Thanksgiving Guide Part I: All About the Turkey

Best turkey recipe for thanksgiving

Paprika, Sage and Tarragon Seasoned Turkey, Sweet Cornbread with Chistorra Sausage and Manchego Cheese Stuffing & Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Hello guys!! You have no idea how excited I am to be able to share my Thanksgiving guide with you, not only because all the recipes are extremely easy and make ahead, but especially because all of them are sooooo delicious.  I am not kidding.  I am not exaggerating nor trying to lure you into this feast.  I am just being a good friend here and giving you the heads up so you can be prepared when guests start to shower you with compliments.

This is my third time doing the turkey and since the first time I have had great success with it, due mostly to chef Thomas Keller method of high heat and low time cooking.  I found his Thanksgiving turkey recipe at the epicurious website and I am sure this technique is what makes all the difference.  I didn’t brine the turkey or even basted it during the cooking process, and yet I ended up with a flavorful, juicy and tender bird every time.  When I cut the turkey I saw the juices flowing even after it had been resting for almost 30 minutes.  You can imagine how juicy it was.  I have to tell you that I have grown to love this high heat/low time technique in most of my roasting or baking recipes, as you’ll see later in my honey glazed bacon. 

Best and easy thanksgiving recipes

The other menu components compliment beautifully the salt, paprika and garlic flavors on the turkey.  They all have local flavors that I love.  At the end, the plate has a great balance between savory, earthy, sweet and aged flavors.  Let me tell you the complete menu:

Roasted whole turkey with paprika, garlic and olive oil
Sweet cornbread, chistorra sausage and queso manchego stuffing
Spiced cranberry sauce
Sweet plantains casserole with homemade marshmallow and honey glazed bacon bits
Broccolini and mushrooms salad with crumbled Puerto Rican white cheese
Cheese tart with guava glaze (barely baking here!)

I have to confess two things though.  First, I don’t have as much pictures as in other posts because time was tight for me in order to make all the recipes for individual and final shoots.  Also, my Caribbean sun abandoned me during that week. I had to make some of the dishes the night before in order to take a picture of them the next morning and take advantage of the morning light (hence the lack of ingredients and procedure pictures).  To make things worst, the final day when I was supposed to shoot the turkey the rain started to pour at noon, so no sun for me for the rest of the day.  I barely made it with the turkey and a plate with all the food.  But still, I’m happy with the pictures I did manage to take and I hope you could see how delicious this food was.

Second thing is that I bought a new roasting pan for this recipe, wanting to fancy up things, but sadly the rack was too thick and it left some marks throughout half of the turkey breast.  Sigh…! I cannot tell you how disappointed I was.  I had in front of me this lovely crispy skin and a wonderful turkey aroma and all I could think was this is not going to translate through the picture.  After a few minutes though I thought to myself that this was just another learning experience, as many learning experiences we will continue to have in the kitchen, particularly when cooking holiday menus, don’t you think?  The important thing is the flavor, and I promise it's really outstanding.  After the shoot I organized a small family gathering to enjoy all of this amazing food and give thanks for so many blessings.  There were no leftovers.  All the plates were empty when we finished.  It was that good!

Today I will start with the turkey and all of its components.  Later this week and during the next one I’ll be sharing the side dishes and dessert recipes, so stay tuned!

Spiced cranberry sauce recipe

Recipe notes:

1.     Highly recommended to use disposable latex gloves to season the turkey.  This way you’ll be more comfortable reaching all areas of it and your hands will not be smelly.

2.     Give tender loving care to your turkey.  Not just sprinkle the seasonings over it, you have to massage it and make sure you are covering all exposed areas.

3.     Buy your supplies.  Have in hand extra disposable plastic bowls (you’ll be storing more than usual food), plastic and aluminum paper, etc.  Also make sure you have good amount of salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon, sugar, unsalted butter, eggs and other basic ingredients.  This way you can start over in case you have a mishap or whip any last minute recipe.

4.     This is an easy menu but it will be easier if you organize everything well.  Read all the recipes you are planning on doing and then plan accordingly so you take advantage of the ones that you can make ahead.

This is the time table of my menu in regards to T day:

Seasoned turkey with the butter – up to 3 days
Stuffing – up to 3 days, or make later and stuff the turkey before roasting
Spiced cranberry sauce – up to 3 days
Sweet plantains – you can cook them up to 3 days before and store in the fridge.  Then make the marshmallow the day of the dinner
Cheese tart – I made the tart dough 2 days before, then blind baked it and prepared the filling and glaze just the day before the dinner
Bacon and marshmallow for the sweet plantain casserole – the same day of the dinner
Broccolini and mushroom salad – the same day of the dinner

Happy Thanksgiving cooking!!

The stuffing
2+ cups for stuffing and extra for the table
Equipment - Food processor
Active and total time - 10 minutes

Chopped chistorra sausage – ½ cup
Olive oil – 1 TBSP+
Crumbled sweet corn bread – 4 cups
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper – to taste
Chopped manchego cheese – 1 cup
Small lemon - 1

In a stainless steel skillet heat the olive oil in medium heat, then add the chistorra pieces and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until the borders seem a little bit charred.  Add the crumbled corn bread, a good sprinkle of salt and a good sprinkle of pepper and combine with the chistorra while sautéing, 2 minutes more.  Retire from the heat and mix in the manchego cheese.  Transfer to a food processor bowl already attached to the base and grind until it turns into tiny crumbles.

Cut the lemon in half and cut the points on the top and bottom and remove the seeds.  Cover both sides with a good pinch of salt.  In the same skillet heat some olive oil, then cook the lemon until caramelized, 2 minutes per side. 

Place the lemons on the side of the turkey’s cavity and then add the stuffing.  Store the stuffing and lemons in the fridge if using on other day.

The Turkey
12 – 14 lbs turkey
Equipment - Roasting pan or big and deep baking sheet, kitchen twine, plastic wrapping paper, disposable latex gloves (optional)
Total time - 2 hours + 2 days on the fridge  Active time - 30 minutes


Unsalted butter, softened – 2 sticks
Fresh chopped tarragon – 1 TBSP
Fresh chopped sage – 1 TBSP

In an attached food processor bowl combine all the ingredients until well incorporated.  Set aside.


Ready to season whole turkey – 12 to 14 lbs bird
Fine sea salt – 4 TBSP
Ground oregano – ¾ TBSP
Ground paprika – ¾ TBSP
Ground garlic – 1 TBSP
Olive oil – ¼ cup
Freshly squeezed lemon juice – ½ lemon


To season:  Prepare your bird by thawing it, removing all things on the inside and pat drying it very well.  Prepare a tray (or the actual pan where you are going to roasted) with two side-by-side long plastic papers horizontally and two side-by-side plastic papers vertically (forming a cross) and place the turkey breast side down over them to start seasoning.

With about half of the salt season well all the turkey with a massaging motion, taking advantage of any exposed flesh or access to any of its cavities.  Do the same with the ground oregano, paprika and ground garlic.  With some steady hands turn the turkey breast side up.  Repeat the process, but this time detach carefully the skin from the breast using a small pairing knife.  Detach as much as you can working on not tearing it and to even reach the top of the drumsticks, and season that area as well with the salt, oregano, paprika and garlic.  You may use some extra of all the seasonings to season the inside cavity of the turkey.  Turn again and pour half of the olive oil, spread with your hands so all the seasonings are incorporated with the oil, then pour some of the lemon juice and again spread with your hands.  Turn the turkey for the last time and repeat the process with the olive oil and lemon juice, letting some drip inside the turkey cavity.  Open the skin of the breast area and using your own hands or a small spoon fill as far as you can go with the herbed butter.  Finally, place the lemon halfs on the inside walls of the cavity and fill it with the stuffing, pressing as much as you can so it really compresses and you can place most of it inside.

Twine your turkey with the method of your choice.  Close the plastic paper over the turkey from one side, then the other one, securing and air tightening your turkey as much as you can.  Let it rest for 2 full days.

To cook:  The day of cooking take the turkey out of the fridge for about an hour before cooking time so it comes down to room temperature.  Place a rack on the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425°.

Remove all plastic paper around the turkey and, if it's not in its roasting pan already, transfer it to a roasting pan, breast side up.  Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes.  When time is up, remove turkey form oven very carefully, then, with some silicone pads or gloves, turn it upside down and roast for 45 minutes more.  Take out of the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before touching it.  Turn it breast side up again when ready to serve.  Place in a tray with greens, lemons or vegetables.

Note:  If you need to reheat, preheat the oven again to 425° and place the turkey for 10 minutes, then drop the oven temperature to 350° and let it there for another 10 to 15 minutes.  When taken out, let it rest again for 10 minutes before cutting it, that way it won't loose its internal juices.

The spiced cranberry sauce
Total time
- 30 to 35 minutesActive time - 5 minutes

Fresh or frozen cranberries – 2 cups
Raw sugar – ¾ cup
Brown sugar – ½ cup
Water – ¼ cup
Orange juice – ¼ cup
Fine sea salt – ¼ Tsp
Ground allspice – ¼ Tsp
Ground cloves – ¼ Tsp

In a medium saucepan combine the cranberries, sugars, water and orange juice.  Cook in medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times while cooking.  Add the salt, allspice and cloves and cook for 5 minutes more.  Retire from heat.  Transfer to serving bowl or let it cool and transfer to a container for storing in the fridge.  It can be done 3 to 4 days in advance.

Easy and delicious Thanksgiving recipes