I'm going out to dinner with Jan and Steve for actual Thanksgiving, but I like to have turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing vacuum sealed and frozen for later meals, so this is my abbreviated prep. It's much smaller than an actual Thanksgiving meal because it doesn't include all of the sides, many of which do not freeze that well or I don't love enough to have for several more meals.
I went grocery shopping and I got most of the things I wanted early, to avoid the crowds close to Thanksgiving. Also, if I got a frozen turkey I'd need to start defrosting it before my next shopping the Monday or Tuesday before.
As it turns out, the grocery store didn't have small frozen turkeys, but they did have fresh ones. Much to my surprise, even this early the refrigerated ones are good until the Friday after Thanksgiving (2023-11-24). I got a 12 pounder.
I got a 1 pound package of prepared, refrigerated, red skin mashed potatoes at the grocery store deli yesterday. I've had them before and they're good, and way less work than making them from scratch!
Divided the package into 4x packages of 4.0 oz. each, vacuum sealed and frozen. I needed 6x for all of the turkey dinner servings, but fortunately I had two packages in the freeze so I used those. Next time I'll get a bigger package.
Since this meal isn't going onto a table I had a little more flexibility on how to cook it. Some options I considered:
- Traditional roasted: How I usually make it.
- Roasted with inversion: Mom always made it this way. Start it out upside-down so the breast doesn't overcook.
- Spatchcock roasted: Supposed to make more evenly cooked turkey.
- Fried: I don't have the pot, and it seems like a lot of oil for one turkey.
- Smoked: I'm not a fan of smoked turkey.
- Sous vide: Perfectly cooked and tender, but the texture of sous vide turkey is a little weird, like processed deli turkey.
I decided to start with spatchcock roasted because there are many advantages:
- Even cooking on both breast and thigh
- All skin is facing up so it's all nicely browned
- Cooks faster
But then I took it a step farther and completely separated the breast from the leg and thigh parts instead of just flattening so I could take them out of the oven at different times.
- Separated the wings
- Separated the legs and thighs
- Separated off the breast
- Cut the backbone in half so it will fit in the instant pot later
Preparing my 12.8 pound turkey on Wednesday morning (2023-11-22). Glad I got a package of 13"x15" extra large zip-lock bags; they're perfect for holding a 12 pound turkey.
I broke down the turkey like I'd do a whole chicken. The breast portion (bone-in).
Legs and thighs.
And another roasting pan with the wings and backbone, cut in half.
Roasted at 425°F with the breast, drumsticks and thighs on a sheet pan with grid on the top rack. The roasting pan on the bottom has the wings and backbone, which will be used to make stock and soup.
I intended to use the temperatures from the Serious Eats spatchcock recipe.
- Breast to 150°F
- Thighs to 165°F
In doing so, however, I learned some things:
The breast cooks more slowly than I expected, which isn't that surprising, because it's the thickest piece of meat (and has a bone).
The leg and thigh cook faster than I expected when not underneath the turkey, which also makes sense. Also there is way more variability based on where you place the temperature probe in the leg and thigh. Don't just rely on the permanent probe temperature.
The breast, leg, and thigh don't create that much fat, because the fatty parts have been removed. I was worried about this because they were only in a sheet pan, not a full roasting pan. It was fine.
It went in at 6:45 AM and everything was out by 8:05 AM, so it took 1:20 at 425°F which is pretty good for a 12 pound turkey. And it looks great!
Breast, drumstick, and thigh sliced. This is so good! I'll definitely make it this way next year.
Some of the parts vacuum sealed.
3x 2.8 oz. servings for sandwich and 3x 2.8 oz. servings for stir-fry.
Defrosted 48 oz. of turkey stock (3 packages of 16 fl oz). I vacuum sealed and froze it last year, and will be the base for the gravy. I reserved 16 oz. for the dressing and used 32 oz. in the gravy.
I put the frozen bags in the sous vide at 140°F which also had the advantage of making the stock warm to add to the roux.
The gravy is based on this recipe and is:
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 32 oz. turkey stock
- freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- soy sauce (optional)
Add the butter to the pan and melt. And the flour and cook for 5 minutes or more to make a roux. It should smell slightly nutty, but not burnt.
Add the turkey stock and combine. Stir for a several minutes until thickened. It will start out shockingly thin, but it thickens quickly.
I'm used to having soy sauce in my gravy because Mom always made it that way, so I add that too, several ounces.
Cooled, then vacuum sealed and froze 6x servings of 5.0 oz. each and one of the remainder.
I used Pepperidge Farm classic stuffing mix, what Mom used, but added several things. It's really more like the package directions than the recipe I made in previous years, though actually probably the closest to Mom's recipe (though she did not add sausage).
- 4.0 oz. Jimmy Dean spicy pork sausage (loose)
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1/2 cup diced onion (1/2 small onion)
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 16 oz. (2 cups) turkey (or chicken) stock. This is twice the package amount, but this is more like Mom's.
- 6 oz. Pepperidge Farm classic stuffing mix (1/2 bag)
Cook the sausage in a sauté pan.
Add the butter, onions, and celery and cook until slightly softened.
Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Add the stuffing mix and transfer to a 9x12 Pyrex baking dish.
Bake 45 minutes uncovered at 325°F.
I made the Food Network cranberry sauce recipe . It's basically just a 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries, 1 cup of sugar, a strip of lemon zest, and 1 oz. water. I like it.
Add the cranberries, 1 cup of sugar, lemon zest and water to a sauce pan and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves, about 10 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes, then continue to cook until it reaches the desired consistency.
Season with salt and pepper.
The original recipe calls for adding some reserved uncooked cranberries at the end, but I like it better without.
Turkey stock and soup
In the instant pot:
- Leftover bones, cooked and uncooked, and meat
- Neck, gizzards, etc. from the turkey
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- black peppercorns
- bay leaf
- 64 oz. water
Cook on the soup setting. When done, let cool for 20 minutes, then release the pressure.
Cooling in a sink of cold water.
Big parts pulled from the pot.
Meat picked off the bone. Bones and vegetable discarded. Stock to a container to chill so the fat can be skimmed off.
- 2x 16 oz. stock for gravy next year
- 3x 10 oz. stock and a separate package of 2.0 oz. meat for turkey soup
I made 6x full dinner servings with:
- 5.0 oz. turkey
- 5.0 oz. gravy
- 4.0 oz. mashed potatoes
- cranberry sauce
Each set goes into a zip-lock bag to make it easy to get out of the freeze for an easy meal.
I started at 6:00 AM and was done with everything packaged and in the freezer by 3:00 PM. Trash and compost taken out; the only minor thing left was for the dishwasher to finish running and put things away.