After stumbling upon a Thanksgiving turkey recipe in a 2007 issue of Saveur magazine, I’ll admit that I was hesitant to proceed. The directions filled an entire page, and the process seemed complicated. Exhaustingly so.
But the recipe’s author is Lynne Rossetto Kasper. She’s the guiding voice on American Public Media’s “The Splendid Table,” and since she’s incapable of disappointing this devoted listener, I dove in.
I can’t imagine celebrating my favorite holiday any other way.
I’ll never think of this magnificent recipe as hassle-free, but you know what? Prepare it just once, and its seemingly countless steps feel perfectly logical and easy to master. The spectacular results speak for themselves: meat that’s deeply juicy and gently imbued with apples (a flavor, and a scent, that I forever associate with autumn) and skin that’s dark, crispy and succulent.
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Truly, it’s the ultimate Thanksgiving turkey. Oh, and the gravy? Sublime.
Rossetto Kasper revisited the recipe, sharing details. Here’s a summary:
Why bother with brining? “Most of the turkeys we eat, well, there’s not a lot of flavor there,” she said. “The thing about turkey that is so great is that it’s this blank canvas, ready to take on flavors.”
No. 1 brining rule: Overwhelm. “I always feel you can never over-season a brine,” she said. “When I see a brine recipe that says, ‘two cloves of garlic,’ I think, what’s the point? You really want to overwhelm.” Which explains this brining formula’s two heads of garlic.
What’s with the apples? “There’s this thing about this business: You have to come up with a new turkey recipe every year, that’s how you sell magazines,” she said. [The memorable Thanksgiving when Rossetto Kasper immersed her imagination into North Africa lives on at splendidtable.org. Use “Moroccan Turkey” as key search words.] “I just got to thinking about doing layers of apple flavors. You know, apple in the brine. A bit of Calvados in the broth. And apples in the actual pan with the turkey _ you use the apples as a rack _ and they turn to cream almost, and they become part of the gravy.”
No need to overspend. “Of course, I’d love everyone to buy heritage and organic, a bird that’s been petted and only walked on pearls, and all of that,” she said. “But to me, a heritage bird is not something you brine, it’s not something you go crazy with, because it’s already got that natural flavor. With a recipe like this, one that’s full of character, you can use the cheapest supermarket bird you can get, although not a self-basting one, because that’s going to add water.” As for the imported (and expensive) Calvados, “Save yourself $20 and buy apple brandy,” she said.
Going beyond the Granny Smith. For this recipe, “You want a tart apple for the way its character plays against the other ingredients,” she said. “Very sweet apples tend to go flabby on the palate when mixed with savory ingredients. Tart ones hold their own. Haralson, Regent, Viking, Chestnut Crab Apple, Cortland, they all do the job. Our co-ops often carry wide varieties.”
Go ahead, mix it up. Rossetto Kasper suggests substituting hard cider for the recipe’s fresh cider. “It has the depth that sweet cider doesn’t,” she said. Go the all-dry cider route, and she suggests increasing the sugar a bit. “Or, instead of adding extra sugar, what I might do is add an extra apple, that way you’ll really get that full apple effect,” she said. “And a good dry hard cider is probably the perfect thing to serve during the meal. It may be better than wine.”
That looks spicy. It’s not. The brine recipe calls for ? cup dried ancho chile powder, which could be alarming to some spice-wary cooks, but it shouldn’t be. “I love ancho chiles, and I always use them in a brine,” she said. “They’re not going to overwhelm. They’re velvety; they’ve got sweetness. You don’t get heat, you never really know it’s there, but it seems to open things up a bit. It has that umami quality of opening up flavors. I love the word ‘fulsome,’ the way it fills your mouth. It’s so interesting. I’ve never heard anyone talk about umami in dried chiles. I’d like to think that some scientist somewhere is working on chile umami.”
Why basil? “Because I love basil,” she said. “To me, it’s the greatest blending herb. Basil comes up behind things and wraps itself around them without ever overwhelming. Everyone loves it straight, and there are few herbs that don’t work well with it. The sweetest herbs _ dill, tarragon _ they don’t. I thought it would lend a sweet, herbal quality to the apple, something that wouldn’t overwhelm, because there’s already a lot going on.”
Flipping the bird, literally. After starting the roasting process with the bird turned breast-side down, Rossetto Kasper turns it breast-side up. “That’s my mother,” she said. “Does this happen to you? You spend years learning, and investigating the work of the most gifted, famous people in the field. And what you find out is that you’ve learned exactly what your mother told you and you ignored. My mother always cooked turkeys breast-side down, with the theory that the juices run into the breast. Do they? Perhaps. But the breast _ which is the leanest meat _ isn’t exposed to that high heat, except for the last 45 minutes or so. I’ve always turned my turkeys _ I use potholders, and then they go straight into the laundry, by the way _ because I like the result. And I like living dangerously.”
To stuff, or not to stuff. “I always stuff a turkey, but only when I’m doing a slow-roast technique,” she said. “Don’t stuff this one. When you’re roasting with very high heat, and you’ve already brined it, it won’t work. But when I’m slow-roasting, which I don’t really do anymore, I like to stuff it because I love the flavor. But, and this is important, I always stuffed it the moment before it went into the oven, and nothing in the stuffing had to be cooked. Generally, not even a raw egg went into it.”
Post-roast. “Here’s something I never said in the original recipe,” she said. “Don’t cover the [roasted] turkey while it’s sitting out. There’s debate over this, but I think that covering the bird softens the skin, because the heat rises, and it steams. I’d rather have a slightly cooler bird, but a bird with crisp skin, because the skin is the best part of the turkey. But the people who think that everything on the Thanksgiving table has to be as hot as Hades? Well, they’re going to end up in asylums.”
The meal’s real centerpiece. “It’s gravy,” she said. “One of the things that I’m hopelessly proud of is my gravy, I have an obsession with gravy. Gravy is everything. It’s the secret to life. It’s creating the layers of the flavor; that’s the way my family made gravy. You know, you brown something, then you reduce wine over it. And then you reduce it again, and then you reduce broth, and you keep boiling it down, until you have a flavor base that will knock you out. “
Don’t forget to have fun. “Here’s the thing I say every year, and it’s true: You never remember the perfect Thanksgiving,” she said. “You hope that people remember the turkeys that we prepared, but what they remember is the fun stuff, the stuff that we can’t expect.”
ON THE SIDE
“Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving: I love the side dishes. They don’t have to be complicated, but I really like things that I’m surprised by, as well as all the old favorites. This is an old James Beard recipe. You can make it a few days ahead, and reheat it when you need it.
You cut up a green cabbage _ and, if you want, a red cabbage _ into squares. You drop it into a big pot of salted, boiling water and cook it until it’s just tender, then you drain it. You chop a few pieces of bacon, throw it in a skillet and saute it, then add the cabbage and toss it. You add more salt, some sherry vinegar and lots of black pepper. It’s killer; it’s absolutely killer.
I’ve done it where I’ve left out the bacon, and the vinegar doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be balsamic, it could be sherry vinegar, or it could be apple cider vinegar. It’s so lovely, and so fresh. And so easy.”
Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Makes about 12 cups.
Note: Calvados is an apple-flavored brandy from France’s Normandy region. Broth may be prepared up to 3 days in advance. From Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Saveur magazine.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Neck and giblets from 10- to 12-pound fresh turkey
2 pounds mixed chicken legs and thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 whole cloves
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk (with leaves), chopped
1/4 cup Calvados or apple brandy
2 cups dry white wine
Lightly coat bottom of a 12-inch skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Add turkey neck and giblets and chicken legs and thighs, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Brown on both sides, and transfer turkey and chicken to a 6-quart pot.
Pour half the fat out of the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, cloves, carrot and celery, and cook until just browned, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and add Calvados and white wine.
Return skillet to heat, bring to a boil and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the skillet. Transfer vegetable mixture to 6-quart pot with turkey and chicken. Add enough water to cover the mixture, plus an extra inch of water.
Over low heat, bring to a slow simmer. Partially cover and cook, without stirring, for 4 to 5 hours (add more water as necessary, to keep solids covered). Remove from heat, let cool, strain (discarding solids) and refrigerate broth. You should have about 12 cups.
CRISP APPLE-SCENTED ROAST TURKEY
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: From Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Saveur magazine.
1 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup ground ancho chile powder
2 large heads garlic
8 cups fresh apple cider, divided
4 tart apples (such as Granny Smith), unpeeled, cored and coarsely chopped
3 large celery ribs, halved crosswise
3 large carrots, halved crosswise
3 large yellow onions, cut into thick rounds
2 tart apples (such as Granny Smith), unpeeled, cored and coarsely chopped, divided
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, divided
4 cups dry white wine, plus more if needed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To prepare brine: In a medium bowl, whisk together salt, brown sugar and chile powder.
Remove (and discard) root ends from garlic heads, then rinse heads in water. In a bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine 2 cups apple cider, garlic and 4 apples, and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a large plastic brining bag. Add salt mixture, then add remaining 6 cups apple cider and 4 quarts cold water. Whisk to dissolve sugar and salt.
Place turkey in brining bag, seal bag and place it in a large pan and refrigerate. Calculate 1 hour of brining for each pound of turkey.
To roast turkey: About an hour before roasting, remove pan from refrigerator (keeping turkey in bag) and bring turkey close to room temperature; this will allow for a shorter roasting time.
When ready to roast, remove center rack from oven and arrange remaining rack as low as possible, then preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Select a large, shallow roasting pan, ideally 2 inches deep (if pan is too deep, the turkey will steam rather than roast).
In the bottom of the pan, lay a foundation of celery, carrots and onions, so that vegetables become a sturdy rack for turkey. Scatter 1 of the apples and 1 1/2 cups basil leaves over the top of the vegetables. Add white wine (or more, if needed) to cover bottom of pan with 1/2 inch of liquid.
Remove turkey from brine (an easy to way to do this is to place the bag in a sink and, using a paring knife, cut a few holes in the bottom of the bag, to drain the liquid). Carefully rinse turkey under cold running water, and pat dry with paper towels.
Set the turkey, breast-side down, on the vegetables in prepared pan (this will draw juices down into the breast while also protecting the meat from the heat) and tuck remaining 1 apple and remaining 1/2 cup basil leaves into the cavity. Dot top of turkey with butter and dust all over with black pepper.
Place turkey in oven and begin roasting. Calculate 10 minutes of roasting time per pound. As bird cooks, use a spoon to baste turkey with pan juices every 20 minutes.
After the first hour, remove roasting pan from oven, and, using two pot holders, carefully turn the turkey breast-side up. Baste with pan juices and return the turkey to the oven. (Cover turkey loosely in an aluminum foil tent if it threatens to burn.)
Continue to baste every 20 minutes. When an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh (without touching bone) reaches 165 to 170 degrees, remove turkey from oven, transfer to a platter, and let rest while you prepare the gravy (see recipe).
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: From Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Saveur magazine.
12 cups turkey broth, divided (see Recipe)
1/3 cup Calvados or apple brandy
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 cup fresh apple cider
1/4 cup flour
8 torn fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
While turkey is roasting, remove broth from refrigerator and skim off (and discard) fat. In a large saucepan over medium heat, reheat all but 1 cup broth until it comes to a low simmer. Return reserved cup broth to refrigerator.
Remove two-thirds of vegetables from roasting pan (discarding vegetables), and skim off excess fat from pan juices.
Using a paring knife, cut remaining vegetables in roasting pan into small pieces.
Add Calvados, white wine and apple cider. Place pan over two burners on high heat and bring mixture to a boil, using a wooden spatula to scrape up all the caramelized bits. Cook liquid down to a syrup, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add two-thirds of heated broth to pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until reduced by half, about 15 minutes.
Stir remaining heated broth into pan and bring to a boil. In a tall glass or jar, whisk together reserved cup chilled broth and flour until there are no lumps (this is a slurry). Whisk slurry into bubbling gravy.
Continue simmering and whisking until gravy is smooth and thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon, about 20 minutes. Taste, and if you taste raw flour, simmer the gravy for another minute.
Stir basil leaves into gravy and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour gravy into a bowl or other serving vessel. Carve turkey and arrange meat on a large platter. Serve turkey and gravy separately.