When Food52 launched in 2009, the idea was to create an online community for cooks to exchange ideas and recipes. The website’s founders, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, just published a new cookbook, “Food52 — A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead,” so we asked them for tips on how to turn the Thanksgiving feast into a resounding success.
If turkey is your jam, Hesser and Stubbs recommend giving Russ Parsons’ recipe a try. Parsons, formerly a writer and columnist for the LA Times, bases his recipe on a dry-brining technique that Zuni Café in San Francisco uses to season its roasted chicken. The result is a “perfectly juicy and crisp [bird], with none of the sponginess that you sometimes get with wet birds.” Then serve Amanda Hesser’s no-fuss butternut squash purée with your bird. The beauty of this orange vegetable side is it only requires one pan. Cook the squash, cover to soften, then mash!
RUSS PARSONS’ DRY-BRINED TURKEY
Yield: Makes approximately 11 to 15 servings
A 12–16 lbs turkey (defrosted is fine)
Fresh herbs and/or spices, to flavor the salt (optional)
Butter, for basting (optional)
Wash the turkey inside and out, then pat dry. Weigh the turkey.
Season the salt: In a small bowl, add a tablespoon of salt for every 5 pounds of turkey. You can also add fresh herbs and spices such as smoked paprika, orange zest, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and/or lemon zest. Grind the ingredients together with the salt in a salt grinder, small food processor or mortar and pestle.
Dry brine the turkey: Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with your seasoning salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the skin around the breast, concentrating the salt over the center where the meat is thickest. (You’ll probably use a little more than a tablespoon.) Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with the seasoning salt, concentrating on the thigh. (You should use a little less than a tablespoon.) Then flip the turkey over and repeat on the opposite side.
Place the turkey in a 2½-gallon sealable plastic bag and press the air out before sealing tightly. Transfer the turkey, breast side-up, to the refrigerator. Chill for 3 days, turning it back onto its breast for the last day. Re-apply the seasoning salt once a day. Liquid might collect in the bag but don’t worry — this is normal!
Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface, and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place turkey, breast side-up, on a large plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.
When you’re ready to cook your turkey, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for at least 1 hour. (Don’t rinse it, as rinsing will make the skin less crispy.)
Roast the turkey: Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Meanwhile, pat the turkey dry one last time and baste with melted butter, if using. Place the turkey breast side-down on a roasting rack set in a roasting pan; transfer to the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and carefully rotate the turkey so that the breast is facing up. (It’s easy to do this by hand using kitchen towels or oven mitts).
Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF. Return the turkey to the oven and roast for about 2¾ hours, or until your thermometer reads 165ºF when inserted into the deepest part of the thigh, without touching the bone. (Note: A dry-brined turkey cooks more quickly than one that hasn’t been brined, so it’s best to check the temperature early with this recipe — it may be done faster than you think!)
Once your thermometer reads 165ºF, remove the turkey from the oven and transfer it to a warm platter or carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let your turkey rest for 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Carve and serve.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH PURÉE
Yield: Makes 4 servings, plus leftovers
12 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 2 medium squash, cut into ½-inch cubes)
½ cup olive oil
3 tbsps heavy cream, plus more as needed
Salt, to taste
Cook the squash: Pile the butternut squash in a large, heavy-bottom saucepan or Dutch oven. Cover the pan and place over medium-high heat. Give the squash an occasional stir as it rapidly sautés and steams in the oil. Continue cooking until the squash becomes very tender, about 15 minutes. Then adjust the heat as necessary to ensure the squash doesn’t burn. Turn off the heat.
Make the purée: Using a potato masher, smash the butternut squash until you have a very smooth mash with no large chunks. Then return the purée to medium heat and pour in the heavy cream so that it just pools over the surface of the mash. Cook until the purée begins to bubble and then stir in the cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt or cream as needed.
To serve: When ready to eat, reheat the Butternut Squash Purée in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes (or in the microwave).
To store: Transfer to a container with lid and store in refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Dry-brined turkey photo (top) by Bobbi Lin/Food52.