Thanksgiving Turkey

This is from 2005, reposted for anyone who’s in charge of turkey this year, but needs a recipe.  The only things I would add to this post:  (1) If it all possible, use a Foster Farm turkey.  It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it.  And this recipe won’t work for kosher turkeys, which have been salted already (or you can use a kosher turkey if you want to skip the brining, but what fun is that?).  I’ve never tried Butterball, which of course, claims to be the juiciest of the bunch.  Whatever you get, at a minimum, make sure its Grade A certified (most supermarket ones are).  (2)  I just saw that Safeway sells the “Poultry Bouquet” which is mentioned here.  Use 2 or 3 packs.  Grab an extra to use as an aromatic for the carcass while roasting; just soak it first.  These herbs are mild, so its okay to go a little overboard.  The most important herb in this recipe is sage.  (3)  Thermometer alarms are easily obtainable at Bed Bath & Beyond.  (4)  I learned from ATK that various brands of kosher salts vary in salinity (1/4 cup table salt = 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt = 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Morton kosher salt).  I use Morton.

Here it is, from Nov 21, 2005:

I used to complain about two things about Thanksgiving turkey: 
(1) it was too dry and (2) there was never enough gravy–Cantonese=lots
of gravy.  Because my parents own a small business, every
Thanksgiving we’d make several turkeys for a company lunch.  Like
the “teacher who got tired of getting sick” who then formulated
Airborne, I got tired of the dry turkey.  So after some
FoodNetwork, internet research, and some trial and error, I’ve finally
settled on doing turkey in a way that makes me happy.  I’m certain
there are better methods out there (e.g., stuffing herbed butter in
between the skin and breast!), but in my experience, this is the
juiciest and most flavorful turkey I’ve had…and no basting!

People sometimes ask me what’s my “secret”.  I don’t really think
there is a secret.  But I would highly recommend a roasting rack
and a thermometer alarm.  The roasting rack allows for the heat to
circulate over the entire turkey which helps it cook more evenly and
gives a crispier skin.  Plus, it keeps the bottom from getting all
soggy and soaking up all the drippings.  The thermometer alarm is
a godsend.  It’ll notify you the moment you hit the target
temperature.  Just make sure you follow the directions because it
can give you an incorrect reading if used incorrectly. 

Also, I used to think that it didn’t matter what brand of turkey you
bought.  I usually just buy the cheapest I can get and it’s turned
out great.  But I just made a turkey from Foster Farms that I
bought from Costco.  It was amazing.  Very plump, fresh skin,
just an overall very healthy turkey–no pizza in this turkey’s
diet.  I’m sure if you bought organic it would be a completely
different turkey in much the same way free range chicken has a totally
different taste than even a Foster Farms chicken would have. 
Anyways, here’s my recipe.


    1   turkey (14-16 lbs)
    canola oil
For the brine:
    1.5 cups kosher salt (iodized salt ok, just use a little less)
    0.75 cup brown sugar, light preferred
    1 tbsp black peppercorns
    1 gallon vegetable stock (or water)
    1 gallon iced water
    handful of thyme
    handful of rosemary
    handful of sage
    handful of marjoram
      (Or “Poultry Bouquet” has all of these herbs, available at some Albertson’s produce section)
For gravy:
    4 tbsp butter
    6 tbsp flour
    2 cans chicken stock
    1 cup red wine (optional)
    2 bay leaves

    baking pan with roasting rack
    aluminum foil
    a few pairs of disposable plastic gloves (reduces handwashing)
    thermometer (electronic thermometer alarm even better!)
    5 gallon bucket

Defrost the turkey.  A fully frozen turkey usually takes two days
to defrost outside of fridge.  Another day or two to defrost in
the fridge.  Don’t let the turkey defrost to room temperature,
though.  You always want it cold–just not frozen.

The day before Thanksgiving, bring all the brine ingredients except for
the iced water and herbs.  After boiling, take it off the stove,
throw in the herbs and let them steep.  After the brine cools,
place it in the refrigerator.  You want your brine ice cold.

Early on Thanksgiving (or late the night before), combine the brine and
the iced water into the bucket.  Place the rinsed turkey in the
brine for about 6 hours.  It’s okay to keep the neck and guts in
there.  Cover the bucket and place it in a cool
place–refrigerator if you have room.  Turn the turkey once
through, halfway.

At roast off, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Take out the
turkey, discard the brine, and rinse the the bird.  Pat dry and
coat the turkey liberally with oil–this will give it a nice color and
crispy skin.  Place the turkey in the roasting rack and pan and
put it on the lowest rack of the oven.  Roast for 30
minutes.  This step kick starts the cooking, seals in the juices,
and make the turkey look delicious.

In the meanwhile, heat the butter over medium-high heat. 
After it’s heated, add in the flour and whisk until it becomes like
clay.  This is the roux which will be used for the gravy. 
Keep whisking until the roux until it has a slight roasted nutty smell,
but don’t burn it!  After it’s done, cool to room temperature or

After roasting at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, take the turkey out and
cover up the entire breast with a double layer of foil (coat the
underside of the ‘foil bra’ with butter if you want!).  This is a
modest turkey.  Wrap the tips of the wings too, if you want. 
Insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast (but
don’t touch any bone or other non-meaty thing).  Reduce the oven
to 350 degrees and put the turkey back in.  Set the thermometer
alarm (if available) to 161 degrees (just right) or 165 degrees (less
red, but a little overcooked).

Unfortunately, I’ve had turkeys cook anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours
total.  It really depends on the quality of the bird, its
temperature upon roasting, and how well calibrated your oven is. 
On the average, it’s taken me about 1.5 hours.  After roasting,
lightly cover the turkey with foil.  It’ll continue cooking and
its internal temperature will rise for the next 15 minutes.  For
carving a turkey, Food Network has the best video demo
Just remember, this is a really juicy turkey, so cut it in something
that can catch all the au jus.  Don’t let this Cantonese man catch
you wasting all that au jus!

For the gravy, skim off all the oil from the pan drippings. 
In a
saucepan, heat up the drippings and excess juices, bay leaves, and red
wine; reduce drippings by half over medium-high heat.  Whisk
in the roux.  Add chicken stock to the desired
thickness.  Most people like gravy when it coats the back of a
spoon.  Remember that gravy thickens as it cools.  Salt and
pepper to taste.

Happy Thanksgiving!

5 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Turkey”

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