For many home cooks, the most familiar part of Thanksgiving isn't just the turkey, it's the angst they experience when preparing it. Fervent basting, family recipes, even last-minute heroics can't guarantee a memorable outcome. A far simpler solution -- one that takes the guesswork out of the meal and maintains your composure in the days before it -- is to rely on flavor-enhancing techniques that build upon the basics you already know.
A simple brine, for example, not only creates an intensely flavorful turkey, but also savory juices that, in turn, suffuse both stuffing and gravy with character. Improve the turkey, and every accompanying dish benefits.
Whether you follow our suggestions to the letter or adapt them to suit your own menu, you'll add depth of flavor without overcomplicating the preparations, ensuring not only a meal that you'll be grateful for, but also the peace of mind to enjoy it.
Although the make-ahead advice below is optional, those who follow it will be grateful they did come Thanksgiving.
Five Days to Three Months Before
Prepare stock, and refrigerate or freeze it. Order a fresh turkey from your butcher.
One Day Before
Submerge turkey in brine, and refrigerate it for 24 hours, flipping once. For the stuffing, leave bread cubes at room temperature, uncovered, overnight. Soak porcini mushrooms, and drain. Saute vegetables and meats, and refrigerate.
Five Hours Before
Remove turkey from brine, and pat it dry inside and out. Let stand for up to an hour.
Four Hours Before
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make stuffing and place in cheesecloth-lined cavity. Roast turkey, rotating once after two hours.
30 Minutes Before
Remove turkey from oven. Transfer stuffing to baking dish, and return it to oven. Transfer turkey to a platter and let stand for 30 minutes before carving. Let pan juices separate, then make the gravy.