Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 2007 - Brined Roast Turkey

Brined roast turkey with pan gravy

This turkey takes a bit of preparation because you have to start the brine the day before and let the turkey sit in it overnight. You will also need to come up with a way to keep the turkey cool during the brining process (which can be difficult if you don’t have room in your refrigerator or if there isn’t snow outside). However, once you get everything sorted out, it is definitely worth the effort because the brine and herb-butter rub will help give the turkey a fantastic flavor that is hard to achieve otherwise.

I have modified a couple different recipes that I found to come up with what I think is the best brined roasted turkey recipe on the planet. Once you try this recipe you will have a hard time going back to an ordinary roasted turkey. There are a bunch of recipes for brine that are less complicated (i.e. a basic mixture of water, salt and sugar), but I would recommend following this recipe for at least the first time you make it because the ingredients listed below really add a unique flavor to both the turkey and the gravy.

NOTE: Invest $20-30 in a probe-style thermometer that you can leave in the turkey as it roasts. They usually come with a monitor that you connect to the probe so you can keep an eye on the temperature on the outside of the oven. This will also help you coordinate the timing of all the other Thanksgiving food items, setting the table, etc. because you can see how close the turkey’s temperature is to being done and will keep you from overcooking and drying out the bird.


1 gallon water
1/2 ounce ground cloves
1/2 ounce ground ginger
4 ounces cracked black peppercorns
12 bay leaves
1 pound coarse kosher salt
24 ounces honey
24 ounces maple syrup

1 whole, 12-18 pound turkey, thawed, with giblets and neck removed

1 stick butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 apples, quartered and cored
2 onions, peeled and quartered
1 fresh rosemary sprig
6 fresh sage leaves
Olive oil, for drizzling
1 cup carrots, diced

1 cup celery, diced
1 sprig thyme
1 tablespoon flour

Salt and pepper
1 turkey roasting bag

Pan gravy:
Strained roast pan drippings
2 to 4 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups cold water
Salt and pepper

Brining the turkey:
Step 1: In a large stockpot, bring ½ gallon of water, cloves, ginger, black peppercorn, bay leaves and salt to a boil. Lower to a simmer and stir in the honey and maple syrup until well blended. Turn off heat, add remaining ½ gallon of water (preferably ice-cold to speed up the cooling process) and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

Step 2: Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold tap water. Reserve the neck and giblets for pan gravy, if desired. Place the turkey in a clean, extra-large, heavy-duty bag (i.e. food-grade garbage bag or similar) and pour the brine into the bag. Put ice in the bottom of a cooler (or 5-gallon bucket if it is cool enough outside) and then place bag on top of ice. Position the turkey and bag to make sure it is entirely covered with brine. (Note: a large, round drink cooler works well if the turkey is small enough to fit inside because the round drink cooler will keep the bag in a good shape so the turkey stays fully immersed in the brine and it will help keep the brine at a cool temperature.) Remove as much air out of the bag and seal it with a twist tie or knot. Cover top of bag with ice and marinate overnight. Turkey needs to stay as cool as it would be in the refrigerator during the brining process (36-40 degrees).

Roasting the turkey:
Step 1: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Step 2: Remove turkey from brine and rinse thoroughly with water. Mix together the butter, garlic, chopped rosemary, and chopped sage leaves to make a compound butter. Using your hands, loosen the skin from the breast by gently inserting your fingers between the skin and the meat. Rub the compound butter underneath the skin, spreading evenly over entire breast. Repeat same technique for both legs. Insert 1 of the apples and onions, whole rosemary sprig and whole sage leaves into the cavity of the turkey. Tuck the wings back and under the turkey. Using kitchen twine, tie the legs together. This will make a compact shape and will create a great presentation. Drizzle the turkey with olive oil and rub it into the skin.

Step 3: Place the carrots, celery, 1 apple and 1 onion, in the bottom of roasting bag. Shake 1 tablespoon of flour in the roasting bag and then place the turkey inside the roasting bag on top of the vegetables. Cut a couple holes in the top roasting bag to prevent it from bursting. Tent the turkey loosely with aluminum foil and roast at 325 degrees F until it has reached an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast (may be 2 1/2 to 4 hours depending on size). Also check the inside of the drumsticks and thighs to verify they have also reached a safe temperature range.

Step4: Transfer turkey to a platter, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.

Preparing the pan gravy:

Step 1: Strain the roasting pan drippings and transfer to stock pot. Add 2 to 4 cups of chicken stock to the drippings if additional liquid is needed to make enough gravy (for mashed potatoes, drizzling over turkey meat, etc.). Bring to boil and thicken with the mixture of cornstarch and cold water.

Step 2: To avoid lumps, make sure the cornstarch is mixed really well in the cold water before it is slowly added to the gravy. You can also pour thickening mixture through a fine strainer as you add it to pot. Add the mixture gradually, ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly, and let the gravy come back to a boil for a few moments before adding additional thickening mixture. Stop adding mixture when the desired thickness is reached.

Step 3: Salt and pepper to taste.