Joha's Table

  • Johana Williams

My first Thanksgiving / Joha's perfect turkey

Updated: Nov 23



When I was a kid growing up in Latin America, we often watched movies and heard music from the United States.

I have fond memories of my brothers and I lying on the floor of the kitchen watching TV while my mom cooked dinner. For some reason, we liked it there, rather than the living room or elsewhere - life happened in the kitchen.


I remember watching shows like “Full House,” “Saved by the Bell, and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (I can still sing the theme song in Spanish!). I remember seeing Cory and Topanga fall in love on “Boy Meets World.”


Yes, I was a ‘90s kid! I wore overalls and plaid skirts, and danced the original Macarena. I saw the Lion King at the cinema (and cried), and can quote parts of the Karate Kid.


Since I was a little girl, I was always excited to hear about other cultures and traditions - and there was one American tradition that I was always particularly interested in: Thanksgiving.


TV shows always had an episode where all the family sat around a big table feasting and enjoying a delicious looking turkey.


Over the years, I participated in Thanksgiving-ish celebrations around different parts of the world with American friends. I always saw the nostalgia in their eyes. One friend told me while in Singapore, “It’s good to celebrate here, but it’s not the same.”


They explained the traditionally held beliefs of the holiday’s origin – a festival where the pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated and shared their harvest together.


After getting married in 2016, I was finally able to experience Thanksgiving Day in the United States. I was curious and very excited about the authentic flavors of all the different foods on the table. Knowing that my mother-in-law is an awesome cook, my expectations were extremely high.


The dinner started very early in the day. In my Hispanic mind, I assumed that the celebration would begin in the evening (as most of the parties in my city do, and continue throughout the night).


The table was filled with all kinds of delicious looking dishes: turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, a couple of casseroles, macaroni and cheese, breads, collard greens, gravy, stuffing, and even salad.

Then there was a whole other table filled with desserts: pies, cakes, and delightful concoctions.


I wanted to taste everything … and begin to learn all the flavors (for science reasons, not gluttonous ones haha). I piled my plate high, ate, and went back for seconds. And thirds. By the end of that evening, I had eaten so much that I literally could not move! Everybody around me was having a good time, laughing, playing games, and chatting. The kids where playing and running. And I was on the couch, completely immobile.


As I sat there in my food coma, I remember looking around at everything and everybody, and my friend’s words came back to my head, “it’s good to celebrate here, but it’s not the same.” I finally understood what he meant.


By the time I was supposed to be headed to bed, I had the feeling that I was going to die of asphyxiation by food in my sleep!


My husband said, “Thanksgiving is a marathon. It’s why we start eating earlier in the day. You learn to eat little bits all day.”

I told him I had eaten too much and I felt like I needed to walk.

He smiled, and told me we cold go to the mall and walk.

“At midnight?” I asked.

“It’s Black Friday,” he answered. “Let’s go walk. You’ll be surprised by all the people out this late.”


We jumped in the car with our nephew Jayden, and drove to the mall. The place was packed with Black Friday shoppers. Businesses have the fairly recent tradition of having their best sales, discounts and giveaways the day after Thanksgiving - also known as “Black Friday.”

In some cases, shoppers wait outside of a store overnight to be the first inside to get super discounts.


I remember that night, walking around the mall for a couple of hours with my husband of one month, and my new 13-year-old nephew. While talking and getting to know him, I told him that I was so full of food that I couldn’t even laugh. For the next hour, he did everything he could to make me burst out laughing. If it was a game, he won.

If anyone is looking for a clown, let me know, I am sure he can be hired for that ;)


My first thanksgiving experience taught me to enjoy small portions of everything in order to endure the entire feast! But it also taught me how much love my new family has for me, even when they didn’t know me very well. Each of them took the time during that weekend to get to know me, and allow me to get to know them and their culture better. I am thankful for each one of them!


Thanksgiving is a very special holiday to me, because I only celebrate it with my American family. It is a beautiful tradition, taking a day to say, out loud, what we are thankful for.


I, for one, am thankful for the family and friends that God has given me in this nation.

Happy thanksgiving everybody!


Here is my turkey recipe, try it and enjoy your bird!



Joha's thanksgiving perfect turkey

(14lb)


*Feeds comfortably around 14 people and we had left overs for a few days.

*Experts recommend calculating approximately 1 pound of turkey per adult (14 lb. turkey = 14 people)



INGREDIENTS (Marinating mix):


3-4 Tbsp of kosher salt

2 Tbsp of thyme

2 Tbsp of sage

10 Branches of fresh parsley

10 Sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 Tbsp of fresh ground white pepper

2 Tbsp of olive oil

1 Lime, halved

6 Gloves of garlic, halved

1 Apple, quartered



INGREDIENTS (Injection mix):


1/4 of the marinade mix

1 pound (4 sticks) of butter

1 bottle white wine, (cheap wine, it doesn’t need to be anything expensive or fancy, I used a cheap Pinot Grigio)*

1 Apple, cut into cubes

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 cloves of garlic, halved



INGREDIENTS (Roasting bed of veggies):


Half bottle of wine*

4 carrots, chopped

4 celery stalks, chopped

1 parsnip, chopped

1 turnip, chopped

2 yellow onions, roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 Tbsp garlic powder

2 apples, chopped

1 tsp of salt



INSTRUCTIONS:


Due to time constraints, I had to expedite this process, adding some steps and skipping others. It ended up tasting great … though I always recommend giving adequate time and attention to the food.


Please keep in mind that this is simply a guide - I did not follow a traditional recipe (mostly because of time). Hopefully, I will post the longer recipe some day. Maybe after I’ve done it myself.


To make it easier to follow, I decided to divide the process of my recipe in three parts; I call them the ABCs of my recipe:


A. THAWING THE TURKEY (6 HOURS)

B. BRINING / MARINATING AND INJECTING TURKEY (12 HRS)

C. BAKING WITH ROASTING VEGGIES (5 HRS)



A) THAWING THE TURKEY


INSTRUCTIONS:


Depending on the process you choose, time you have, and the size of your turkey, thawing times vary dramatically.


This was one of the fastest way (while remaining safe) that I found, though there is the microwave method (which is also safe), but I simply didn’t want to use the microwave.

I got my frozen turkey 24 hours before the dinner, so I had to thaw it in the sink, submerging it completely with cold water, and changing the water about every 30 minutes until it was thawed (about 6 hours).


Check out the USDA website for more information, and for other safe options to thaw a turkey:


https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/11/18/how-safely-thaw-turkey



B) MARINATING AND INJECTING TURKEY (12 HRS)


Maybe you have heard in the past that the turkey should be brined … but, what is brining?


For those who are not familiar with this term, brining is basically submerging the turkey in salty water - and a few other ingredients – in the refrigerator for about 12 hours. This process softens the turkey and makes it juicier.


Because I didn’t have enough time (or space in my fridge), I did not brine my turkey. I marinated it, injected it with a marinade-like seasoning, and let it rest overnight.


Ideally you should brine the turkey between 24-48 hours before your dinner, to allow the brining / marinating mix and salt to permeate the meat for a longer period of time, and to allow the turkey to tenderize.


The principle behind this: the more time you give it, the more flavorful and tender the turkey.


However, if you don’t have much time, as soon as your turkey is thawed, start the process of marinating and let it rest for as long as you can, even if it is only a few hours - that really makes a difference:



MARINADE


INGREDIENTS (Marinating mix):


3-4 Tbsp of kosher salt

2 Tbsp of thyme

2 Tbsp of sage

10 Branches of fresh parsley

10 Sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 Tbsp of fresh ground white pepper

2 Tbsp of olive oil

1 Lime, halved

6 Gloves of garlic, halved

1 Apple, quartered



INSTRUCTIONS:


1.     Make sure after taking the turkey from its plastic bag, that you rinse it thoroughly with water. Place the turkey in a roaster/pan - make sure to remove the bag of giblets out from inside the turkey. Remove the hock lock (the plastic piece or metal tying the legs), and any other plastic pieces that it may have. Tie the legs with cooking thread.


2.     Pat dry with paper towel and rub the turkey with half of the lime. After covering all the bird, tuck it in the cavity.


3.     Using the oil, garlic and branches of parsley and rosemary, rub all over the turkey. When finished, put the herbs and garlic in the cavity with the other half of the lime.


4.     In a small bowl, combine all the dry ingredients of the marinating mix: kosher salt, thyme, sage and white pepper.


5.     Separate about 1/4 of the mix and set aside (this will be used in the next step).


6.     Apply the rest of the mix (3/4) onto the turkey, including, if possible, between the skin and meat on the breast, legs and thighs.


7.     Cover lightly and let the turkey rest in the fridge while you keep working on the second part.


To avoid cross contamination: it is very important to clean the sink, and anything else the raw meat may have touched, with soapy hot water.



INJECTING


INGREDIENTS (Injection mix):


1/4 of the marinade mix

1 pound (4 sticks) of butter

1 bottle white wine, (cheap wine, it doesn’t need to be anything expensive or fancy, I used a cheap Pinot Grigio)

1 Apple, cut into cubes

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 cloves of garlic, halved



INSTRUCTIONS:


1.     In a small-medium pot, at medium heat, melt the butter and add about half of the wine. Also add the apple, rosemary branches, garlic and the rest of the marinating mix.


2.     Stir for about 2 minutes and remove from heat. Let it cool slightly.




3.     Put the turkey on the roaster rack, breast up.


4.     Fill the injector with the butter-wine mix (Do it slowly, to avoid clogs from any solid ingredients - garlic, apple, rosemary).


5.     Where to poke?  Poke everywhere in the turkey! Inject small portions of the liquid all throughout the turkey, filling up the injector until most of the mix has been used.


Remember: the breast and thighs are the thickest parts, so make sure to inject those areas very well.


6.     Be careful to not inject too deep in the thinner areas (like the wings), you may poke the other side of the skin and risk the liquid spilling out.


7.     Once you are done injecting, take the vegetables, and put them in the bottom of the roaster.



C. BAKING WITH ROASTING VEGGIES


ROASTING:


INGREDIENTS (Roasting bed of veggies):


Half bottle of wine

4 carrots, chopped

4 celery stalks, chopped

1 parsnip, chopped

1 turnip, chopped

2 yellow onions, roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 Tbsp garlic powder

2 apples, chopped

1 tsp of salt


INSTRUCTIONS:


1.     Preheat oven to 325°F


2.     Remove turkey from refrigerator.


3.     Mix chopped vegetables (carrots, celery, parsnip, turnip, yellow onions, garlic cloves and apples) in a bowl with the garlic powder, onion powder and salt, (if it it is too dry, add a teaspoon of olive oil, not too much).




4.     Once it is all mixed, take some of the veggies and stack them into the cavity of the turkey. Put the rest at the bottom of the roaster.


5.     Place the turkey in the oven.


My 14 lb. turkey took about 4½-5 hours to fully cook (keep reading to find out what temperature your bird should be to be fully cooked).


When placing the turkey on the roaster (before going in the oven), some begin with their turkey breast-down and flip it over later to ensure a dark roast all around the turkey. However, I did not. By the time my turkey was ready to be put in the oven, it was super heavy and, to be honest, I was not confident that I would do a good job flipping it.


So, I did not flip it. But regardless, it got a nice golden-brown color all over!… How?

I moved and rotated the roaster around the oven every hour or so, because the back of my oven is hotter than the area near the door.


When the top was close to the color that I was looking for, I covered it with aluminum foil to avoid over-roasting the top while the rest of the bird was still in the process of cooking.


6.     Open the oven after 30 minutes or so, and with a turkey baster or large spoon, baste it with the remaining white wine mix and the liquid from the bottom of the pan. Make sure you cover all the sides, close the oven and set your alarm to sound off after another 30 minutes.


Use a baster or a large spoon to continue basting the turkey with the rest of the wine mix every 30 minutes-1 hour.


If the first couple of times there isn’t much liquid in the bottom of the pan, don’t worry, there will be. It’s just a matter of time before the turkey starts releasing all those flavorful juices.


7.     Repeat step 6 every 30-40 minutes until the turkey is done.



8.     Pay attention to the color of the turkey. When it reaches the color you want to get, wrap the top with aluminum foil.


9.     Use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature after about 4 hours. It is ready when the thermometer reads 165° F in the thickest part of the breast, and about 170°F at the thickest part of the thigh.


If the turkey is close to its perfect temperature, and you still have time left before people start arriving, just lower the temperature of the oven to 200° F and let it continue to cook in this lower heat.


10.   Take it out of the oven and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP! It is important to let it rest, this step allows the juices set in the meat.


11.   Carve your turkey, serve it and enjoy!



Don’t forget to take a picture of your turkey and share your experience with us using: #johastable and @johastable


Soon I will be sharing my Cranberry sauce recipe… Stay tuned!

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