Nelson’s Full Proof Thanksgiving Turkey & Stuffing Recipe

My sister recently asked me for my Thanksgiving recipes.  We don’t usually spend Thanksgiving together because my wife’s family is very large and some don’t live in New Jersey.  I therefore tend to spend Thanksgiving with her side of the family and we host the meal because our house has the biggest dining room.  I would need a large catering hall just to fit my family and my wife’s so I don’t generally spend Thanksgiving with my family.  We make up for this in other ways by spending other holidays together or just getting together for no reason.  A few years ago when my father was gravely ill in hospital (he passed away shortly after Thanksgiving) we didn’t feel like spending Thanksgiving with anyone so I decided we would just have a quiet meal alone, just my sister’s family my mom and us.  Well it was a magical meal.  Everything came together perfectly.  The Turkey was just right, the stuffing was delicious and all the side dishes all came out excellent!  I am my biggest critic and there are few meals I where I give myself a 10 out of 10 but  this was one of those rare perfect 10 moments.  In the midst of all the anguish and heartache we were going through with my dad’s situation those few hours were an oasis from the stress and anxiety of seeing my dad in a coma.   I have been cooking the Thanksgiving meal for years but I never wrote down the recipe.  After my sister asked for it I decided not only to write it down for her but to share it here on the blog.  Thanksgiving isn’t Portuguese but there is a large component of blog followers and members of the Facebook group that come from the USA and most of them celebrate Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday since it is agnostic and features an animal protein that almost all religions, ethnic groups and nationalities can enjoy.  It also isn’t as commercialized as Christmas and with that comes a certain wholesomeness that just makes the day extra special.  A few things to note about my process for Thanksgiving: (1) It is going to take time to make the perfect Turkey and stuffing so plan ahead. (2) Making your own poultry stock is essential as it will be used to brine the turkey and flavor the stuffing. (3) Brining is essential and the key to success for a perfect turkey.  People ask me all the time what the secret is to my moist turkey and I always say brine yet they tend to skip this step and then wonder why it didn’t come out the way I made it. Brining provides no only moisture while cooking but it also infuses the turkey with flavor.  The big secret to brine is that it salts the bird.  Salt is the single most important flavoring agent of any dish.


Nelson’s Full Proof Thanksgiving Turkey & Stuffing Recipe
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Nelson’s Full Proof Thanksgiving Turkey & Stuffing Recipe


    For the Turkey:
  • 1 Turkey (neck and giblets removed and fat trimmed)
  • 1 or 2 jars (depending on the size of your turkey) of Williams Sonoma Brine, Autumn Fruit and Spice
  • 1 Gallon Apple juice or Cider
  • Ice cubes
  • Poultry Stock (recipe follows)
  • 2 peeled whole onions
  • 2 carrots peeled and cut in half
  • 1 whole head of garlic cut in half (leave skin on)
  • 3 apples cut in 4 pieces
  • Portuguese Seven Spice Powder
    For the Poultry Stock:
  • the neck and any fat trimmings from the turkey
  • 2 chicken leg quarters
  • 2 onions (leave skin on),
  • 4 carrots (no need to peel them just wash)
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 head of garlic (cut in half with skin on),
  • parsley stems/stalks
  • 2 chicken cubes
    For The Stuffing:
  • 3 bags (12 OZ each) of bread cubes (not the dry crouton variety like Stove Top Stuffing) or alternatively cut up stale bread weighed out to 36 OZ.
  • 3 Sausage rolls (I get 2 regular with sage and one spicy)
  • 2 medium onions diced
  • 4 carrots diced
  • 4 celery stalks diced
  • 4 3.5 OZ packages of roasted chestnuts each cut in 4 pieces (Don’t use chestnuts you roasted yourself.)
  • 6 cups of mushrooms sliced (I use a variety but always try to use some Shitake as it imparts a great flavor.
  • 2 cups of Pine Nuts
  • 4 cups of homemade poultry stock
  • Fat drippings from roasted Turkey
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Half a bunch of parsley finely cut
  • Salt and pepper to taste


    For The Poultry Stock:
  • This should be done the day before. Add the following to a really big pot: the neck and any fat trimmings from the turkey along with some bone in chicken (I use 2 chicken leg quarters), 2 onions (leave skin on), 4 carrots, 4 celery stalks, one head of garlic (cut in half with skin on), parsley stems/stalks and 2 chicken cubes. Add enough water to come to just under 2 inches from the top of the pot. Boil it slowly for at least 2 hours. You want a gentle boil not a vigorous one. Skim off any foam or scum that floats to the top. After 2 hours drain through a colander, discard the poultry and vegetables and then separate the fat by either using a fat skimmer or refrigerating the stock and removing the fat that congeals on top.
    For The Turkey:
  • 2 days before making the turkey place the turkey, onion, carrots, celery, garlic and apple in a large food ready container (bucket or very large stock pot). Heat the stock and apple juice until it just comes up to a boil. Take off the heat and add the turkey brine ingredients. Mix well so the brine ingredients (i.e. the salt in it) disolve. Add enough ice to cool the mixture to room temperature. Pour the liquid over the turkey and fruit/veggies and then add enough water to completely submerge the bird. Place in a cool place or refrigerator and let it sit for 36 hours. At 36 hours take the turkey out and let drain in a roasting pan (but down) with a grate on the bottom. Save the fruit and vegetables. Let it sit for about an hour until all the liquid has come out. Remove the excess liquid from the roasting pan then place the turkey back in the pan (this time on its back) and let it sit in the refrigerator for another 12 hours. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees (375 if using a convection oven). While the oven is coming up to temperature cover the turkey with whatever dry rub your using making sure to sprinkle it all over including the cavity. Then take the reserved and stuff as much as you can in the cavity of the bird. Cover the wing and drumstick tips with aluminum foil. Place the bird in the over and at every half hour baste it with the collected pan drippings. Continue to cook until the internal temperature at the leg joint reaches 160 degrees. If you start to see the skin brown too much cover it with aluminum foil. About an hour prior to it being ready turn the turkey upside down so the breast is facing down. Continue to cook for 45 minutes then turn it over again. Once it reaches 160 remove from oven and tent the turkey with aluminum foil and place some kitchen towels over it. Let it rest for 30 minutes. Remove towels and foil and carve and serve.
    For The Stuffing:
  • Pre-heat the oven to 375.
  • Make this once the Turkey has been in the oven for a few hours and has rendered some fat. In a very big wide pot add as much turkey fat as you can collect enough to coat the entire pan. If you don’t have enough rendered fat add some vegetable oil. Sauté the onions, carrots, and celery along with some salt and pepper (I use like half a teaspoon each) until they are translucent and soft. You don’t want them browned or burnt! Add the sausage breaking it up in your hands. As you cook the sausage take a spatula or wooden spoon and continue to break up the meat, so you don’t have huge clumps. Cook the sausage until all the red is gone and it is cooked through. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are wilted and no longer raw. Add the chestnuts and pine nuts and cook for another 8-10 minutes. Add the bread and mix the stuffing well so it looks uniform. Cook the mixture until all the bread has been coated with the juices and seasonings. Add the chicken stock a cup at a time until the bread is moist but not soggy wet. Remember it is going to cook in the oven and you just want to add enough so it cooks and is still a little moist, but you don’t want to make it soupy. There is no exact science or amount of stock to add since the variables like temperature, relative humidity in the air and the staleness of the bread all add variables that alter the amount. A good way to test it is by taking out a bread cube and squeezing it. If it drips with liquid, you have added too much and need to continue to cook the stuffing until it dries out a bit more. If you squeeze the bread and it feels like a crouton then add some more stock. It is perfect when you squeeze the bread and it just feels moist without any liquid coming out. Once cooked taste for salt and pepper and add if it needs more. Add the parsley and mix everything up. Place the stuffing into a roasting pan large enough to hold all the stuffing. If you have extra just store for later use. You want to fill the pan all the way to the top or else it will overcook in the oven. I leave about a ¼ inch in the top. Just before placing in the oven add about 2 ladles of stock evenly distributed right on top of the stuffing. Cook the stuffing for about ½ hour or until it just starts to brown and crust on top. You are looking for a nice brown color on top not dark brown or burnt. Depending on the size of your pan it may take longer or less time than ½ hour. Remove from oven and taste it to see if it came out to dry. If so, add some more ladle(s) of stock and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.