So, count down to tukey day! With all the focus on the bird, one would think we would all have learned how to cook the perfect turkey by the time we moved out of mom and dad's. This was not the case for me. My mom (bless her heart) has had a problem with under-cooking poultry since my parents got married (at least that is what my father says). This may hold true for chicken, but certainly not with the big T. I learned growing up that a turkey must be roasted at 350 degrees for about 9 hours to ensure it was cooked fully. What this actually leaves you with is turkey that has the consistency of mat board, and tastes pretty close I would guess.
My mom has all but given up on turkey (actually making a marvelously under-cooked prime rib last year in an attempt to win back turkey-day points). And I would have too, if I hadn't found the magic of brined turkey through the genius TV chef, Alton Brown. This recipe makes far and away the best turkey I have ever had. So tender, moist and delicious. It is truly worth all the effort. I was afraid of creating a super salty bird, but apparently due to the magic of chemistry, the bird doesn't absorb the salt like a sponge. I could go in to detail, but... just trust me. Do not fear all the salt. The bird will not absorb it.
Here's the recipe that will impress even the most critical of food critics:
14-16 lbs. turkey, thawed if frozen
5 gallon unused and cleaned bucket
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable (or chicken) stock
1 1/2 tsp allspice berries
1 gallon heavily iced water
2 lemons, sliced in half
4 bay leaves
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 sage leaves
Day before roasting:
Combine brine, water and ice in the 5 gallon bucket, (I found mine at Lowes in the paint section. You can line it with a new trash bag if putting food in a giant paint bucket --no matter how clean-- gives you the heeby jeebies). Place turkey with inerds removed, breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it remains fully immersed. Cover and refrigerate (or stick in the garage if you live in the tundra... must be keep at below 40 degrees) for 8-16 hours. Ours was in for about 14, and was AWESOME! Turn bird once half way through brining.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Remove bird from brine, and rinse inside and out with cold water. Place bird on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Combine aromatic ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Drain and add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with sage and rosemary. Tuck wings underneath the bird and coat skin with oil.
Roast turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. roast for about 2-2 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the breast reads 151 degrees. Let turkey rest loosely covered with foil for at least 15 minutes before carving.
You may also want to build a breast plate for the turkey, and put it on when you change the temp. from 500 to 350. This will ensure the breast doesn't get too browned. A breast plate is simply a cover made out of aluminum foil, shaped to fit along the breast (don't cover the legs).
(Photo by James Carrier)