I would hazard a guess that if there is a method of cooking a turkey (with the exception of sous vide), I have probably tried it. In over 30 years of cooking holiday turkeys, this is perhaps the most delicious turkey method of them all. Not only is the cooking time reduced by brining, the aromatics used to stuff it make for a truly magnificent bird (both in flavour and in presentation) for your holiday table.
If I was to be completely honest with you, the turkey served at the table is not my favourite. This is because what I really long for, instead of hot turkey with all the fixins, is the cold turkey sandwich eaten later. And my meat of choice from a roasted turkey is the breast.
More often than not, the turkey breast meat tends to be dry. This is not the case with this method of roasting a turkey. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen such a succulent breast on a holiday bird; it made for the best turkey sandwiches. Ever. Truly, there was not a speck of meat on this turkey that wasn’t sublime.
Not only that, but the advance preparation time is completely made up for in the much quicker cooking time. Even the advance preparation time doesn’t consume much time or effort…and it’s worth every single second. While you will need a container large enough to hold the bird and the brine, if you are cooking a smaller turkey, one of those jumbo ziplock bags may hold it all. Or, you could invest a few dollars in a five gallon plastic bucket, sold at most large hardware stores (Home Depot carries them for under $10.00). When brining, I use the pot from my turkey fryer (yes…I’ve fried many a turkey too) and it works beautifully.
I’ve got another little trick for you. Since I no longer stuff my turkeys (not only because they take longer to roast, but because the fear of harmful bacteria and overcooking the turkey to get the stuffing to a safe temperature), I figured out a way to make the neck cavity full and beautiful. By taking either a full orange, or a half of an orange (depending on the size of the turkey), and stuffing it under the skin of the neck cavity prior to roasting, you get that full, beautiful end of the bird.
Also…cooking temperature on a turkey is so important to a succulent bird; it is overcooking that creates that dry breast meat. The safe cooking temperature for the turkey is when the breast reaches 161 degrees. Now…here are two caveats. If your turkey comes with one of those pop-up indicators? Pull it out and throw it away. If you use that as an indicator, I can guarantee you your turkey will be dry.
It really is best to use a meat thermometer. Investing in one is not that expensive and they can be used for so many other things. And that brings me to the second caveat. Most cooking times for turkeys call for the turkey breast meat to reach 161 degrees F. The turkey will continue to cook when you remove it from the oven, so if you remove the bird when the breast temperature reaches 161, the turkey will (in my opinion) overcook as it rests. For this reason, I remove my turkeys when the breast temperature reaches between 151 and 154 degrees F. Since harmful bacteria dies at 140 degrees, and your turkey will continue to a temperature much higher than that, it is completely safe and your turkey will be perfect.
If you want to WOW the crowds at your next holiday meal, give this method a try. You will not be disappointed, and neither will your crowds.
- FOR THE BRINE:
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 quarts apple cider
- 1 gallon vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1½ teaspoons allspice berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 orange, quartered
- 1 gallon heavily iced water (or more, if needed to cover the turkey fully in liquid)
- 5 gallon bucket (I use the pot from my turkey fryer)
- FOR THE AROMATICS:
- 1 red apple, halved
- 2 oranges, halved
- 1 lemon, halved
- ½ onion
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 sprig sage
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- Canola oil
- salt and pepper
- garlic powder
- 4 tablespoons herbes de Provence*
- 2 cups brandy
- 2 cups water
- FOR THE BRINE:
- Combine the salt, brown sugar, cider, vegetable stock, peppercorns, allspice berries, bay leaves and quartered lemon and orange in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.
- Stir occasionally to dissolve the salt and sugar and bring to a boil.
- Remove the brine from the heat, discard the lemon and orange quarters, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
- FOR THE BRINING:
- Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket (or a large cooler).
- Remove the neck and giblet packet from the thawed turkey.
- Wash the turkey in cold water, both inside and out.
- Place the turkey breast side down in brine until it is fully immersed.
- Cover, and refrigerate or ice and set in cooler for 8 to 16 hours.
- FOR THE ROASTING:
- Place your oven rack on the lowest level.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Remove the turkey from the brine (discard the brine).
- Rinse the turkey with cold water, both inside and out.
- Pat dry with paper towels.
- Place the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan.
- Tuck the wings under the turkey.
- Stuff the neck cavity with an orange.
- In the main cavity of the turkey, stuff in the apple, orange, lemon and onion halves, as well as the cinnamon stick and herb sprigs (it doesn't matter how you do it, just stuff them in).
- Coat the turkey with a thin layer of neutral oil (I use Canola oil).
- Sprinkle the outside of the turkey with salt, pepper, garlic powder (sparingly) and herbes de Provence.
- Pour the brandy and the water into the bottom of the roasting pan (this will create steam that will further flavor the turkey as it roasts...plus incredible pan drippings for gravy).
- Put the turkey in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, LOWER the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
- Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast.
- Loosely tent the turkey with foil.
- Remove the turkey from the oven when the thermometer reading in the thickest part of the breast reaches between 151 to 154 degrees F. Leave the foil tent on the turkey; it will continue to cook and should reach 161 degrees in the 15-20 minutes of resting time prior to carving.
- A 14 to 20 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2½ hours of roasting.
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons dried marjoram
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
- 2 tablespoons dried savory
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- Mix all the dry herbs in a small bowl. Store in a glass jar, or an airtight container