It is that time of year again when all the print ads have those gorgeously browned photos of a perfectly roasted turkey. Then everyone starts searching for a new turkey recipe to try out on their family. I used to collect recipes to try year after year trying to recreate what my eyes were telling me this classic Norman Rockwell image a turkey should taste like.
After 12 years of testing a wide variety of recipes (and sometimes doing 2 or 3 different recipes in during a single Thanksgiving season), I have done all sorts of different types: Asian inspired, BBQ, rotisserie, smoked, brined, all sorts of different herbs, seasonings, aromatics, and even fruit. (I never deep fried for two reasons: fear of fire and the highest incidence of ER visits on Thanksgiving every year is from deep fryer turkey accidents.) I finally came across this recipe one year in Parade magazine. I saw the title of the recipe, and I thought to myself what an arrogant name for a recipe. Obviously, I felt compelled to test it just because of the arrogance of the name.
Now eight years later (if you are counting 20 years of turkeys, then yes, doing the math, I did start cooking them in early college), this is the recipe I make every year. Believe it or not, I am not tempted at all to try any other recipe. I don’t need or want to make whatever is trending at the moment. I want my turkey to be the classic, evenly browned turkey that has great tasting white and dark meat. I want it to look and taste exactly what you would imagine this Norman Rockwell turkey would be in real life.
There are some suggestions to keep in mind when undertaking this recipe. I strongly encourage you to stick to the weight guidelines. A bird that is under 15 pounds is a hen (toms are always the bigger birds) which is far better tasting as the flesh isn’t tough. It also keeps the cooking time down so you don’t run the risk of drying out. If you have a large crowd, I suggest doing two turkeys or a turkey roll earlier during the day and carving that up to serve. It rewarms well in a foil covered pan in the oven with a little stock (I use the giblet stock I make ahead). This way you will still end up with a gorgeous turkey for table-side carving.
Although you can turn the turkey very carefully with wads of paper towels, it works much better to use a pair of insulated BBQ gloves. They can handle the heat and won’t absorb any of the butter and moisture from the turkey. I also prefer to use a V-rack myself since I find it works better for me to hold the turkey in the position that I want it to be in. I also use a silicon brush to baste the turkey since it is easy to clean and doesn’t risk carrying any off-flavors from anything else you cooked with before.
Does the brining issue get you stumped on how and where? Some people brine using a large cooler to free up refrigerator space. I use a large basin/bowl and a large plastic bag so that when I tie up the bag, the turkey remains submerged in the brine without spilling or leaking all over the refrigerator.
Lastly, I may be biased, but I really do prefer the flavor of fresh, free range, organically raised turkeys. However, those are pricey. You can still get a good tasting turkey using a frozen one.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Enjoy your turkey for me since this is the first year I won’t be roasting a turkey since we are officially moved out for our relocation to San Diego and thus beginning a return to apartment living for the first time since I’ve been married.
Better than Best Roast Turkey
Serving Size : 12
2 cups kosher salt
12 pounds turkey — up to 14 pounds
3 medium onions — chopped
2 small carrots — chopped
2 celery ribs — chopped
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted (more may be needed)
Rinse turkey and reserve giblets, neck and tail for gravy. Dissolve salt in 2 gallons of cold water in a large container. If you have extra fresh thyme add sprigs to salt water. Add turkey to water and set aside for 4 to 6 hours.
Remove turkey and rinse well. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack set over a pan and refrigerate, uncovered, 8 to 24 hours.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss 1/3 of onions, carrots, and celery with 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 T of butter in a medium bowl and fill cavity with mixture. Tuck wings behind back and truss turkey with a five foot length of kitchen twine.
Scatter remaining vegetables and thyme in shallow roasting pan, adding 1 cup of water over the vegetables. Prepare V-rack by lining with foil and spraying with vegetable spray. Cut about 30 slits in foil to allow drippings to flow through. Brush turkey with butter and set turkey breast side down on rack. Brush back with butter and roast in oven for 45 minutes.
Remove turkey and brush back with butter. Rotate turkey to leg/wing side up and brush with butter. Add 1/2 cup of water if liquid has evaporated. Return to oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove turkey and brush exposed surfaces with butter. Rotate turkey so that the opposite left wing side is up and brush with butter. Return to oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove turkey and brush exposed surfaces with butter. Rotate turkey breast side up. Add more water to pan if needed. Return to oven and roast for 30 to 45 minutes longer. Move turkey from rack to carving board and let rest about 20 to 30 minutes. Carve and serve with gravy, if desired.