The best turkey ever

Henri offers a novel way to cook the Thanksgiving bird

Photo Illustration by Carey Wilson

Thanksgiving was the one time of the year when Henri, 10 years wandering the great cities of Europe and Asia, got truly homesick. No matter where my travels found me—Paris, Bangkok, Amsterdam—a certain wistfulness would set in, and my longing for home and family would cloud the painful memories of my childhood in Middle America—even of the hideous selection of cufflinks at our W. T. Grant store.

I longed for those brisk late-November days when my mother would pack a foie-gras-on-croissant sandwich in my little briefcase and send me off to school, where I’d diligently draw and cut and paste and proudly thumbtack my butcher-paper turkeys and Pilgrims to the classroom walls.

On Thanksgiving Day, my parents, new to this American tradition, did their best to adapt. My father would prepare the turkey, my mother a parade of appetizers, always including onion soup and Camembert fondue with baguette slices, and the three of us would do jigsaw puzzles—photos of the French countryside or paintings by Renoir or Matisse—by the fireplace until dinner was ready. Then we’d sit down at a table my mother had set gloriously with crystal and candles, and my father would refill his and my mother’s wine glasses—the year I turned 16, he began pouring me one as well—and then say his Catholic grace before we began to eat.

This year, in honor of my father, I’m serving the turkey with soupe à l’ail, salade niçoise, pommes dauphine, garlic green beans and the best Bordeaux I can find. My father died a year ago last April with a glass of Bordeaux in his hand as he steamed his artichokes and watched the evening news.

I’ll also cook my favorite dessert, crème caramel. I invited Jonathan over. I told him that I’d cook the best turkey he’s ever eaten, and we could spend the afternoon drinking wine and eating cheese by the fire while we did jigsaw puzzles.

The Best Turkey Ever
Note: While a good bread stuffing can be absolutely divine, Henri prefers to cook it separately—if at all—and instead stuff the cavity with spices, herbs, fruit, and vegetables for a tastier and more fragrant bird.

First, remove giblets and wash turkey in cold water. Dry it off and rub, inside and out, with olive oil and season generously with pepper and kosher salt. Pin the wings and neck flap back with wooden skewers and tie the drumsticks together with a piece of twine (which you should cut about a half hour before the turkey is done baking).

In a large bowl, mix together an apple, a lemon, a couple of onions (all quartered), three or four carrots and several stalks of celery cut into three-inch lengths and a dozen or so garlic cloves. Add several twigs of fresh rosemary, as well as other spices to taste—thyme, basil, oregano. Stuff mixture inside the turkey’s cavity.

With a paring knife, punch six to 10 small holes through the skin and into the meat (breast, drumsticks, etc.) and slip a clove of garlic into each one. Set the bird breast-down on a rack in a roasting pan and cook (350 degrees in the oven or over medium heat on a gas grill) 11 to 13 minutes a pound, or until the internal temperature is 180 degrees F. Remove from heat and let sit under a tent of aluminum foil for a half hour before carving.

Turns out Jonathan already had plans. That’s OK. Henri’s used to dining alone. Besides, Miss Marilyn is always company enough and won’t expect anything in the morning except her little bowl of leftovers—potatoes, green beans, meat from a drumstick and, if she’s lucky, a spoonful of crème caramel.

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Henri’s new book, Some Like It Hot: Dining In and Out in Chico, is now available at Lyon Books, Collier Hardware, Made in Chico and Bird in Hand. A collection of more than 40 of Henri’s Chico News & Review columns—restaurant reviews, recipes, meditations on food and eating—the book is the perfect holiday gift.

Cost is $15. For an autographed copy, add $2.50 for shipping, make a check out to Coq au Vin Publications and send it to Coq au Vin Publications, P.O. Box 3996, Chico, CA 95927.