Brined Herb-Roasted Turkey
1 12-pound turkey (preferably organic and free-range)
1 cup sugar
1 cup kosher salt
1 bunch fresh sage
1 bunch fresh thyme
3 tablespoons cracked black pepper
Turkey giblets, neck, and other trimmings
1 onion, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups chicken stock
Herb butter (make day of roasting):
8 tablespoons (one stick) softened unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
Roasting the turkey:
1 onion, sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 5 cups turkey stock
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Brine: One to two days before serving, place 1 gallon of water in a large stock pot with the sugar, salt, sage, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and chill.
Place the turkey in a deep casserole or roasting pan that is large enough to allow most (preferably all) of the turkey to be submerged in the brine. Cover the casserole with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Turn the turkey in the brine every few hours if it is not totally submerged. (You can also place the turkey and brine in a large plastic bag placed in a bowl for support, if you do not have a large enough container.) Let steep for 24 to 36 hours.
Stock: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the last two joints off each turkey wing, leaving the wing drumstick on the bird, and put them in a small roasting pan. Roast until the skin is well browned, 45 minutes to an hour. Put the roasted wings in a soup pot with the giblets and the neck, setting the liver aside. Add the vegetables, 1 teaspoon salt, several grinds of pepper, chicken stock, and 3 cups cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat is falling from the bones and the turkey gizzard is very tender. Poach the turkey liver in the stock for 6 to 7 minutes; remove, cover, and refrigerate. Strain the stock into a bowl or jug, reserving the giblets, and refrigerate. There should be 5 to 6 cups.
Herb butter: On serving day, place all the ingredients for the herb butter in a food processor and blend. Transfer to a small pastry bag or Baggie, and set aside.
Cooking the turkey: About 5 hours before serving time, remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Lift it out of the brine, and rinse off under fresh cold water. Dry the bird with paper towels.
Slide a small rubber spatula between the skin and the breast meat to separate them. Pipe half of the herb butter under the skin of both breasts from the cavity opening, spreading the butter evenly over the whole breast area with the fingertips. Rub the remaining herb butter all over the outside of the bird.
Fill the body cavity and the neck cavity loosely with stuffing. Truss the bird loosely with butcher’s twine and season with salt and pepper. Spread the sliced vegetables over the bottom of a large roasting pan and lay the turkey on top. Add a cup of stock to the pan.
About 4 hours before serving time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and position the rack in the lower half of the oven.
Put the turkey in the oven and roast for 1 1/2 hours. Check to see if the turkey is browning evenly, and turn the pan, adding more stock if it gets low. If the turkey is browning too fast, fold a 30-inch length of aluminum foil in half, then fold it loosely again and set it lightly over the turkey breast for the remainder of the roasting time. Reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Roast the turkey for another 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature of the thigh is 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (5) and the juices run clear yellow with no tinge of pink when the thigh meat is pierced. If the turkey is not too brown, remove the foil for the last 1/2 hour of cooking. Take the bird out of the oven, and let it rest in a warm place for about 30 minutes while making the gravy.
While the turkey is roasting, remove the congealed fat from the top of the stock, and heat the stock in a saucepan. Cut the reserved giblets and, if desired, the liver into very fine dice. While the turkey is resting, use a little of the stock to deglaze the roasting pan, and strain the pan juices into a pitcher and reserve the vegetables. Allow to rest for a few minutes until the fat separates, then skim the fat from the surface.
Melt the butter in the roasting pan with the vegetables over medium heat, stirring to combine, then sprinkle with flour. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it is very thick and brown. Add the wine, stir to blend thoroughly, and cook and stir until the wine has nearly evaporated and the mixture is very thick. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. Add half the stock and the strained roasting-pan juices, and stir to blend well; strain the thickened sauce, and add to the remaining stock in the saucepan. Simmer the gravy for 20 minutes or so, skimming as necessary. Add the chopped giblets to the gravy, and simmer 5 minutes more. Taste, and check seasoning. Present the turkey on a large platter decorated with some grapes and a bunch of fresh sage.
The best-tasting free-range turkey in town, and the only one that is certified organic, comes from Eberly Poultry (717-336-6440), available for the holiday from Whole Foods, Ottomanelli & Son, and Urban Organic in Brooklyn; it’s also sold under the D’Artagnan label at Balducci’s, Dean & Deluca, Grace’s Marketplace, Agata & Valentina, Garden of Eden, Food Emporium, Oppenheimer Prime Meats, and Park Slope Coop. Prices from $2.69 to $3.49 per pound. Eberly’s all-natural turkey, though not certified organic, is a close second. (For mail orders, call 800-dartagnan.)
Wonderfully flavored free-range turkeys (with no hormones) from Whispering Hills Poultry Farm (888-887-7124) and KNK Poultry (607-847-8447) will be available only at Eli’s Manhattan Warehouse and the Vinegar Factory, priced at $2.49 per pound.
All-natural White Holland turkeys from Quattro Farms (914-635-8202) are sold at the Union Square Greenmarket every Saturday and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for about $2.50 per pound and by mail order. (Wild turkeys also available.)
Lobel’s Prime Meats on Madison Avenue (212-737-1373) has its own independent producer of free-range, all-natural turkeys. They sell them for $3.98 per pound and will ship anywhere in the country. And remember, no matter who you order from, call at least two weeks in advance to guarantee the size of turkey you require.