Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Brined and Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter

I know what you're thinking.

"'s AFTER Thanksgiving...and for that matter, Christmas was nearly a week ago...what in tarnation is she doing cooking a turkey???"

Well...I've had a 17 pound turkey in my deep freezer since last November.  As in November of 2008.   And I was starting to feel guilty because I hadn't cooked it yet.  Hadn't even thought about it.  Believe it or not, I was rather intimidated at the thought.  After all, we go out of town for Thanksgiving every year, and I had no reason to cook a 17 pound turkey. 

But my husband is in the middle of a major renovation in our house right now, and my FIL is here helping.    (I'll post about it later on my other blog).  David thought if I cooked the turkey, then we'd have lots of leftovers...along with the 6 pound ham I made Christmas Eve (and there's plenty of that still in the fridge too).  This seemed like a good idea. 

So I dug the big bird out, and starting thinking about how to roast it.  And I started praying too (is there a novena for nervous cooks?)  I knew I shouldn't be anxious...but I admit it...I was a wreck until I got the turkey in the oven.  I freaked out again while making the gravy.  But I remembered to breath...and everything turned out fine, better than fine actually.  This turkey was probably one of the best I've ever the top 3 for sure. 

I'm going to show you how to brine your turkey...and I really believe you should do this.  The brine (essentiallly a salt solution) is absorbed by the meat, thus rendering it juicer and more favorful than if you simply roasted the turkey.  I brined and roasted a chicken not too long ago, and I'll never not brine a whole bird was simply delicious. 

All right, enough talk.  Let's talk turkey...I mean...let's roast turkey!

Brined and Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter
adapted from The Best Recipe by Cooks Illustrated 


2 gallons water
2 cups table salt OR 4 cups kosher salt


1 completely thawed turkey (mine was 17 pounds)
1 stick softened butter
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped, plus 4 whole leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped, plus 6 whole stems
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped, plus 2 whole stems 
salt and black pepper
1 medium carrot, coarsly chopped (I just used some baby carrots)
2 stalks celery, coarsly chopped
3 medium onions, coarsly chopped
1 medium navel orange, quartered

Let's start with the brine.  You'll want to make it the day before you plan to roast the turkey.

In a large, clean bucket or cooler, stir the water and salt together until the salt is completely dissolved.  I realize you might liked to have seen a picture of the brine itself...but hey, it's just very salty water, okay?

Take the turkey out of it's packaging and remove the neck and giblets.  (Save 'em for gravy if you'd like). 

Rinse the turkey thoroughly inside and out with cold water. Immerse the turkey in the brine and set in a cold place (40 degrees or less) or in the fridge for 4-6 hours.  We put some ice in the cooler (not too much...we didn't want to water down the brine) to make sure it stayed cold enough. 

After 4-6 hours, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels, inside and out.  Set on a rack over a shallow pan large enough to hold the turkey...

and place uncovered in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight. 

This drying process will ensure a nice, golden brown bird with crisp skin...and there isn't anything wrong with crisp turkey my opinion anyway ;-). 

When you're ready to roast, sprinkle the inside of the turkey with salt and pepper, and toss in 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Ttake one third of the carrots, celery, and onions and stuff them into the main cavity of the turkey, along with 2 whole sage leaves, 3 whole thyme stems, 1 whole rosemary stem, and the orange quarters (not shown...they were camera shy...sorry ;-). 

Now take the finely chopped herbs (the sage, thyme, and rosemary), and mix it with the rest of the butter, along with plenty of salt and pepper (I'd say about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 3/4 teaspoon of pepper) until well combined. 

Carefully loosen the skin of the turkey under the breast, as far into the thigh and drumstick as possible.  Use your hands to push the herb butter under the skin...again going as far as you can...being careful not to tear the skin.  I wish I could have taken a pic for you...but my hands were rather messy. 

At this point, we need to truss the turkey.  My turkey's drumsticks were already held together with a nifty little plastic contraption, but the wings needed to be tucked under the breast and held close to the sides of the turkey so they wouldn't overcook.  So all I did was use a piece of cotton twine.  I'm not sure I can adequently tell you how to here's a video tutorial courtesy of Alton's really easy, I promise. 

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and move an oven rack to the lowest position. 

Have a large roasting pan ready to go.  Scatter the rest of the carrots, celery, and onions in the bottom of the pan, along with the rest of the whole herbs and 1 cup of water.  I had a roasting pan that belonged to David's grandmother, but it wasn't big enough.  I was able to borrow one from my friend Mary at the last minute...thanks girl!

Set your v-rack in the pan.  You really need this to elevate the turkey properly...a small flat rack works fine too), and place the turkey breast side up. 

Melt the rest of the herb butter in the microwave and brush half of it over the bird.  Flip the turkey over and brush with the last of the butter.  Leave the turkey breast side down and place in the oven. 

Roast the turkey breast side down for 2 hours, basting once per hour with the pan juices. Here's what our turkey looked like at this point.

Using a couple of wads of paper towels, carefully flip the turkey breast side up...

baste with the juices, and roast until the thigh registers 165 with an instant read meat thermometer (this is what the USDA recommends).  The turkey should be a deep golden brown...if it starts to get too dark, tent loosely with foil.

Here's the things folks. Your roasting temperature and time really depend on the size of your turkey. I felt after reviewing the directions in The Best Recipe that the recommended temperature of 250 degrees would not only take forever, but would result in a dry turkey. Right as I was contemplating...a good friend of mine called. Julie has cooked about 20 turkeys in her lifetime, and she and I settled on a temperature of 315 because my oven runs a tad hot (othewise, I would have roasted it at 325). Here's a turkey cooking guide from that I feel is pretty accurate:

My turkey weighed 17 pounds, and it was done in 3 hours, 45 minutes.  Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. 

WOW!!! Isn't she a beauty? 

My father-in-law is the designated carver in the family.  So we handed him the electric knife, and he did a lovely job.  I'm sorry (again!) becauseI have no pictures of cut up turkey...I was too busy whisking the life outta the gravy...which also turned out awesome.  The breast meat was perfectly cooked...juicy, flavorful, and tender; the dark meat was succulent to say the least.  Joshua ate one of the drumsticks...the entire thing...and the rest of the kids declared Mommy's turkey to be "yummy!"  My FIL said it turned out "just fine," which for me, was the highest of praise :-). 

I felt such a wave of relief after dinner...I really don't know why I was so nervous about cooking a turkey.  I suppose every cook worth their salt has one phobia...I guess mine was turkey.  So now I can say I know how to roast a turkey...successfully...and PHEW...I need a margarita!

So don't turn tail and run away from a turkey...if I can do can too! God bless your table tonight!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had a nervous breakdown before I cooked my first turkey too! This looks delish. I'm a firm believer that turkey should be year round. Gret cook and freeze food!