I thought I'd start by sharing my Brined and Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe so that, if you decide to use it, you have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the recipe and gather your ingredients. We've been making our turkey this way for 7 or 8 years. We brine it the night before (which usually involves me cringing as Kyle pulls the neck, gizzards, etc. from the vast cavity, some antics getting the turkey situated in the bag, and a small argument over the best way to get the bird fully submerged in the brine). The turkey is rubbed down with a slurry of roasted garlic, butter and herbs, then it's doused with champagne and apple cider before it goes into the oven. We learned the roasting technique we use from this Alton Brown “Cooking Class” in Bon Appétit. It’s a great resource. Here’s our approach...
THAWING YOUR TURKEY...
I prefer to thaw my turkey in the refrigerator because I’m a little paranoid about the cold water thawing methods. To thaw your turkey in the fridge, you place the wrapped bird, breast side up in the fridge on a tray (in case it leaks). I actually put a crummy kitchen towel under the turkey in the tray to absorb some of the moisture and any juices that leak out. You have to allow for one day for every four pounds (a 20lb turkey would need at least five days to thaw completely).
BRINING YOUR TURKEY...
One your turkey is thawed completely, unwrap it, remove the liver, gizzards, and heart and discard (or save for gravy if you prefer).
2 gallons cold water
1 lb kosher salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
6 large bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
Stir all the ingredients together in a large pot until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Place one large garbage bag inside another one, and set them in a large roasting pan or very large bowl. Place the turkey into the bags, breast side down. Pour the brine over the turkey and press the bird to ensure it’s fully submerged in the brine. Carefully squeeze as much air out of the bags as you can before sealing them. Refrigerate the brined turkey for 18-20 hours. We usually put the turkey in to brine the evening before we’re going to cook it.
Once the turkey is done brining, discard the brine, rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels.
Place a roasting rack, or make a rack with a long coil out of aluminum foil in your roasting pan so the bird is raised a bit off of the bottom of the pan. Place your turkey, breast side up, in a the roasting pan.
Move your oven rack to the next to lowest setting and preheat your oven to 500ºF.
Now you’re ready to prepare your turkey for the oven.
PREPARING YOUR TURKEY...
2 heads of roasted garlic (directions below)
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bottle of inexpensive champagne
two cups apple cider
1/2 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 small apple, roughly chopped
1 celery stock, roughly chopped
heavy duty aluminum foil for making breast plates
I begin first thing on Thanksgiving morning roasting four heads of garlic, two for the turkey and two for the mashed potatoes. (The garlic for the mashed potatoes is prepared a little differently before roasting so be sure to read the recipe here).
To roast the garlic for the turkey. Preheat your oven to 400ºF. Slice the top 1/3 of your heads of garlic, exposing the tops of the cloves. Place each head (exposed cloves up) on a square of aluminum foil. Pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil over each head, sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Seal the heads into two separate foil pouches and set them on a small baking sheet. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the cloves are soft when you press on them. Set them aside and allow them to cool.
Once you are ready to prepare your bird, remove the cloves from the garlic and place them in a bowl along with the softened butter, thyme, rosemary, and a 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, blend with a fork until well incorporated and set it near your work station.
Using your hands, gently rub about 1/3 of the herb butter under the skin, directly onto the breast meat. Then spread the rest of the butter all over the bird, including inside the cavity.
Season the bird with plenty of freshly ground black pepper, a little bit of kosher salt (you don’t need too much since the turkey was brined!) and a little bit of paprika. Tuck the wings under the bird and tie the legs together using kitchen twine.
Fill the cavity loosely with the apple, onion, celery, and a generous sprinkle of both the onion and garlic powder. Scatter any extra aromatics in the pan around the turkey. Finally, pour the bottle of champagne and the apple cider over the turkey (it won’t wash off any of your butter because by this time the butter has chilled against the cold turkey).
ROASTING YOUR TURKEY...
Place your turkey in a 500ºF oven and roast for 30-40 minutes (you want the breast to be nicely browned but 40 minutes is the maximum time you should roast it at 500º) rotating the turkey 180º after the first 15 minutes). Make two breastplates out of aluminum foil large (to make a breastplate take two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil, shiny side up, large enough to completely cover the breasts and wings).
Remove the turkey from the oven, reduce the heat to 350ºF, baste the turkey (this is the only time you’ll baste the turkey), and apply a breastplate. Insert a probe thermometer, preferably one with a digital thermometer that sits outside the oven, directly through the foil, into the deepest part of the breast. Set the thermometer to go off when the deep breast meat reaches 161ºF.*. Do not open the oven, do not baste the turkey! Just leave it alone!
Once the turkey reaches 161ºF remove it from the oven, double check the temperature in both breasts, and check that the temperature in the dark meat is at least 180ºF. Transfer it to a cutting board, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes while you finish off your stuffing, bread, or other dishes that need a little oven time.
*We often get nervous and leave the bird to reach 165ºF before roasting but according to experts 161º is the perfect temp to pull it as the temperature will continue to rise after it’s pulled from the oven.
After it’s rested for thirty minutes, carve your turkey, serve and enjoy.
**Because the turkey was brined, the drippings are too salty to use straight for gravy so I usually cut them with a bit of low sodium turkey or chicken broth. Added to a basic roux, this makes a simple, delicious gravy.