Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise – food, family, friends, drinks…what’s not to like? Interestingly, though, I don’t care for turkey all that much. It’s kind of bland – especially those factory farmed birds – and there’s just so much of it. After a week of turkey pot pie, creamed turkey, turkey risotto, turkey tetrazzini, open face turkey sandwiches, I’m mostly done with turkey for the year. I don’t even order turkey at the deli.
That said, I do try to make a delicious turkey for the one week each year I have to eat it. What I like to do is to remove the entire skin, slice it into nice squares or triangles, and crisp them in the oven. Meanwhile, I cook the breast sous-vide (meaning vacuum sealed with salt and herbs – and in my case, butter – and cooked at a controlled temperature for a very moist breast). Then I serve the sliced breast with the chips of crispy skin. I also braise the thighs in milk and thyme for many hours, like I would with pork. And then I serve them as separate courses. But that’s me. That’s probably not you.
What you probably want to do is brine the turkey, butter it, roast it – first at a high temperature to get the skin to crisp up, and then at a lower temperature to let the meat cook – and then rest it, breast down, so the meat stays super juicy. You also can try my husband’s barding method. It’s nice, especially if you suffer from bacon mania, and the only cure is bacon. So again, that’s four steps:
* Brine – not too long
* Butter (or bard) – gives it a nice brown coat and a delicious flavor
* Roast – baste as you go and check the temp once 2/3 time has elapsed
* Rest – head down is best, and provide adequate support
The following is for a 14-16 lb bird. For a breast or a smaller (8-12 lb bird), you can reduce amounts by half, store it in a big stockpot, and brine for a shorter time (2 hours).
4 c apple juice
2/3 c kosher salt or 1/2c table salt
5 bay leaves
4-6 springs of thyme
about 4 cloves
6-8 black peppercorns.
* * * * *
one onion, halved
one stalk celery, halved
one lemon, halved
4 oz (1 stick) butter
In a small saucepan, combine all the first set of ingredients, bring to a simmer, and allow it to simmer, covered, for an hour (add more juice if necessary). Transfer to the biggest pot you have (like a stockpot or a clean bucket that you only would use for food – a 5 gal bucket from Home Depot works perfectly and is inexpensive) and fill it with 8 qt very cold water and about 1 qt ice cubes. Stir well and add the turkey. Return to the refrigerator or a cold (<40F) place like a garage. Brine for 4 hours (you can get away with as few as 2 hrs if necessary).
1h before roasting, preheat the oven to 400F.
30 mins before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine, pat the skin dry. Place the onion, celery, and lemon in the cavity, and rub the skin with butter.
Roast bone-in turkey for 15 mins/lb, or boneless breast for about 12 mins/lb. After the first 20 mins turn down to 350F. Baste every 25 mins with the butter and drippings from the bottom of the pan. Put a little water (1/2 c) in the bottom of the pan to prevent the drippings from burning.
Do the math before roasting and check once 2/3 of the calculated time has elapsed. Place a meat thermometer into both the thickest part of the breast and the joint between the breast and thigh. When both have reached 165F, the turkey is ready to rest.
Rest the turkey for 1/2 hour-45 mins before carving (shorter for a smaller turkey or a breast, longer for a larger turkey). If you can, have the turkey's head pointing downward while it rests – this promotes a very moist breast. You should support the turkey if you plan to do this so it doesn't topple over. Turning the turkey upside down on the roasting rack, positioned over the carving board, is the safest way, as is positioning the turkey head-down at an angle on a V-rack.
Enjoy that turkey!