One of the best things about brining your turkey is that it cooks faster. No more getting up at dawn to get your turkey in the oven. This 13 lb. turkey took just 2 1/2 hours to cook. Since turkey is better the longer it rests, you have a good 45 minutes to an hour with your oven freed up to bake or heat up your side dishes. If you are new to roasting a turkey, or just want a refresher, please click here. I have lots of tips and tricks for making your best turkey ever. Keep in mind that most store-bought turkeys will be injected with a saline solution. Not only does this add to the total weight (that you have to pay for) but often results in an overly salty bird. Companies are required to state on the label if they have injected the bird with any solution. Safeway’s O Organic turkey is free of solution, and at $2.99 a pound is a good deal for an organic bird. New Season’s certified humanely raised organic turkeys will run about a dollar more per pound, and a pasture raised bird will be closer to $6 per pound. This aromatic apple cider brine will impart a mild and sweet flavor to your turkey as well as an intoxicating aroma, filling your house with Thanksgivingy goodness.
Frozen turkeys take about 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds to defrost, so be sure to start thawing it in the fridge in its’ original packaging about four days ahead. The turkey needs to sit in the brine for 24 hours, so it needs to be thawed completely 24 hours before you plan to roast it. When you are ready to brine it, rinse it off and pat it dry with paper towels. If you are using a fresh turkey, simply rinse and pat dry. Be sure to remove any offal from the cavity and neck first. Line a large container with a plastic bag, big enough to hold your turkey. Pour the wine into the container and add the onions, apples, and fresh herbs.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the dried herbs and spices. As they warm you will notice that they start to release their aromas. Toast the herbs for about three minutes, being careful not to burn them.
Add the salt, sugar, and cider and stir to dissolve, about four minutes more. When the salt is dissolved, add the cider mixture to the big brining pot. Add some cold water to cool it down and submerge the turkey in the liquid, adding more water until the turkey is completely submerged. Tie the bag and weight it down with a plate if necessary. Place the whole brining pot into the fridge or cooler, and keep it cold for 24 hours.
Take the turkey out of the fridge an hour before you plan to roast it. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Do not rinse the turkey, just brush off any herbs that might be stuck to it. Pat it dry, really dry, every nook and cranny, the inside too, and place it in the roasting pan on a rack. Slather it with 1 stick of softened butter. No need to salt it, the brine has done the seasoning for you.
Roast the turkey for about 30 minutes at 425 to seal in the juices, then reduce the heat to 400 and continue roasting for another hour and a half. Check the oven about half way through – if the drippings are smoking or there are not many drippings, pour a cup of water into the pan. After 2 hours total roasting, check the temperature with a meat thermometer in the thick part of the thigh. Your turkey is done when it gets to about 160 degrees. The temperature will continue to rise a bit during the resting time. You might be surprised to find that your turkey is done after just two hours. The resting is very important. If you carve right away, all the juices will run out all over the place. Resting allows the juices to be redistributed through the bird and keeps it from being dry. Keep it covered with foil until ready to carve. Please click here if you want to read my rant about carving the turkey at the table.
Make the gravy:
For the gravy, you need to have some turkey stock or good quality chicken stock. Make your own turkey stock the day before with the neck of the turkey. It usually comes stuffed inside the cavity of the turkey. When you are getting your turkey ready to brine, take the neck out, pat it dry, and salt it. Heat a T. of butter in a saucepan until it is sizzling. Add the turkey neck and brown it well all over. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and parsley. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fill the pot with water as high as you can go, at least four cups. Bring it to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Let it simmer for a couple of hours, or until about half of the liquid has evaporated. If you just don’t have time to do this, you can buy a good quality chicken stock as a replacement. Heat your stock up to get it ready for making gravy if you made it the day before.
If you have a gas range you can make your gravy right in the roasting pan over two burners, using all the yummy drippings that are essential to good gravy. If you have an electric range, you could damage the surface by trying to cook on two burners at once. In this case you need to scrape all the drippings into a saucepan. Really scrape all the brown bits (the fond) and gunk, that’s where the flavor is. Heat the drippings over medium heat. If there is a lot of fat, try to skim some of it off and discard it. When you cook the turkey at a high temperature, you probably won’t have too much fat in the drippings. Add two T. of butter, and whisk until melted and bubbly. Sprinkle the flour over and continue whisking constantly until it is smooth, like paste. Let the flour mixture cook while stirring, for about a minute. Slowly whisk in two cups of the heated turkey stock in a thin stream. It should begin to thicken almost immediately and should continue to bubble. Continue adding the stock until it’s the thickness that you want. Taste for seasoning. If the gravy is too thick, add a little hot water to thin it and taste it again for seasoning. If the gravy is to thin, let it bubble for a few minutes to see if it thickens up. If not, you can make a smooth paste with a couple T. of cornstarch and a t. of water. Whisk the paste into the boiling gravy and it should thicken right away. If you notice any lumps in your gravy it’s best to strain it with a mesh sieve before serving.
Click here for past Thanksgiving recipes
Click here for 10 Things You Can Do Today to Get Ready For Thanksgiving