The turkey is the centerpiece of most classic Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I always think of the scene from A Christmas Carol when the family’s dog makes off with the turkey and they all go out to Chinese for Christmas dinner. Misbehaving pets aside, you don’t have to stress over preparing the perfect holiday meal. Brining and roasting a Thanksgiving turkey ca be a bit overwhelming and daunting to even the most seasoned home cook. There are so many things that can go wrong with the turkey before dinner time, but you don’t have to worry about those if you follow the process below!
Thanksgiving Eve is going to be focused on brining and starting my turkey. I like to brine mine (completely thawed) for about 8 hours, so I am going to put him thawed, washed, and cleaned out (we don’t do giblets) in my brine. To tenderize him, I use some apple juice in my brine. I like the flavors as well as the acids in the lemons and juices I use (recipe will be below) to help break down the turkey a bit and make it soft and tender.
Brining a Thanksgiving Turkey
To brine my turkey – once he is completely ready – I fully immerse him in a cooler – inside of a brining bag with the brining fluid.
1 gallon water
½ table salt
Boil and cool to room temp.
Then the options are limitless! You can add herbs, vegies, fruits and juices to slowly infuse flavor to your turkey. I add the following to mine:
Fresh herbs – sage, thyme, oregano, and basil from my local grocer – I just put about three sprigs of each directly into the brine. I like to use whole cloves of garlic for the brine – I love garlic, but don’t want the powder or mince to stay behind when I’m done and “over garlic” my bird.
CAUTION: Don’t add any ingredients that are going to add to your salt content from this point forward.
Next I squeeze the juice of one lemon into my bag – I don’t worry about seeds, they are going to be discarded – throw in the lemon halves and all. Next, I add 2 quartered apples and one cup of apple juice.
All done. Once you have added your ingredients, let him hang out in his little spa for about 8 hours to fully integrate the flavors. Don’t over do the brine – this could result in a very tender, but very salty bird.
Be sure to add those ingredients to your shopping list – you really do want all ingredients on hand to have a richly complex compliment of flavors in your turkey.
Roasting a Thanksgiving Turkey
Once brined it is time to prepare your turkey for the oven. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
Remove your turkey from the brine and rinse thoroughly. You want to wash off any residue, salt, etc from the bird. Place turkey in your roasting dish (I use a foil pan set on top of a cookie sheet). Place 8 whole garlic cloves, the remainder of your herbs, one lemon, and one large, sweet onion, cut into 8ths inside the cavity of your turkey.
Using your clean, bare hand, run your hand between the skin and meat of the turkey and separate the skin from the meat, being very careful not to tear the skin. Be gentle and take your time.
Using two sticks of room temperature real butter, begin to spread the butter between the meat and skin in a generous coat. This is going to add some amazing flavor and moisture to your turkey. Cover tightly with foil and place in oven over night, basting occasionally.
Two hours before serving, take the foil off of the bird and continue to cook, browning the skin. Once done, remove all baking herbs, onions, seasonings, etc. from cavity and stuff with dressing.
Let your turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Turkeys are best served whole as they dry out quickly after they have been cut, but if you can’t serve immediately, carve and cover tightly with plastic wrap, before serving, you can revive slightly dry slices by drizzling with juices from the roasting pan.
2 large, sweet yellow onions
Fresh herbs of choice
2 sticks of real butter
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