When enthusiasm wanes for the traditional roast turkey recipe, reach for the tried and true recipes of renowned food greats. This James Beard roasted turkey recipe, inspired by James Beard, honors the great American cook’s gourmet-style approach to the Thanksgiving bird.
Not all roast turkey recipes are created equal. This Thanksgiving recipe is especially unique. James Beard’s turkey prepping technique includes a generous amount of lemon wedges and bunches of fresh herbs stuffed in the turkey cavity, massaging softened butter all over the exterior of the bird, lining the roasting rack with fresh salt pork strips, and rotating and buttering the turkey throughout the roasting process. Best yet, this unbeatable roasted turkey recipe comes with a lip-smacking good gravy made with roasting pan juices, turkey giblets, and cognac.
Cook’s note: Fresh salt pork is salted pork belly that looks like uncooked bacon. This cut of pork is salted but not smoked. Fresh salt pork is a fabulously flavorful old-fashioned American ingredient that, unfortunately, isn’t as readily available as bacon. Check with your local butcher or supermarket meat counter for salt pork, if you’re having trouble finding it.
Who is James Beard? Much can be said about this American food great, but we’ll give it to you in a nutshell. James Beard was a renowned American cook, captivating cookbook author and food writer, expert teacher, and pioneering food television personality. He was a hero of American cuisine with a passion for mentoring generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. Some call Beard the “father of American-style gourmet cooking.” He died in 1985, but his legacy lives on in books, recipes, and his foundation’s annual James Beard awards—the Oscars of the food world.
Prep the turkey
Place the turkey on a large cutting board or clean surface. Rub the inside of the turkey with lemon halves. Stuff the turkey with lemon wedges, a bunch of fresh parsley, and a bunch of fresh tarragon. Tie the legs together with twine. Use your hands to massage softened butter all over the turkey.
Roast the turkey
Season the turkey all over with salt and pepper. Line a roasting rack with the strips of fresh salt pork. Place the turkey breast-side down on the rack. You’ll be rotating the turkey every hour and brushing it with melted butter throughout the roasting process. The final rotation of the turkey will have its breast up and ready to carve. Roast the turkey at 350 F for 1 hour.
Start the gravy
It’s gravy-making time. You’ll make the gravy in two steps. For the first step, place the turkey neck, gizzard, and heart in a small saucepan. Add onion, cloves, extra parsley sprigs and tarragon leaves, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover the mixture with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover pan, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.
Strain the solids
Strain out the onion, cloves, herbs, gizzard, heart, and neck. Remove the giblets—only the gizzard and heart—and chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Set the giblets aside until it’s time to add them to the gravy.
Rotate the turkey and brush with butter
Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Carefully rotate turkey onto one side. Brush with melted butter and roast for 1 hour. Rotate the turkey onto its other side and brush with melted butter. Roast for 1 hour. Finally, rotate the turkey onto its back—breast-side up—and brush with melted butter. Roast until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165 F. Transfer the turkey to a serving platter and allow it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Finish the gravy: separate the turkey juices and fat
Remove all the fat from the roasting pan and pour it into a gravy separator. Set aside 1/4-cup of fat.
Make a roux
A roux is a mixture of fat and flour that helps thicken liquids, such as juices or broth for gravy. In the roasting pan set over the stovetop or in a skillet over medium heat, add the reserved turkey fat and flour. Stir until blended and golden.
Finish the gravy
To the roux, add 2 cups of separated juices. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Taste the gravy and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Add the chopped giblets and stir in the cognac. Simmer the gravy for 4 to 5 minutes to meld the flavors.
Bring the roast turkey and homemade gravy to the table
Rub the inside of the turkey with lemon halves. Stuff the inside of the turkey with lemon quarters and a small bunch each of parsley and tarragon.
Tie the legs of the turkey together.
Using a half-stick of butter, massage the turkey all over. Line a roasting rack with strips of fresh salt pork.
Set the rack in a fairly shallow roasting pan, and place the turkey breast-side down on the rack. Season the turkey with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour.
Gravy, Part I: Place the turkey neck, gizzard, and heart in a small saucepan.
Add onion, cloves, 2 sprigs of parsley, extra tarragon, and 2 teaspoons of salt.
Add water to cover the mixture.
Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid, and simmer for approximately 1-1/2 hours.
Strain out the onion, cloves, herbs, gizzard, heart, and neck. Reserve the gizzard and heart. Discard the neck.
Chop the gizzard and heart into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside to add to the gravy.
Turkey: Remove the pan from the oven. Rotate the turkey to 1 side, and brush with 1/4 stick of melted butter. Return the turkey to the oven and roast for another hour.
Remove the pan, turn the turkey to the other side, and brush with 1/4 stick of melted butter. Roast for another hour.
Turn the turkey onto its back and brush the breast with the remaining 1/2 stick of melted butter. Return the turkey to the oven and continue roasting until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165 F.
Remove the turkey from the oven and place it on a serving platter. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Remove the twine from the legs.
Gravy, Part II: Remove all the fat from the roasting pan and pour it into a gravy separator. Set aside 1/4 cup of fat.
Place the roasting pan or a skillet over medium heat. Add the 1/4-cup of fat and the flour.
Once blended, add 2 cups of separated juices from the turkey, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.
Taste the gravy and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
Stir in the chopped giblets and cognac. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.
Serve the turkey and gravy with your favorite side dishes.