Albanians living in any country traditionally enjoy turkey for New Year’s Day. New Year’s festivities have grown into great celebrations in countries where, for decades, citizens were unable to celebrate Christmas and other holidays. New Year’s has become one of the biggest parties of the year for Albanians, with tables overflowing with food that people feast from all night long.
Albanians living in America are very fond of Thanksgiving; I can’t think of anybody I know that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. We moved to the US two decades ago, and I’ve been roasting a turkey for every Thanksgiving ever since. I can’t quite remember how we celebrated our first Thanksgiving, but I do remember how nervous I was about roasting the turkey, even though Arjana, my son’s aunt, had given me many reassuring tips on how to make sure it didn’t burn. Since then, Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite holidays because it is a holiday of gratitude and giving thanks to the Universe for our bounty, health, family, and friends. It’s a day to give thanks to our loved ones simply for their presence and love. No matter how simple or complicated you make your meal, Thanksgiving will always be filled with stories, singing, and enjoying a splendid spread on the table.
The turkeys in Albania are all free range, but no matter where you are you should always try to find one that is hopefully free range and organic. I’m not sure how many Thanksgiving turkeys I had roasted before making the switch to free range turkeys, but it has made all of the difference! We always have side dishes made with everyone’s favorite vegetables, and plenty of pies to choose from. I still make Thanksgiving dinner this way every year, and though I don’t know what the future holds, I will always cherish my happy memories of waiting in those long lines after work to get a perfect turkey, baby potatoes, string beans for Brian and and Idaho potatoes for Gerti’s mashed potatoes in Whole Foods in Manhattan.
We never manage to finish the turkey in one meal, in fact, we barely make a dent! I always separate the bones from the meat and then freeze the leftover meat to use in the future and boil the bones for stock. I tried stuffing the turkey one year, but my sons preferred the turkey better without stuffing, so I haven’t tried it again. Another year I tried baking the stuffing separately, and it came out wonderful, but even then I ended up eating all of it by myself, so now I don’t make stuffing for Thanksgiving. We try to have dinner between 5–7 pm, so I make sure the turkey is in the oven between 12–1 pm. If we decide to attend the Thanksgiving Day Parade, I leave the turkey prepared so that somebody at home can simply turn on the oven for me while I’m gone. No matter how daunting the task seems, I promise you it is quite easy to roast a turkey, and so worth it because it makes your Thanksgiving dinner delicious history brought to life. (Aferdita)
P.S. I have never brined my turkey. If you always brine your turkey, continue following the recipe that you like!
P.P.S. When deciding on how big of a turkey to buy, plan for at least 1½ pounds of turkey per person. Please see our table below that details how long to roast an unstuffed turkey depending on the size. If you like to stuff your turkey, add an extra hour to the baking time.
- 10–18 pounds = 3–3½ hours
- 18–22 pounds = 3½–4 hours
- 22–24 pounds = 4–4½ hours
- 24–29 pounds = 4½–5 hours
- One whole turkey
- 1 T oil
- 1 T butter
- 1 T dried herbs
- ½ t salt
- ½ t black pepper
- Sprigs of fresh herbs, rosemary, thyme, sage
1. Rinse and dry the bird completely and make sure that all the giblets are removed (save the giblets for our stuffing recipe!). Mix the oil and butter and rub it all over the bird. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and herbs over all of the skin and inside the cavity of the turkey. If you’re feeling brave, you can try to spread some butter and seasonings under the skin, but be careful not to tear the skin and ruin the bird! Place some sprigs of fresh herbs inside the bird (save some sprigs to use in the stock and for garnishes after roasting).
2. Place the bird into a large, heavy baking pan, and roast it for 1 hour in a 400°F oven.
3. While the bird is roasting, you can decide if you want to make gravy or prepare any vegetables to roast with the bird.
4. After the hour is up, the turkey should be taking on a lovely golden brown color. Cover it with aluminum foil, drop the oven temperature to 350°F, and bake for as long as required depending on the weight of the turkey (see our weight/time chart above for reference!). At this point, you can add vegetables, such as potatoes or carrots, to the baking dish. Make sure you frequently baste the turkey. I use a large, plastic, dripless turkey baster for this rather than a brush; the baster is easier to use, and sometimes I will use it to remove most of the liquid that has gathered inside the turkey cavity and in the pan and I will set this liquid aside. Sometimes I may have to add some of it back to the turkey if it is starting to dry out in the oven, but most of the time I can use all of this liquid for gravy or soup (I often used it for soup when Brian was little).
5. When there are only 30–45 minutes left in the roasting time, carefully remove the foil (go slowly in case the skin has stuck to the foil), raise the temperature back up to 400°F, and let the turkey finish roasting uncovered. At this point, check to be sure that the legs are not becoming too dry and that the leg skin isn’t getting too dark compared to the rest of the bird—if this is the case, wrap only the legs in aluminum foil before returning the bird to the oven. This will help ensure that your bird is evenly browned all over.
6. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Slowly and carefully, transfer your turkey to a platter, and decorate the platter with the vegetables, sprigs of fresh herbs, and even some lovely bright pieces of fresh fruit. I have a gorgeous turkey platter, but I got rid of my big roasting pan because it was too difficult to get the roasted turkey out of the pan and onto the platter in one piece. I now use two deep, oval, disposable aluminum pans to roast my turkey. When the turkey is finished, I can easily use scissors to cut a V-shape out of the top pan, and then I neatly slide the turkey right out of the pans and onto my platter. This method gives me a perfect turkey to set on the table every time.