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THANKSGIVING : Tradition decrees that no matter how frequently it is eaten during tye rest of the year, turkey must remain the undisputed star of this holiday's menu.

November 16, 1989|BETSY BALSLEY | TIMES FOOD EDITOR

With turkey popular the year round, one might expect other meats to encroach on its starring role as the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving dinner. Not so. There's something almost sinful about even considering celebrating Thanksgiving without a roast turkey involved somewhere. This is one of the few annual meals that is a totally traditional experience for most Americans.

But in spite of the fact that we're addicted to serving the same foods for Thanksgiving year in and year out, we still search for new ways to use them. New stuffing treatments, a different way to serve the usual vegetables and, of course, an out-of-the-ordinary method of cooking the turkey are recipes much sought after by the creative cook.

And when it comes to an unusual treatment for the bird itself, have we ever got a recipe for you.

At a recent food conference in Seattle, Louis Mahoney, food editor of the Richmond (Va.) News Leader, shared a recipe for roasting a turkey that proved totally intriguing . . . and when tested, delicious.

"Have you ever smeared a turkey with mayonnaise and then cooked it?" she asked. We do it this way every summer when we go to the beach and don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It sounds weird, but it's really great."

Further questioning elicited Mahoney's recipe, one definitely in a class by itself. "You need a big turkey for this one," she said. "I always get one that weighs from 22 to 25 pounds. You don't make a stuffing, but you can put an onion and some carrots and celery in the turkey if you like . . . just for flavor.

"Then you put the bird on a rack in a roasting pan and spread a pint of mayonnaise all over it. Cover it with a loose tent made of foil left open at the ends, and put it in the oven at 325 degrees. From then on, you can just forget about it and go to the beach or do anything else you want for five or six hours, or until it's done.

"If I happen to be in the kitchen occasionally while it's cooking," she added, "I'll baste it with some of the juices, but you don't really need to. Either way, when it's done you'll have a wonderful, moist bird. The skin won't be crisp--it won't ever get crisp--but it will brown lightly. Most people don't eat the skin today anyway, so the fact that it isn't crisp really doesn't matter."

Now a recipe like that is hard for anyone who likes turkey to resist trying. So we recreated her day-at-the-beach masterpiece in The Times Test Kitchen and just as Mahoney said, we had a beautiful juicy bird that provided us not only with some delicious hot slices, but remained moist enough to provide some elegant sandwiches the next day.

Mahoney likes to make a Marsala wine sauce to go with the hot turkey slices, so we followed her suggestion and found that this most untraditional treatment of turkey gravy was a real winner too.

While searching out new ways to serve Thanksgiving foods, we also experimented with some different stuffings, for those who prefer a more traditional bird for the holiday. And we developed some side dishes that were most complementary to Thanksgiving's favorite piece de resistance.

One of these was a variation on an old-fashioned carrot ring. We added chopped broccoli and corn to the carrot and egg base and produced a colorful vegetable mold that tasted wonderful and looked beautiful on the holiday table. This is a particularly good choice for a buffet menu.

A new version of a light spinach and orange salad and an interesting potato-stuffed, rosemary-flavored pasta dish were also nice additions to the festive meal.

For those who find a whole turkey, large or small, too much to cope with, a rolled turkey breast with a lemony rice stuffing may be the solution to enjoying the tradition of Thanksgiving without endless leftovers. A tangy yellow-pepper sauce or a simple giblet gravy will provide additional flavor.

Here are recipes for Louis Mahoney's Beach Turkey, the Lemon-Rice Stuffed Turkey Roll and some suggested side dishes for a Thanksgiving feast. LOUIS MAHONEY'S BEACH TURKEY WITH MARSALA SAUCE

1 (22- to 25-pound) turkey

Salt, pepper

2 stalks celery

1 large onion, halved

2 carrots, cut into chunks

2 cups mayonnaise

Marsala Sauce

Remove giblets from turkey cavities and set aside for sauce. Wash turkey and pat dry inside and out. Season inside of turkey with salt and pepper.

Cut celery into chunks, reserving leaves for sauce. Place celery chunks, onion and carrot chunks in large cavity of bird and tie legs together with heavy twine. Skewer extra skin of front cavity of bird to back and turn wing tips under larger wing bones to hold in place.

Spread mayonnaise generously over entire surface of bird. Place turkey on rack in large roasting pan and cover loosely with tent of foil, leaving ends open. Roast at 325 degrees 5 1/2 to 6 hours or until meat thermometer inserted in fleshy part of thigh registers 170 degrees.

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