Without a doubt the thing that most intimidated me about hosting my first Thanksgiving was cooking the turkey. I mean sure, I’ve roasted chickens before, but no chicken is as large as the 23 pound bird we brought home from the butcher. To be honest, before last year I never even liked Thanksgiving turkey. In my experience it always seemed dried out and bland, but somehow it was still the centerpiece of the meal. Drowning it in gravy didn’t seem a good solution either – I mean, why even eat it at all if it doesn’t taste good?
Thankfully good old Alton Brown gave me all the confidence I needed in tackling the task. Have you seen the episode of Good Eats about roast turkey? If not, you need to. It is always played numerous times throughout the month of November, but in case you don’t catch it, check it out here. According to Food Network, this has been their most popular recipe for six years running and it is obvious why. Thanksgiving is a big holiday, and the turkey is a big deal. Let’s do it right! As Alton explains in the episode, brining makes for a wonderful turkey by locking in moisture and flavor.
For me I think the biggest issue of making the turkey was logistics. Namely, what sort of container is large enough to hold the bird and all the brine without making the level of brine so shallow that it doesn’t come close to covering the turkey. This is harder than it may sound. My best advice from last year is to figure out what container this will be early on. Everything we had available – cooler, various large storage containers, etc. were either way too big or a few too small. Ben ended up running out to the hardware store the day before Thanksgiving and found a perfect size galvanized metal cooler that was exactly what we needed. Also consider where you will be able to store the bird once it is in the brine. If your fridge is full of various side dishes for the following day, you’ll need a plan B. I fully intend to purchase a second refrigerator for our garage some day but for now, the chilly Indiana nighttime works just fine.
One final entertaining tip is to plan some sort of garnish to go around your finished turkey. Last year I happened to have some leftover green and purple kale from another recipe, so it worked well. I think a combination of greens and fruit looks great, but whatever you do, at least use something. After you spend all that time making a lovely, perfectly browned bird you want to present it well.
1 (14-16 lb.) fresh turkey*
For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
1½ tsp. allspice berries
1½ tsp. choppe candied ginger (I omitted)
1 gallon heavily iced water
For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
To prepare the brine, combine the salt, brown sugar, vegetable stock, peppercorns, allspice and ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the solids. Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until ready to use.
The night before you plan to serve the turkey, combine the brine and ice water in a 5 gallon bucket (or larger for a bigger bird). Place the thawed turkey (innards removed) breast side down in the brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird so it is fully immersed. Cover and refrigerate or set in a cool area for 8-16 hours, turning once halfway through brining.
Preheat the oven to 500˚ F. Remove the bird from the brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. (Be sure to clean out your sink well after this step!)
Place the bird on the wire rack inside a roasting pan. Pat dry with paper towels.
Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick and 1 cup water in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add the steeped aromatics to the cavity of the turkey along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and brush the skin liberally with canola oil.
Roast the turkey on the lowest rack of the oven at 500˚ F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and lower the oven temperature to 350˚ F. Set the thermometer alarm, if available, for 161˚ F. (A 14-16 lb. bird will take about 2-2½ hours.) Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil for 15 minutes before carving and serving.
*You can certainly make a larger turkey with this recipe. I made a 23-pounder last year. It will obviously take longer to cook through, and an instant-read thermometer is absolutely essential for knowing when the bird is properly cooked. You also could use a frozen turkey, but I wouldn’t recommend it. For one thing, many frozen turkeys are injected with a salt-laden preservative that will cause your bird to be overly salted after brining. And plus, it’s Thanksgiving! Go for the best quality ingredients available – fresh tastes better. If using frozen, thaw in the refrigerator 2-3 days before roasting.
Source: Alton Brown via Food Network