Brined Roast Turkey With Sage
Can you see the sage leaf (sort of) lattice design on the turkey breast under the skin here? That was my first attempt at something I saw Martha Stewart do years ago except since she (or her food stylist team) is/are more meticulous than I am, so hers looked a lot more like a lattice. Oh well, there's always next year.
This turkey turned out really well in the tenderness department, especially since by the time I got around to checking the temperature, the meat on the thigh was already at 180F, about 20 degrees higher than my guide said. So it looks like brined turkeys are foolproof!
Here's what I did:
Ingredients for simple brine solution:
1 gallon of water
1-1/2 cups non-iodized sea salt (at 11 cents per kilo, ya can't go wrong!)
1 tbsp peppercorns
4 small garlic cloves, bruised with the side of a knife
ice cubes (optional)
plenty of ice water
2 days before our early Thanksgiving, I brought 1 gallon of water to the boil and added the salt, peppercorns and garlic cloves. You can find more sophisticated recipes for brining that include cider, apples, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, etc. Basically you can add all kinds of crazy crap, but me, I just went simple this time. I boiled that mixture until all the salt was dissolved then I took the whole pot and put it outside to cool as quickly as possible. I used an enormous tamale steamer (looks like the biggest stockpot you've ever seen) as the recipient for this since my turkey was a whopping 16 pounds. (Well, it was "whopping" to the Italian guests who are generally less accustomed than we to Flintstonian meat dishes). I was in a bit of a hurry to get the show on the road so I dumped in all my ice cubes to speed up the cooling process. When the brine was as cool as the outdoors (mine being about 40F that day) I put in the bird, smooshed it down and added ice water to cover. I let it stay that way for almost 2 days until Sunday morning when I prepped the turkey for the oven.
How to make a sage leaf lattice decor on your turkey:
After taking the turkey out of the brine, I dried it off (maybe not as thoroughly as I should have since the skin was not crispy) and began to separate the skin over the breast from the meat. This is a little weird but very easy to do. Once I had made the opening, I took 2 tbsps of softened butter and rubbed it all under the skin. Then I took (16 in my case) washed and dried fresh sage leaves and began to place them diagonally making diamond shapes (oh why didn't I take a picture of this? Why??). The butter helps to keep the sage leaves in place as well as keeping the breast moist. Then the ever-handy Gabriel trussed the thing with the wire we use for whole lamb roasts because I couldn't find the poultry string. He did a great (if not a tad S&M-ish) job!
Roasting the Turkey:
My general guidelines were that a 16 lb turkey takes from 2 to 2.5 hours total cooking time to reach the ideal temperature of 161F. Since my bird was unstuffed, I think that was why it took the minimum.
Then I heated my oven to 500F and put the bird in for 30 minutes at that temp. Then I reduced the heat to 350F and continued roasting for an hour and a half (which was when I decided to stick the meat thermometer in and found the turkey was much hotter that the recommended 161F. So out came the bird and so started the drippings gravy recipe. It's great because it takes about 15 minutes so make the gravy and 15 minutes for the meat to rest so they are both ready at the same time.
Turkey Drippings Gravy: At the bottom of my roasting pan was at least 2 cups of rendered fat and beautiful chestnut-brown fond (the solids you need to scrape off) so I dumped as much as would flow freely into a saucepan then scraped off the rest and added it as well. I put that over medium heat and began to whisk in 1 tablespoonfull of flour at a time until I had added about 1/4 cup of flour (that's for 2 cups of drippings). I let that cool for a couple minutes to avoid the dreaded raw flour taste and then whisked in a total of 3 cups of chicken stock. Music to whisk gravy by: We were listening to Benny Goodman and Orchestra do the rockinest rendition of Sing, Sing, Sing. The pounding bass drums and the ripping trumpets probably scared the pants of the parents of young swing dancers of the day. Now, it's dinner music. Once the gravy got rather thick, I took the pan off the heat, salted to taste and served. This was the second time in my life I have ever made gravy and I have to say it was very rich and meaty-tasting. I'll do the same thing next year.
I thought the butter under the breast skin would have done the trick to make the skin crispy but no dice. I love crispy skin and welcome anybody's ideas on how to get it that way. Should I have saved the 500F for 30 minutes until the end? Should I have basted? Anything else?