Despite the fact that turkey gets a bad name in the way of ease of cooking, it’s really not all that bad. I still don’t understand why the cooking of the Thanksgiving turkey is the litmus test for a new chef’s mettle. Screw up the turkey and you’re in deep doo-doo. Craft a stunning bird with crisp skin and moist white meat, you can cook anything.
Well, in actuality, whether you can cook or not, if you follow a couple of simple steps, you can create an expertly seasoned and prepped turkey that will fool people into thinking that you are a vet in the kitchen. Take the praise. You deserve it for being wise enough to know you can fake it ’til you make it.
My two biggest tips are to start the day before by brining your turkey. Michael Chiarello has a great video on brining if you’ve never done it before, and it is well-worth watching. The process leverages osmosis to replace the unseasoned liquid in the turkey with the herby, salted water of the brine. It’s like injecting the meat, but on a whole ‘nother level. Next, and Paula Deen will certainly swoon at this one, massage that bird some kind of dirty with a compound butter. A buttered turkey is a happy one, and as your guests grin at your handiwork, it’s their response to everyone’s primal love of butter. Other than that, you don’t have to do anything special to make a delicious bird. No gimmicks or funky marinades. Just a perfect bird that was stress-free to prepare and guaranteed awesomeness.
Herb Roasted Turkey
10-12 lb. turkey (fresh if you can get one, or defrosted)
1/4 c. of kosher salt
1 bottle of white wine
2 lemons, halved
1 onion, peeled and quartered
10 bay leaves
3 tbs. of whole black peppercorns
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 sprigs of thyme
3 sprigs of sage
cold water to cover
1 stick of butter, softened
1/4 tsp. of paprika
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 tbs. of salt
1 tbs. of herbes des provence
1 stalk of celery, cut in 4 pieces
1 apple, quartered
2 c. of wine
Begin with a large stock pot big enough to hold your turkey plus some extra room. Add the salt and wine to the pot and stir well to combine, until salt is dissolved. Next add the lemons, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme and sage. Pop the turkey into the pot and add enough cool water to cover. Clear out your fridge and then pop the turkey in and let hangout overnight.
Right before you prep your turkey for roasting, mix the butter, paprika, pepper, salt and herbes des provence in a small bowl. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Take out your turkey and remove it from the brining liquid. Place it on a cutting board and dry it off with paper towels. Fish the lemons, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and sage out of the brine and set aside. Dump the brining liquid – you can’t use it for anything else, so toss it. Back to your turkey, slip your fingers under the skin of the breast to make a pocket. Scoop up a few tablespoons of the butter and rub it between the skin and the meat. Now slip your hands down the sides of the breast to the thighs and rub some more butter in this pocket. Use the remaining butter all over the skin of the turkey, from both the front to the back. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with the reserved lemons, rosemary, thyme and sage.
Set a rack over a roasting pan, and line the pan with the celery, onions, bay leaves and apples. Put the turkey in the rack, breast-side down – this allows the fat and juices from the dark meat to keep the white meat moist. Pour two cups of white wine into the roasting pan. Put the turkey into the oven and roast for 1 hour face down.
Turn the oven down to 350°. Grab two sets of tongs or those crazy turkey transfer tongs and pull the turkey out of the oven. Flip the turkey over and return to the rack – if you are using tongs, put one in each cavity of the turkey to make it easier to flip. Return to the oven and continue to cook until both the white meat and dark meat register 165° at the thickest part and all juices run clear, about another 1 1/2 hours.
Remove turkey from oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.