Recipe: This Thanksgiving, put a twist on roast turkey

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If you’re the designated cook this Thanksgiving, you might be muttering complaints rather than offering thanks. But don’t fret: We’ve got expert advice from creative cooks that will help you whip up dishes that are not only simple, but different. In other words, please look elsewhere for a green bean casserole.

We turned to award-winning chef and “Culinary Birds” author John Ash for tips on tackling the turkey. The first step is selecting the right bird. Ash recommends free-range organic turkeys, available at stores such as Whole Foods.

“Seek out heritage-breed turkeys — turkeys that were the original breeds before we got down to the turkeys that are on the market today, which are the [broad-breasted] white turkeys,” recommends Ash. “It’s like a whole different animal. It’s not so big. The meat has more texture to it, and certainly a lot more flavor.”

Looking to beat the crowd and buy ahead? “You can buy birds frozen, and you can keep a frozen turkey for up to six months,” says Ash. “But you shouldn’t keep one out for more than four to five days.”

When it comes to roasting the bird, the chef  prefers not to stuff it: “It cooks faster, the skin gets crispier and I love the crispy exterior of stuffing when it’s baked in a dish, uncovered,” he says.

Think outside of the box when dressing too. “It doesn’t always have to be thick gravy,” says Ash. “Compound butters are delicious. Those are butters into which you beat shallots, herbs and citrus.” If you really want to go crazy this year, Ash says look to other parts of the world. “I like Mediterranean salsa verde, and Romesco sauce creates a nice change of pace.”

Brine
2 cups (400g) packed brown sugar
1 cup (250g) pure maple syrup
3/4 cup (230g) coarse salt
3 whole heads garlic, cloves separated and bruised
6 large bay leaves
1 1/2 cups (144g) coarsely chopped unpeeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes
1 1/2 cups (355mL) soy sauce
3 quarts (2.8L) water 

Turkey
12- to 14-pound (5.4 to 6.3kg) dressed fresh turkey
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
5 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 potatoes, roughly chopped
2 oranges, quartered
4 lemons, quartered
3 cups (700mL) canned or homemade turkey or chicken stock (see page 70)

Gravy

3 tablespoons (43g) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons (24g) all-purpose flour
White wine or brandy
2 cups (475mL) canned or homemade turkey or chicken stock (see page 70)
Fresh herbs (such as thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients except the turkey in a large enamel or stainless steel stockpot that is large enough to hold the brine and the turkey. Bring to a simmer and then remove from the heat and allow to cool thoroughly. Rinse the turkey well; and remove the neck and giblets and save for stock or discard.

Submerge the turkey in the cooled brine. Be sure there is enough brine to cover the bird. If not, add water to cover. Refrigerate for at least 2 days and up to 4. Turn the bird in the brine twice a day.

Remove the bird from the brine and pat dry. Lightly brush the bird with olive oil and set aside for at least an hour before roasting. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Set the turkey in a roasting pan fitted with a V-shaped rack. Throw the chopped vegetables and citrus in the cavity. Add the chicken or turkey broth to the pan. Slip a flavored butter up under the skin of the turkey if you want.

Cook turkey for 20 minutes and then reduce heat to 350°F (325°F in a convection oven). Roast for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It’s done when juice from the thigh runs clear and an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh not touching the bone.

Remove from the oven. Lift the turkey out of pan and loosely tent with foil to keep warm. Don’t wrap tightly or the skin will lose its crispness. Let the turkey rest at least 25 minutes before carving.

To make the gravy: Pour off all fat from the roasting pan, leaving the delicious browned bits in the bottom. Make a roux by whisking the butter in the roasting pan over moderate heat with the flour. Continue to whisk for a couple of minutes. Add a splash of white wine or brandy and scrape up the browned bits. Add the stock and any herbs you like and continue to whisk and simmer for a few more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the gravy along side the carved meat.


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