Simple Roast Turkey with Lemon, Herbs, and Rich Turkey Gravy
Are you cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving this year? A few members of my extended family (who shall remain nameless) proclaim to *gasp* hate turkey. Now if all you have encountered are under-seasoned over-cooked birds, then I can almost understand your position. If, however, you taste an heirloom breed bird, stuffed with fresh herbs, cooked to moist perfection, and still don’t like turkey- well then I don’t think we are related.
Last year, I shared my detailed Thanksgiving Day Game Plan. This year, not much has changed, except instead of driving cross country, my parents are now just up the street, making it much easier for them to roll home after the feast. The turkey preparations always start 24 hours ahead of T-day, when the bird gets a vigorous salt rub down.
Mr. B is acting as my hand model and liberally rubbing kosher salt on the outside of the turkey. (Yes, he has huge hands- that is an 11lb bird!) The turkey then rests in the fridge on a rack set in the roasting pan to catch the extra salt and juices. The next day out comes the bird for a second rub down- this time with butter. A thick layer of butter is rubbed under the skin and all around the outside of the bird. This creates an incredibly moist turkey breast and a beautifully crisp exterior once cooked. Next, slices of lemon and fresh herbs are stuffed beneath the skin, locking in a layer of seasoning that will cook straight into the meat. Be sure to remove any rings and watches prior to starting this process, or you may end up like Mr. Bean…
Meanwhile, giblets, carrots, celery, and herbs simmer on the stove top, creating a deeply flavored turkey stock for the gravy.
A few hours later, the turkey is cooked, without the need for continual basting or fussing. The roasting pan is deglazed with a bit of vermouth as the turkey sits, re-absorbing the juices into the meat. All of the roasting pan liquids are combined with the turkey stock and a basic roux to create a wonderful viscous turkey gravy. Rich, velvety, and full of turkey flavor, it is the perfect accompaniment to buttermilk and chive mashed potatoes.
Thick slices of moist turkey breast carry a background flavor of herbs, lemon, and butter. Juicy dark meat covers the legs and will tempt dark meat lovers to enjoy the feast “Napa caveman style” with a big turkey leg in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. This is a simple roast turkey recipe with results that will quickly hush those who don’t like turkey- filling the room with nothing but the happy silence of full mouths and good company.
Simple Roast Turkey with Lemon, Herbs, and Rich Turkey Gravy (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from, Gourmet Magazine November 2006
1 (16-lb) Turkey (thawed if previously frozen), neck and giblets removed and reserved for Rich Turkey Gravy
1/2 cup of Unsalted butter at room temperature (1 stick)
5 Lemons, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 bunches of Sage
2 bunches of Thyme
2 bunches of Rosemary
Freshly cracked black pepper (about 2 teaspoons)
2 cups of water
Turkey neck and giblets
8 cups of Water
1 White Onion, peeled and quartered
2 Carrots, washed and trimmed
3 stalks Celery
1 teaspoon Black peppercorns
1 large sprig Sage
3 sprigs of Parsley
1 Bay leaf
Rich Turkey Gravy
1 cup Dry Vermouth
1/2 cup Unsalted butter
3/4 cup All-purpose flour
7 to 8 cups Turkey Stock
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons Cider vinegar
Special equipment: 2 small metal skewers; kitchen string; a 17- by 14-inch flameproof roasting pan with a flat rack; an instant-read thermometer; a 2-qt glass measuring cup
Dry Brine the Turkey
24 hours prior to roasting the turkey, set the turkey on a rack inside the roasting pan. Rub the turkey liberally with kosher salt, inside and outside the bird. Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and store inside the roasting pan in the fridge until 1 hour prior to roasting.
1 hour before roasting the turkey, remove the turkey from the fridge, discard plastic wrap. Gently pat the turkey dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture and salt. Lift the turkey gently and again using paper towels, wipe out the bottom of the roasting pan to remove any excess salt and liquid.
Stuff the Turkey
Set the turkey breast side up in the roasting pan. Using your hands, gently create a space between the turkey skin and the meat, taking care not to tear the skin. You should end up with loosened skin above the breast and legs (don’t worry about the underside of the bird). Evenly rub half of the room temperature unsalted butter between the skin and the meat. Take the remaining half of the butter and rub it all over the outside of the turkey. Next stuff the lemon slices and herbs underneath the skin, distributing them evenly around the meat. Sprinkle black pepper on top of the turkey skin.
Roast the Turkey
Pre-heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the lowest position. Fold neck skin under body and secure with metal skewers, then tie drumsticks together with kitchen string and tuck wings under body. Add 2 cups of water to the bottom of the roasting pan, and place it in the oven. Roast the turkey without basting, rotating the pan halfway through roasting to promote even browning if necessary, until a meat thermometer inserted into the fleshy part of the thighs (test both thighs; do not touch bones) registers 170°F, about 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours. If the pan dries out while the turkey is still cooking, add an additional cup of water to the bottom of the pan. If the turkey skin starts to turn dark brown before it reaches 170°F, take a large piece of aluminum foil and tent it over the top of the turkey to slow the browning process.
Make the Turkey Stock while the turkey roasts.
Place all ingredients for the turkey stock into a medium stockpot and cover with water. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 2-4 hours. Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl and reserve the stock, discarding the solids.
Check the Turkey for Doneness
Once the turkey has reached 170°F, carefully tilt the turkey so any juices inside the cavity run back into the roasting pan. Then transfer the turkey to a large platter, leaving the juices in the pan. (I’ve found using a clean kitchen towel in each hand to lift the turkey helps prevent the skin from tearing when transferring it to a platter.) Remove the rack from the pan and place it in the sink. Let the turkey rest, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, while the temperature of the thigh meat rises to 180°F.
Make the Rich Turkey Gravy while the Turkey Stands.
Rich Turkey Gravy
Carefully pour the warm roasting pan juices through a fine mesh sieve into a measuring cup or fat separator. Do NOT clean the roasting pan! Let the juices stand so the fat can rise to the top.
Stradle the roasting pan across two burners. Carefully pour the vermouth into the roasting pan, turn on the heat to medium-high, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a whisk to deglaze any stuck bits, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat. Remove and discard any fat that has risen to the top of the strained pan juices. Pour the liquid from the deglazed roasting pan into the reserved pan juices. Measure the liquid and then add enough turkey stock to create 8 cups of total liquid.
Place a heavy 4-quart pot over medium heat, and add 1/2 cup of butter, cooking it until melted. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour. Cook the roux over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the flour turns a light brown color and smells faintly of nuts, about 5 minutes. Pour the reserved 8 cups of liquid into the pot in a slow but steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. If any turkey juices have accumulated on the turkey platter, pour those into the gravy as well. Taste the gravy, and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Whisk in cider vinegar at the very end (to taste).
Carve the Turkey and Serve with Rich Turkey Gravy