I’ve always had nightmares about cooking a huge turkey for the holidays. And from what I can tell, most folks have this same fear. The fear we will all open the oven, pull out the beautiful turkey and poof, it’s “Christmas Vacation” all over again.
Fortunately, this turkey recipe can keep you from those forced compliments or a harried trip to the store for a replacement turkey dinner.
I really believe in brining when it comes to poultry. For a good small bird brine, check out my piece on Cornish hens.
But for turkey, and especially if it is going to be massive – 15 to 20 lbs. – a 12-24 hour spiced brine is the way to go.
One chef I can always count on for good advice is Alton Brown. He brings out the cooking nerd in me. And he is usually always right about cooking.
He advises brining your turkey overnight in an ice bath in a five-gallon bucket in a refrigerated place. Well most of us do not have a walk-in cooler. What you CAN do is grab a 10-gallon cooler.
Brining your bird:
First, thaw your turkey.
You can also thaw and brine at the same time using the water thawing method, which I highly recommend.
(My recipe with a dash of Alton Brown)
Brining time: 16 - 24 hours
- 2 gallons vegetable stock
- ½ cup of peppercorns
- ¼ cup whole cloves
- 5-6 bay leaves
- 1 cup sea salt
- 2 bunches of fresh sage
- 1 cup of candied ginger
- 1 cup honey
- Whole head of garlic peeled and chopped
- Lots of ice
Cook your veggie stock down for several hours. You might have to do this in batches since it is a major amount. If you aren’t saving veggie scraps for stock, then you’ll need 3-4 onions chopped, one bunch of celery, some garlic cloves and about 3-4 carrots roughly chopped.
Peels, ends and everything go in the pot. Cook down, then drain liquid into a pot and toss the cooked down veggies.
After your stock is ready, place all the other ingredients into the stock and cook down on medium for about 30 minutes.
While your stock is cooking, take some time to clean your turkey. You’ll want to prepare an area around the sink to keep juices from getting on everything.
Remove the wrapper and rinse, removing anything on the inside – neck, liver, heart, etc. If you want to use these, set aside for later, but they do not need to be inside the turkey cavity during thawing/brining.
Once rinsed, place the turkey inside the cooler, breast side down, and cover with one layer of ice and replace the lid.
When your stock has finished cooking down, let it cool and then pour it into the cooler over the turkey. If it doesn’t cover it completely, add cool water until the bird is fully covered with liquid. Add more ice and cover.
You’ll need to keep checking and adding ice to keep it at a cool 35-40 degrees.
Once it’s brined, then it’s time to cook!
Cooking the turkey
Instead of the “butter bath” that a lot of recipes call for, I cut 4-5 sticks down to one and substituted ½ cup of olive oil for basting. Brining my turkey ensured a good probability that it would be moist.
Sweet Orange and Olive Oil Turkey
Cooking time: 3-3 ½ hours
- 15-20 lb. brined, thawed turkey
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- ½ cup of olive oil
- ¼ cup of dried thyme or ½ cup chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tbs. sea salt
- 1 tbs. fresh ground black pepper
- Zest of an orange
- Orange diced into chunks
- 1 Wild Rice Stuffing recipe (bottom of article)
Once you are ready to cook, adjust the middle rack to the lowest setting and preheat your oven to 500 degrees. You are going to crisp up this turkey quick for about 30 minutes or so.
While the oven is heating, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry and then place in your cooking pan. Stuff the turkey cavity with your stuffing and push the orange chunks up inside the turkey and into the stuffing.
Mix the butter, olive oil, zest and spices together and brush a heavy layer onto the entire turkey.
Place into your heated oven for 30 minutes or so, and then turn down the heat down to 375 degrees.
Let cook for 3-3 ½ hours, basting with your olive oil mixture every 30-45 minutes.
Once the third hour has hit, start testing the temperature. The temperature must reach 180°F in the thigh of a whole turkey (center of the stuffing should reach 165°F) before removing it from the oven.
Your bird should by now be a beautiful golden brown, crackling and driving everyone crazy with hunger with its delicious aroma.
Remove from the heat and let rest for 30 minutes.
Carve and serve!
Wild Rice and Sausage Stuffing
- 1 ½ cup wild rice or a suitable rice blend (black, wild, brown and dried fruits are nice)
- 3 cups water
- ½ pound pork sausage OR soy sausage
- 1 stalk of celery
- ½ large yellow onion
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbs. white pepper
- ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice
- Zest from lemons
Cook your rice according to directions.
While rice is cooking, dice all vegetables and sauté in olive oil.
Once veggies have become translucent, add your sausage and cook until no pink remains.