All summer long I’ve been watching my sage plant grow, looking forward to stuffing my Thanksgiving turkey with it. Now it’s Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving and I’m about to transform my $6.77 Safeway turkey into a moist, tender, fragrant roast. I brine the turkey using fresh herbs, honey and lemons. Before roasting the turkey, I stuff it with fresh herbs and slather it with garlic-infused olive oil instead of butter.
I bought my turkey on Saturday and it has been defrosting for the last three days on a pan in the fridge, and I just made the brine. I adapted the brine recipe years ago from Bon Appétit. Their recipe is for a 19- to 20-pound, bird, but works fine with my almost 16 pound one. I prefer to brine in a bucket, as you never know what chemicals are in the plastic garbage bags. I went to my local deli (Saul’s) and asked them to give me a 5 gallon white pickle bucket. You can also ask a bakery for a frosting bucket. You can also buy a brining bag. My husband found one for $6. But when we lifted the turkey in the brining bag with the brine inside it broke! So don’t do that! Instead put the sealed brining bag inside a garbage bag for extra strength.
2 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup honey or maple syrup
A bunch each of fresh thyme, rosemary and sage
8 large garlic cloves – peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons coarsely cracked black pepper
2 lemons — cut in eighths
Water to cover turkey
Heat a large pot with water, salt, and honey, and stir until they dissolve. Pour into the bucket or brining bag along with enough ice and cold water to fill it about 1/3 or so. Alternatively, heat about 4 cups (1 quart) of water and stir in honey and salt on Monday night before Thanksgiving. Let cool, then store in the refrigerator until Tuesday morning.
Add fresh herbs, lemon quarters, and garlic. Grind the pepper into the water and stir until most of the ice melts. Rinse the turkey inside and out,and reserve the giblets for soup and gravy.
Tear off the large piece of fat near the bottom cavity, wrap in plastic and freeze it. You will later mix this with herbs to rub under the breast skin.
Place turkey in the bucket or brining bag so that both cavities fill with brine and the large cavity end is up. Add enough cold water so that the turkey is submerged. Cover, and place in the refrigerator for 18 to 24 hours.
On Wednesday morning, rinse turkey inside and out. Place large cavity-side down into the bucket (or a pot if using a brining bag) and let it drain for two hours in the refrigerator. Flip it so the other cavity can drain and leave it in the fridge for another hour or two. Then pat it dry and set on a rack over the roasting pan. Let it air dry, uncovered in the refrigerator for another 18-24 hours.
Leave a cube of butter out overnight so it will be soft on Thanksgiving Day.
On Thanksgiving morning, preheat oven to 400’. Rinse turkey and transfer to the serving platter and pat dry. Clean the roasting pan thoroughly and dry it. Spray both pan and roasting rack with canola oil spray.
Ingredients to stuff and surround turkey:
1 cube softened unsalted butter
8 cloves garlic
6 bay leaves
3 stalks celery
1 large red onion
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch thyme
several large sprigs rosemary, plus more for decoration
several large sprigs sage, plus more for decoration
garlic olive oil
Cheesecloth and heavy aluminum foil
Chop the frozen fat finely, add 1/2 cup (1 cube) softened butter, and mix in fresh minced herbs (garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (while singing “Scarborough Fair”) as well as a spoonful of rubbed sage, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and a bit of chopped onion.
Stuff turkey in both cavities with fresh chopped garlic, celery, red onion, leeks, parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, sage, orange and lemon wedges.
Place the rack in the pan and fill the spaces under and around it with more herbs, and as many chopped red onions, leeks, celery and carrots as will fit, and fill with water to about an inch below where the turkey will sit. Place the turkey on the rack, breast side up, and oil the breast side of the turkey with garlic olive oil and grind a bit of pepper over it. Turn it so it is breast side down and oil and pepper the back side. No need to add any salt, as the brine has already salted the turkey.
With turkey breast down, roast for 2 ½ hours. Set timer for 30 minutes to baste with the liquid that is under the rack. Add more water if needed to keep it to an inch below the turkey rack. Rotate the pan 180′ several times during cooking. When skin becomes crisp and brown, cover with a piece of cheesecloth and tent with foil. Baste the skin over the cheesecloth.
After 2 ½ hours, remove turkey from oven and carefully turn it so that it is breast side up. (I just bought a turkey turner for this. If you don’t have one, use oven mitts covered with paper towels to grab the turkey.) Ask someone to help you hold the rack. Tuck the wing tips under the shoulders.
Insert a food thermometer temperature in the meatiest part of the inner thigh. After the breast browns, cover with cheesecloth and tent with foil. Continue roasting, rotating and basting for another 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the thermometer reads 165 °F. Then insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast to make sure it is also at 165 °F. Larger turkeys will of course take an hour or more time.
Remove turkey from oven and let sit for 20 minutes on the serving dish to allow the juices to set and make carving easier. Now it’s time to make your gravy.
Use the liquid and roasted vegetables at the bottom of the pan for gravy. Remove large pieces of herbs from the liquid then pour liquid into a fat separating cup. Pour defatted liquid into your gravy. Follow directions for Roasted Mushroom Turkey Gravy
Happy Thanksgiving! There is much to be grateful for.