, cover with marshmallows and bake in hot oven for 10 or fifteen minutes until marshmallows are brown.
If you think marshmallows are gross (and I don’t blame you but my kids love them) then use pecans as a substitute.
Can be made the day before.  Simply do not bake until you are ready to serve and do not put on the marshmallows until you are ready to bake.

Shopping List

Thick sliced bacon -just 4 pieces

fresh garlic -lots
white onions
green beans
white potato
fresh cranberries


bread or bread cubes for stuffing
whipping cream
tin foil
white flour
maple syrup
apple cider
olive oil
canola oil
corn starch
dried figs
white sugar
white flour
turkey stock paste
chicken stock

Herbs & Spices

cinnamon sticks
whole peppercorns
coarse salt
all spice berries
ground all spice
star anise
fresh parsley
fresh savoury
fresh sage
whole cloves
ground cloves

Liquor Store

cherry kirsch


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