A Turkey Feast for a Returning Nantucket Whaling Captain

There are many stories of Nantucket ship Captains wives waiting for their husbands return from hunting whales.  Some whaling ship Captains were away from their wives and children for as long as five years or more.  The Captains’ wives would spend hours atop their home’s widows walk looking toward the horizon hoping to see the sails of their husband’s ship approaching Nantucket Harbor.  If she was lucky enough to see those sails she would go to her kitchen and prepare a feast for his arrival.

On these 5 + year voyages, the Captain and crew’s diet probably consisted of salt horse (beef) and hard-tack (pork) at one meal, and hard-tack and salt horse at the next.  These “delectable” meals as well as other less appetizing ones were the norm on long sails.

We think the Captain’s wife would prepare a wild turkey dinner to celebrate his return.

Here is a 21st. century recipe for a roasted turkey with some modern twists to please anyone, even a 19th century whaling ship’s Captain returning from a long voyage.

We think that this recipe would meet with the Captain’s approval.

Herb Roasted Turkey with Onion Gravy
Serves 10-12 with leftovers

1 18-20 lb. turkey
6 Tbls. butter at room temperature
2 Tbls. fresh rosemary, chopped, plus 2-4 sprigs
2 Tbls. fresh thyme, chopped, plus 2-4 sprigs
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste) plus more for sprinkling
1/4 tsp. pepper (or to taste) plus more for sprinkling
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
4 1/2 cups low salt chicken stock, preferably homemade, divided, as needed

For the turkey gravy:
1 stick butter
4 large onions, sliced thin
1 Tbls. fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tbls. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 Tbls. flour
3 Tbls. honey
1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. black pepper (or to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix butter, chopped rosemary and thyme, salt & pepper in a bowl.  Remove turkey giblets and neck from cavity, rinse the turkey and pat dry with paper towels.  Place the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan.
Sprinkle small amount of salt & pepper on inside of turkey.  Rub the herb butter all over the turkey.  Place the onions and turkey giblets and neck around the turkey and bake for 1 hour.  Add 1 cup broth, the bay leaf and rosemary and thyme sprigs to the pan.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake for approximately 3-4 hours longer (figure 15 minutes per pound) or until a meat thermometer inserted into the turkey thigh registers 180 degrees and 165 degrees for the breast.  While the turkey is baking, baste with some of the remaining broth and pan juices every 30 minutes so that the turkey does not dry out.
Remove the turkey to a large platter and let stand at least 15 minutes.  Garnish the platter with orange slices, cranberries and kale, if desired.

Melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until nice and brown, approximately 30 minutes.  Add rosemary and thyme.  Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in the honey and vinegar and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  The gravy can be made a day ahead and refrigerated; reheat slowly before serving.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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