Real Life Magazine, Fall 1999
Preparing turkey can be intimidating. Expectations run high, and let’s face it, as far as birds go, it’s big. There will be leftovers. If it wasn’t great on Thanksgiving, it’s not going to get better with age. We’ve all had the dry, mediocre turkey. Never again. What follows is simply the best method for producing a flawless roasted holiday fowl. Period. This is a turkey that friends and family will rave about and guarantees everyone will ask you to prepare for years to come. Of course, you can share the recipe, but if you choose to, lots of folks will look at you in surprise. Could this be true?
This is not so much a recipe as it is a cooking method that I first came across in Cook’s Illustrated magazine. The secret: brine the bird. Thats right, salt…and not just a little bit (don’t stop reading, it is completely rinsed before roasting).
The idea seemed odd, but as a Cook’s Illustrated addict I decided to give it a try. It’s wonderful. I can’t help but think that in some very distant day, it will turn up pressed between the pages of a journal or cookbook found in an antique shop. It will be splattered with cooking debris (as really good recipes are). Across the top will be a handwritten note: “excellent.”
Please read the entire recipe through before beginning:
One 12-15 pound fresh or defrosted turkey. Remove anything found within the body cavity. Rinse the bird inside and out completely. If your turkey is larger, double the amounts or use the alternative salting method in the directions below.
2 cups Kosher or 1 cup table salt.
Olive oil for brushing the breast.
A roasting pan (preferably a V-rack).
The basting sauce of your choice (I use half butter & olive oil infused with garlic, sage and thyme).
Prepare the brine. Mix the salt in 2 gallons of cold water in a large, clean container. If you’re fond of herbs, adding a bouquet of thyme and
bay leaf along with a few cloves of crushed garlic can be done at this time. Add the turkey and refrigerate or place in a very cools spot (40º F or less) for eight to 12 hours. My experience says the longer, the better. Alternately, rub the turkey inside and out with salt. Be exceptionally generous with the amount. Lift the skin where you can and rub salt underneath. Place a container large enough to hold the bird and cover with water. Cool as directed above.
When the alloted time has passed, remove the turkey from the brining solution. Wash it out as though your life depended on it. In my experience a clean bath tub is the easiest place to do this.
Cook stuffing in a separate pan.
Preheat oven to 325º F and place the oven rack as low as possible.
Tie the turkey legs together and brush with oil; Place breast side down on V-rack inside a roasting pan. No V-rack? Use oven-proof bowls or wadded aluminum fil to keep the turkey from toppling over. Add 2/3 cup of water to the roasting pan, or place a water filled pie pan on the bottom of the oven during cooking. Refill as needed.
Roast 2 hours for 18 pounds or less; 2½ hours for weights between 18-21 pounds and 3 hours if the weight is greater. Baste as desired through the “upside down” stage.
Remove turkey from oven. Find someone to help you flip the bird so that it is now breast up (easiest done with well protected hands).
Continue roasting until breast temperature registers 160º F and the thickest portion of the thigh registers 175-180º F on an instant read thermometer. This will be about 45 minutes to 1¼ hours longer depending on the size. If the breast isn’t browned enough to suit you as the thigh temperature nears the recommended temperature, turn the oven to 400º F during the last few moments of cooking. Watch carefully until the desired level of browning is reached.
Remove from oven a let stand for at least 20 minutes before carving.
Enjoy the juiciest, moistest turkey you’ve ever had!