Thanksgiving? It all starts with a great turkey • Brooklyn Paper

Thanksgiving? It all starts with a great turkey

Of course, the bird is the main attraction. Melissa brines hers before roasting.
The Brooklyn Paper / Gersh Kuntzman

No matter how much effort we put into our side dishes, the turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table. Yes, there are some people who don’t like turkey, feeling like they’re wasting valuable plate space with a balsa-wood bird. But you can turn those critics into carnivores by brining your turkey overnight.

Brining ensures that the finished product will be moist and flavorful — and stuffing the fowl with aromatics like apples, onions, clementines, sage, rosemary and cinnamon helps add a lovely flavor.

And in the never-ending debate over high-heat or medium-heat cooking, I prefer to stand in the fire. I start my turkey in a 500-degree oven to develop a beautiful golden color and crisp skin, then cover the breast with an aluminum foil “shield” and continue cooking at a lower temperature for about two hours. This method ensures that the breast meat is done at the same time as the dark meat, so the whole turkey is nice and moist.

Bottom line: This is a turkey that everyone will enjoy.

Cider Brined Roasted Organic Turkey with Giblet Gravy

Makes a 15-pound turkey for 12 people with some leftovers

For the brine

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger, unpeeled

1-1/2 teaspoons allspice berries

1-1/2 teaspoons juniper berries

1 teaspoon whole cloves

5 pieces whole star anise

5 cinnamon sticks

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 cup Kosher salt

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 quarts apple cider

2 quarts chicken stock

Cold water to cover

2 trays ice cubes

For the aromatics

1 apple, quartered

1 small onion, quartered

1 clementine, halved

2 sprigs fresh sage

2 sprigs rosemary

2 cinnamon sticks

Cut a piece of cheesecloth eight inches square. Place the peppercorns, ginger, allspice, juniper, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and rosemary in the center of the cloth and tie together with kitchen twine. In a large pot, combine the salt, brown sugar, apple cider and spice bag. Bring to a simmer over medium heat for five minutes, cover and set aside to steep for 30 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool. Remove the spice bag and discard. (The brining liquid can be made to this point and refrigerated up to five days ahead).

In a pot large enough to hold the turkey, combine the brining liquid and chicken stock. Remove the giblet bag inside and rinse the turkey. Submerge the turkey, breast side down, in the brining liquid and add enough cold water to cover. Place the ice cubes — which tighten the skin — on top, cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours, or up to 18 hours.

At least one hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and drain well. Allow to air dry in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Stuff the turkey with the aromatics. Tie the legs closed with kitchen twine.

Set a rack in the center of the oven, have ready a roasting pan and rack large enough to hold the turkey. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Rub the turkey all over with vegetable oil. Make a foil triangle that is large enough to cover the entire topside of the breast. Fit it to the turkey, to form a shield, and then carefully remove the shield and set aside for later (place it down carefully so the foil shield keeps its shape). Sprinkle the entire bird lightly with salt. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, being careful not to hit the bone. Place the turkey on the rack in the pan and roast to develop a beautiful golden brown color.

After one-half hour, decrease the temperature to 350 degrees, place the foil shield over the breast, and cook for an additional two to two-and-a-half hours until the thermometer reads 165 degrees. Remove from oven, cover entirely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

For the gravy

1-1/2 tablespoons butter

1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 carrot, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds

1 rib of celery, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds

1 small onion, thinly sliced

Contents of giblet bag, rinsed, neck cut into two-inch pieces.

2 tablespoons flour

4 cups chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt and pepper

In a heavy bottomed soup pot, melt the butter with the oil over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, one teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cook until slightly softened, about eight minutes.

Add the giblets, increase the heat to high and brown the pieces, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes. Add the flour and stir well to combine. Keep stirring for an additional two minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the stock in a medium pot until hot. Slowly whisk the stock into the browned giblet mixture. Add the bay leaves and brown sugar and stir to combine. Bring the gravy to a simmer and reduce until the desired consistency. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain the gravy, discarding the solids, and keep warm until serving.

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