Talkin’ Turkey: Are you Ready for the Big Feast?

It’s time once again to “talk turkey” as Thanksgiving approaches. It’s not only Thanksgiving, eitherthere is a whole holiday season filled with opportunities for get-togethers that may warrant a delicious turkey dinner. 

Not so many years ago, savvy cooks learned to brine the holiday turkey to ensure a flavorful, juicy bird. While this went a long way toward banishing bland, dry turkey, it also created a lot of hassle, says chef and cookbook author Molly Stevens, who contributed this recipe to Real Food. Thankfully, we’ve learned that we can throw out the brine water and get even better results. Instead of sloshing around in all that water, the turkey gets seasoned inside and out with salt and other seasonings a day or two before cooking. This technique, commonly referred to as a dry brine, results in tender, juicy turkey with lovely golden skin, says Stevens. Plus, since you do the prep in advance you are ready to roast on the big day, and this recipe also includes instructions on topping it all off with homemade gravy. 

Fowl FAQS 
Stevens offers these tips:

Q: If I’m serving more than 12 people, can I buy a bigger bird? 
A. Bigger turkeys are problematic because they’re difficult to cook evenly (the breast meat tends to dry out before the leg meat is done) and they are not as naturally tender as smaller turkeys. If you have a larger crowd, consider roasting two smaller birds or roast an additional breast.

Q: How long to roast? 
A: For an unstuffed turkey, use the calculation of 13 minutes per pound as a rough estimate of roasting time. 

Q: Do I have to let the turkey rest? 
A: Carving into the turkey before letting it rest for at least 30 minutes will ruin all your hard work in pre-seasoning and roasting to the proper temperature. The rest period allows the proteins to firm up and the juices to redistribute so that the turkey remains moist once carved. The turkey will cool down some, but it won’t be anywhere near cold. Also, this gives you time (and oven space) to finish up all those hot side dishes and the gravy. 

Spice-Rubbed Roast Turkey 

Makes 10 to 12 servings 

1 13- to 14-pound fresh turkey 
2 tablespoons coriander seed 
2 teaspoons fennel seed
2 teaspoons black peppercorns 
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
2 tablespoons kosher salt 
1 tablespoon sweet paprika 
412 cups low-sodium turkey or chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 

1. 1 to 2 days before roasting turkey, remove giblets from cavity. Arrange turkey, breast side up, on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

2. In a small skillet over medium heat, combine coriander, fennel, peppercorns, and cumin. Toast spices, shaking pan frequently to prevent burning, 3 to 5 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to darken. Transfer to a spice grinder (or mortar). Cool 1 to 2 minutes before grinding to a coarse powder. Pour into a small bowl and stir in salt and paprika.

3. Using paper towels, pat dry turkey (including cavity). Sprinkle some spice mix into cavity and spread remaining mix over entire surface of turkey, turning to season back, thighs, breasts, and tips of drumsticks and wings. Reapply any fallen seasoning to turkey or leave in pan. 

4. Slide turkey into refrigerator, leaving uncovered if possible to help dry out skin, which allows it to turn crispy when roasted. If needed, loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let sit 24 to 48 hours.

5. Remove turkey from refrigerator 2 hours before roasting. Place rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 450°F. 

6. Transfer turkey, breast side up, to a sturdy roasting pan outfitted with a roasting rack. Pour 112 cups broth into pan (but not over top of turkey). Place in oven and immediately reduce temperature to 350°F. Baste every 45 minutes. After 112 hours, rotate pan 180 degrees. 

7. Continue roasting 212 to 3 hours. Check for doneness by testing that internal temperature of thigh has reached 170°F and that juices run mostly clear when thigh is pierced with a sharp knife. If toward end of cooking time breast or drumsticks are getting too dark, cover them loosely with foil. 

8. Remove turkey from oven and transfer to a carving board, preferably one with a trough to catch any juices. Tent very loosely with foil and let rest 30 to 40 minutes before carving.

9. Pour all but a few tablespoons liquid from pan into a glass measuring cup and set aside. Place pan over 1 or 2 burners set to medium-high and heat 1 to 2 minutes, until drippings begin to sizzle. Pan should be almost dry with plenty of tasty drippings before proceeding. 

10. Reduce heat to low and add butter, stirring until melted. As soon as it melts, whisk in flour. Whisk constantly, incorporating drippings as you go, until butter and flour are combined. After 1 minute, slowly add remaining 3 cups broth, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Bring to a gentle simmer, whisking occasionally, and simmer 6 to 10 minutes to thicken and remove any floury taste. 

11. Spoon off and discard fat on surface of reserved liquid and taste. If not overly salty, add some or all to gravy. If very salty, use a small amount to season gravy. Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm over a very low burner, being careful that the gravy doesn’t simmer too long and become too thick. 

12. Carve turkey and serve with gravy spooned over top. 

Nutrition info (per serving): CALORIES 368 (126 from fat); FAT 14g (sat. 5g); CHOL 153mg; SODIUM 1128mg; CARB 5g; FIBER 1g; PROTEIN 53g 

Hungry for more? Try Molly Stevens’ recipe for Turkey Roulade with Mushroom-Pancetta Stuffing by clicking here.

In her role as Senior Editor on Greenspring’s Custom Publications team, Mary leads Real Food magazine, the nationally syndicated publication distributed through our retail partner grocery stores. She also leads editorial on the nationally syndicated Drinks magazine and writes a weekly blog post focusing on food and drinks for the She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.