Sunday, November 20, 2005

My favorite turkey recipe!

While dining one night at a Brazilian's house nearly twenty years ago, I recall going mad over what they were cooking. What, I asked, was in it to make it so good? This launched the cook and me into a long discussion about why he wasn't going to tell me—that in his culture, he thought it better for the guests to divine what was being cooked, to hang around the kitchen and learn by watching, like he did as a child with his own mother's cooking.

Crap, I say.

That kind of protectionist thinking only guarantees the gradual decay and extinction of cultures. It is the reason so many great recipes (and languages and religions) are lost forever, and the reason why Christianity is now a burgeoning religion—you are always welcome in a Christian church, no matter what faith you are. It's Branding 101: make your product accessible and get the consumer to own the product as their own.

This Thanksgiving, I'm making a turkey from a recipe I found in the newspaper. I've cooked this recipe five years running and always receive praises about it because the turkey remains juicy from being soaked in water overnight. In fact, this recipe is so bloody good, I can't not share it with everyone. Just knowing my friends and family may try it out fills me with appropriate holiday spirit! So, in honor of my (overly-protectionist and now-forgotten) Brazilian cook, here is the complete recipe I've made for five years straight, which I also plan on making this coming Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Happy Turkey day!

Last year, our staff cooked 28 turkeys to find the best method of producing a plump, juicy bird. Our favorite—by far—was the turkey that we brined before roasting. Brining produces an incomparably juicy turkey, with wonderful flavor and texture. If you don't have room to brine the turkey in the refrigerator, use an ice chest. Place the turkey and the brine in a double-layer food-grade plastic garbage bag such as Glad brand; bags made from recycled material may not be safe to store food. Smoosh out all the air pockets, close the bags and pack in the chest with ice. The bird will happily—and safely—brine away.

Brining works best with a 12- to 16-pound unstuffed turkey roasted at 400 degrees. If you need to serve more people, it's best to roast two smaller turkeys. However, if you do choose to brine a bigger bird, figure that a 20- to 22-pound brined turkey may take 3 1/2-4 1/2 hours to cook. The oven temperature should be the same (350 degrees) as for the unbrined Big Bird instructions that follow. Warning: roasting times may vary depending on the temperature of the turkey when it goes in the oven, the accuracy of the oven thermostat, and how many times you open the oven door (each time the door is opened, the oven temperature drops 75 degrees).

You can make gravy from the drippings of a brined bird according to the accompanying instructions.



For brining:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • A double-layer food-grade plastic garbage bag such as Glad brand

  • Ice & an ice chest (for bigger birds that don't fit in the fridge)

  • 2 1/2 gallons cold water

  • 2 cups kosher salt

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 bay leaves, torn into pieces

  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, or 4 tablespoons dried

  • 1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled

  • 5 whole allspice berries, crushed

  • 4 juniper berries, smashed

For roasting & basting:

  • 1/2 cups chicken stock

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground pepper

  • V-rack (to support the turkey)

  • Large turkey pan


  1. Place the water in a large non-reactive pot that can easily hold the liquid and the turkey.

  2. Add all the ingredients and stir for a minute or two until the sugar and salt dissolve.

  3. Put the turkey into the brine and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, depending on how salty you would like the taste. If the turkey floats to the top, cover it with plastic wrap and weight it down with a plate and cans to keep it completely submerged in the brine. Note: You may halve or double the recipe. (If the turkey is in an ice chest, smoosh out all the air pockets, close the bags and pack in the chest with ice; the important thing is to prepare enough brine to cover the turkey completely.)

  4. Before roasting, remove the bird from the brine and drain well. Pat dry.

  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread 2 tablespoons of softened butter over the skin 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground pepper over the skin and in the cavity.

  6. Tuck the wing tips under, truss the legs (cover them waluminumnium foil) and place the turkey on a v-shaped rack in a roasting pan.

  7. Tent the breast with foil and place the turkey in the oven.

  8. After about 1 hour, remove the foil and baste the turkey with 1/2 cup chicken stock. Re-baste it with pan drippings and more stock, if desired, every 20 minutes.

  9. Start checking the internal temperature after about 1 1/2 hours of roasting time. If the legs begin to overbrown, cover them loosely with foil. Roast about 2-2 3/4 hours until the internal temperature measured in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees. When pricked with a fork, the juices should run clear.

  10. Before carving let the turkey rest 20-30 minutes after taking it out of the oven; the internal temperature will continue to rise several degrees.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Prepare a 20- to 22-pound turkey as directed above, but double the amount of softened butter, salt and pepper.

  3. Roast and baste (using about 1 cup of stock) according to the above directions.

  4. Cover the legs with foil if they begin to overbrown.

  5. Roast until the internal thigh temperature registers 165 degrees, about 3 1/2 hours.



  • Pan drippings from brined turkey

  • 3 1/2-4 cups of turkey stock or chicken broth

  • 1 cup unsalted butter

  • 1 cup flour

  • Herbs, wine, or pepper to taste


  1. Pan juices from a brined bird may be saltier than from an unbrined one, so you may not want to use all of them.

  2. Strain the pan drippings from the turkey roasting pan into a freezer-proof container.

  3. Cool the drippings, then freeze them so the fat will rise to the top and harden.

  4. Meanwhile, combine equal amounts of unsalted butter and flour (about 1 cup of each).

  5. Cook this roux over medium heat, stirring, until it begins to look grainy, about 3-4 minutes.

  6. Heat about 3 1/2-4 cups of turkey stock or chicken broth or equal amounts of water and stock in a sauce pot.

  7. Whisk in a bit of the roux and bring to a simmer to thicken.

  8. Add more roux, whisking, until the gravy thickens as desired. (You may not need all the roux; any leftover can be refrigerated or frozen for later.)

  9. Remove the pan drippings from the freezer and discard the hardened fat off the top.

  10. Add the drippings to the gravy, a tablespoon at a time, to balance the seasonings.

  11. Add herbs, wine or pepper to taste, as desired.

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