MAPLE BRINED TURKEY WITH THYME
For the first Thanksgiving post on Weston Table, it is fitting that a New England inspired turkey preparation, complete with Vermont maple syrup and cranberry bog garnish, serves as the centerpiece of this cherished all American feast. While the pilgrims shared turkey with the Indians that first cold and hungry winter in America when food was scarce and there was little discussion of the best preparation, this humble bird needs a bit of coaxing to taste delicious. This is no myth, the key to successfully cooking the bird is to brine it. Submerged in salt and water, the bird absorbs moisture and is perhaps the single easiest thing to do to insure moist meat.
Nota bene: Real maple syrup can be expensive. However, Costco sells large proprietary bottles for the same price as smaller versions sold at major supermarket retailers. Do not make this turkey with anything but the real deal.
Albeit expensive, the Thermopen thermometer is most useful around the holidays. Be assured that its accuracy is so precise that the turkey will be cooked perfectly every time. If the skin begins to brown too much, no worries, simply tent with foil to protect the skin from darkening further.
Cooking two smaller birds may also be better than cooking one huge turkey. There ends up being more crispy skin to go around and the cooking time is easier to monitor. With larger gatherings, two birds, one at each end of the table, is a lovely way to make certain every guest has a view of the guest of honor, the humble turkey.
The bird should fit snugly in whatever roasting pan in which it will be cooked. A proper size pan will allow the bird to baste the vegetables it sits on and keep them moist with enough drippings to insure the veggies will caramelize rather than burn before the turkey is done.
1. Two days before cooking the turkey, remove the package of giblets from the inside of the turkey. Cut off any excess flaps of fat. Wash and dry the turkey.
2. Place the turkey in a large pot. Sprinkle one tablespoon of the salt over the turkey and pour the entire bottle of syrup over the bird.
3. Fill the pot with cold water. Add the rest of the sea salt.
4. Place the turkey in the refrigerator to brine.
5. Remove the turkey from the brine the night before or several hours before cooking it. Gently pat dry to remove excess moisture, but do not wash the turkey. Place the bird in the refrigerator uncovered for a few hours and up to a day.
6. Turn the oven to 450 degrees F.
7. Put the turkey in the roasting pan on top of the vegetables, and brush the turkey with olive oil. Generously grind black pepper all over the skin.
8. Place the bird in the oven for 20 minutes.
9. When the time sounds, lower the heat to 375 F and cook the turkey until the thigh meat reaches 160 degrees F.
10. Remove the bird from the oven and tent with foil. The bird will continue to cook for a few minutes to 165 F. Heat the reserved maple syrup for 15 seconds in the microwave.
11. Brush the turkey with the maple syrup and sprinkle the bird with the sea salt flakes and thyme leaves (the syrup will help the thyme and salt adhere to the bird).
12. Transfer to a cutting board, or platter and serve room temperature.
MAKE THE GRAVY
1. Put the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaves in the turkey roasting pan and toss with olive oil to coat.
2. Continue to step 7 of turkey preparation.
3. Once the turkey is pulled out of the oven, strain the vegetables and reserve all of the fat and liquid.
4. Put a half a cup of the fat and liquid (from a 12 pound bird--if bigger turkey then skim some of the fat off the liquid) back in the roasting pan and turn the burner to medium heat.
5. Douse with the wine and scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan. When the alcohol has burned off (the smell will dissipate), stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes whisking constantly until you have a loose paste.
6. Gradually add in the remaining liquid and fat, stirring constantly.
7. Pour in the stock and let the gravy reduce to a desired consistency (could take 20 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
12 pound turkey
2 cups kosher sea salt
33 ounce bottle real maple syrup (reserve 3 tablespoons)
Freshly ground black pepper
Malden Sea Salt Flakes
Fresh thyme leaves
1 orange, halved
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 large carrots, roughly chopped
4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup flour
1 quart of turkey or chicken stock
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper