To brine or not to brine...
I say brine. If you ever have the chance of doing things better, WHY WOULDN'T YOU?
If your most basic holiday wish is that you, at the very least, have a guaranteed juicy bird, do it. I know it's a lot to ask considering your very long list of things to do for this epic meal but it really only takes about 15 active minutes to do. True, you will have buy an extra large zip lock bag but they are very readily available. Just put it on your list now: Brining bag. Check. Done.
As for the turkey, I suggest you chose the freshest option available to you. I just don't think a chemical-injected-butterball-type bird should ever hit the table, but do what you have to do.
I'm in LOVE with the traditional Thanksgiving meal so I really struggled with adding some very Asian ingredients to the brine. It felt oh so sacrilegious but, oddly, it worked. The turkey was exceptionally juicy and the most delicious bird I have ever pulled off. The soy sauce adds tremendous depth but is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the flavors. The resulting deep red hue (with help from the pomegranate glaze) is absolutely gorgeous.
As for the glaze, it may seem superfluous but it's really all about what happens to your gravy. The tartness of the pomegranate is important layer of flavors you are building. And it looks pretty, too. Speaking of the gravy (in all honestly, THIS is what we've all been waiting for...), this one will blow you away. I don't often make such big claims but you will see why. You get the sweetness of the roasted vegetables, the tang of the pomegranate, and the slight booziness of the whisky. It's really one hot little number.
I won't lie, friends. This is a lot of work. Just get your act together. Set up your work area: damp towel under the cutting board (to prevent slipping), several bowls at hand, one for "garbage", others for prepped items.
Sharpen your knives, set out a pile of clean hand towels, empty your dishwasher, clear your sink and...let's go!
cider-brined turkey with pomegranate glaze and roasted vegetable gravy + wine pairing
adapted and re-imagined from Anita Lo and Martha Stewart
15-18 lb turkey
for the brine:
2 quarts plus 1 cup apple cider
1/2 c pomegranate juice
1/4 c pomegranate seeds
1 c kosher salt
1 c soy sauce
1/2 c brown sugar
2 T black whole peppercorns
8 star anise pods
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 T Ceylon cinnamon
12-14 lb fresh turkey
for the turkey:
3-4 stalks of celery, peeled and roughly cut
3-5 carrots, peeled and roughly cut
3-5 parsnips, peeled and roughly cut
1 1/2 pomegranate juice
1/4 pomegranate seeds
2 T maple/ginger cranberry sauce or red currant jelly
for the gravy:
2 T flour
2 T pan drippings
3 T pureed roasted vegetables
degreased pan juices
4 c turkey stock
1/4 c whiskey or cognac or calvados
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the brine ingredients together in a very large pot and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and let it cool completely.
Place the turkey in a brining bag and pour the brine over the bird. Seal it and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning it every 6-8 hours.
After 24 hours, remove the turkey form the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Discard the bag and brine.
Preheat the oven to 425º
Place the prepared vegetables in a large roasting pan and rest the trussed bird on top of them.
Rub the entire turkey with softened butter and cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, tent the bird with foil and reduce the oven temperature to 350º
Continue to roast the turkey, basting it with the juices every 30-45 minutes. In the beginning, if you don't have a ton of juices, just brush the turkey with some melted butter, taking care to cover the bird back up with the foil tent to prevent burning. Due to the intense color of the brine and the glaze, the turkey will be beautifully bronzed but you want to watch out for blackened.
Make the glaze by reducing the pomegranate juice over medium-high heat until the juice is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the cranberry sauce or jelly and set aside.
After about 3 1/2 hours of total cooking time, check the temperature with an instant read thermometer by sticking it between the thigh and breast. You want the turkey to be at 170°.
When you reach that temperature, pull the turkey from the oven and remove the foil. Reduce the oven temp to 325º.
Pour the glaze over the turkey and return it to the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Remove it from the oven, transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 20-25 minutes.
Remove the roasted veggies from from the roasting pan and process until smooth in a blender or food processor.
Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings into a fat separator, discarding the fat that rises to the top. Place your roasting pan on your stovetop and heat it over a medium-high flame. Carefully pour in whatever booze you are using to de-glaze the pan, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom for any bits of deliciousness from the bottom of the pan. Pour everything from the roasting pan into a medium sauce pan.
Add the flour, 3 tablespoons of the roasted vegetable puree, the de-grease dripping and stock. Bring the mixture to just under a boil, stirring constantly to smooth out any lumps. Turn down the heat to medium and continue to stir/whisk until the gravy has thickened, about 15 minutes. If for some reason it is not thickening, you can always add some flour. Just do so in 1 tablespoon increments and give it a chance to come together. Season with salt and pepper.
Carve your turkey, sprinkle with some pomegranate seeds and drink lots of wine.
With so many levels of flavor, spice, richness, and consistency (let’s not forget personal taste too), finding the perfect wines for that bothersome bird and all of his friends can be a bit of a daunting task. Fear not; there is hope and happiness for the entire table. . .
It’s beneficial to have both a white and red available for the main event, allowing guests a choice (because, let’s face it, everyone always has a preference). Wines that are higher in acidity lend a supportive hand in harmonizing the meal. Going with a modern, medium-bodied white with a nice balance of acidity and roundness will allow versatility with an array of side dishes and also stand up quite well to the heartiness of the sausage in the stuffing. With reds, a more traditional approach is favorable. Light to Medium-bodied wines that embody subtle hints of spice and earth are a sure fit for hearty flavors, and certainly complement the mild delicateness of a turkey as well. Check out the wines below - every belly will be full and every face smiley.
Here’s what we suggest:
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