Do you have turkey for Christmas? If yes, do you also have turkey for Thanksgiving? Apparently about 22 million Americans have turkey on their Christmas table, as opposed to 46 million for Thanksgiving. That’s still a lot of turkey! I was actually surprised by that number. What’s funny is, turkey can be so bland, so dry, so blah…but remains so popular.
I have tried turkey so many ways. I do like the deep frying method because it frees up your oven and keeps the men busy outside…frying meat, in dangerously hot oil. They like that. And it stops your husband from hijacking your side dishes and trying to make them “his own”. However, there is that $30-$50 worth of frying oil you burn through. It seems like a waste but the turkey does turn out very juicy.
Anyway, I have finally found my turkey recipe of choice. My family said this was THE BEST TURKEY they have ever had…..especially my pickiest, pickiest eater-child. And you know, this turkey was so full of flavor, so juicy, so moist. It really was off the charts delicious. Look at the beautiful color it had too! My family is begging me to make it again this season, I’m pretty sure I will because the leftovers were just as amazing.
Maybe we’ll have that iconic yuletide meal of turkey with gravy, stuffing and plum pudding, just like the Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol. Okay, that might be going a little too far. Our meal might not be iconic, but it will be good. Remember when Scrooge gave a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit family? Maybe this is where all the Christmas turkey business came about? Oh well, if you are going to make a holiday turkey, try this method. And no, it doesn’t taste like mayonnaise.
Brining ~ It’s Science, not Quackery. Just Do It.
Regardless of what method you choose to make your turkey, you need to pinkie swear with me right now, that you will always brine your bird. It makes such a difference in flavor and how moist your turkey will taste. You are going to spend so much time cooking this piece of poultry, why have it turn out less than awesome.
If you have a bit of a science background then you likely remember osmosis, diffusion and the denaturing of proteins. This is basically what is happening when we brine.
With osmosis in play, the high salt solution (brine) passes through permeable meat cells when you soak your turkey overnight. Diffusion creates a balance of the salt and water in the meat and the salt and water from the surrounding brine. This results in a higher concentration of salt and water in the meat and less water loss during cooking.
The salty concentration also denatures protein strands found in the meat, taking them from a tightly wound shape to an unwound and tangled state. It is this tangled up structure that traps the water molecules and holds on to them while cooking. The result…a very moist bird and many happy eaters.
Look at this juicy, raw thing, right out of her 24 hour brine bath.
What Turkey Should I Buy ~ Is Bigger Better?
Here are some of the wild turkeys that run around my house. They get so big and are quite magnificent to watch. However, they are crazy dumb…that’s a whole other post. Anyway, bigger is not necessarlity better.
I find that the hens (about 12-14 pounds) are much more tender and flavorful, while the Tom’s are much bigger and can obviously feed a much larger group. I always buy a young hen in the 12-14 pound range…always fresh and never frozen. I’m not even sure what I would brine one of those huge Tom’s in…I guess I’d have to buy a special tub.
If you can, stick with a young, fresh hen for best results.
The Mayonnaise Method
I had been wanting to try this method for some time now. The mayo helps keep the turkey moist and browns the skin nicely. It stops you from having to continually open the oven door and baste the turkey. The mayo is a layer of fat, similar to slathering it with butter, except the mayo stays in place and browns nicely.
I mixed my mayo with fresh herbs from my garden, tumeric for color and the juice from a lemon. The result, an herb infused-mayo that was similar to an aioli dip. The lemon gave the turkey a great tang and flavor. And it smelled amazing in the oven almost immediately. I’m telling you it was so, so good!
I chopped up rosemary, thyme, parsley and sage and mixed them into my mayo. I made this early in the day so the flavors of the herbs could meld with the mayo and lemon.
I rubbed the turkey down with the mayo mixture, inside and out. Then I coated the inside of the turkey with a stick of butter…yes I did. Then I stuffed the cavity with some onions and celery.
Liberal amounts of salt and pepper and she’s ready for the oven. I know, it’s weird…but it’s delicious.
Please tell me you are not going to try and cook this bird without a meat thermometer? This is mine and I love it. You will never overcook anything again…and they are cheap. Put it on your wish list!
This whole method would work well for roasted chicken, I’ll be trying that next.
Brined Lemon-Herb Aioli Style Mayonnaise Roasted Turkey
- 1 gallon regular water
- 1-1/3 cups kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon crushed dried rosemary
- 1 Tablespoon dried sage leaves
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 Tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
- 1 gallon ice water
- 1 (12-14 lb) fresh, young turkey hen
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced
- 10-12 fresh sage leaves, minced
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
- 2-3 shoots fresh parsley, minced
- 1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 1-1/2 teaspoons tumeric
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 large onion, cut into large chunks
- 2 stalks celrey, cut into 3-4" pieces
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, slightly softened
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the brine, in a large stockpot, combine regular water, sugar, kosher salt, rosemary, sage, thyme, peppercorns and marjoram. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, making sure salt and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
- When cooled, pour into a clean 5 gallon bucket. Stir in the ice water.
- Make sure you have removed all of the turkey innards. Place the turkey, breast down, into the brine. Make sure the cavity gets filled. Place the bucket in a refrigerator overnight. (You can also use a cooler and leave in the garage if you live somewhere where temps are colder than your refrigerator.) Brine turkey for 24 hours.
- Remove the turkey, draining off excess brine and pat dry. Discard brine.
- For the aioli mixture, combine all ingredients and let sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, letting the flavors meld.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place turkey in a large roasting pan, breast side down. Using a flexible spatula, rub mayonnaise mixture all over outside of turkey and inside of cavity. Salt and pepper the turkey well. Place onions, celery and butter inside turkey cavity.
- Roast turkey at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. At this point you may want to cover the top of the turkey and the wings and legs with some aluminum foil as they can burn easily. Turn oven down to 350 degrees for another 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until thigh meat and breast meat both reach 160 degrees F on a meat thermometer. (This is where a digital thermometer comes in handy. You don't have to keep checking the doneness of the meat while it's in the oven. Start with the thermometer in the breast and when it reaches 160 move it to the thigh. Dark meat often takes longer to cook.)
- Remove turkey from oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Don’t forget to make my Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy with this awesome turkey.