From Summerland by Anne Quatrano
To brine or not to brine—that is the Thanksgiving question. Though some people believe that it negatively affects the texture of the bird, I am a faithful briner. I feel that the application of salt enhances the flavor of the meat and helps keep it moist during cooking. A simple overnight brine of 1 cup salt to 1 gallon cold water is all you need. For a heritage bird, I might take it a step further and flavor the brine with aromatics as in the recipe below. A dry rub would work as well: Just salt the bird liberally and let it sit in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours; rinse under cold water and dry thoroughly before roasting. This also helps seal in moisture and impart flavor.
For the Aromatic Brine
7 quarts water
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 medium onions, quartered
1⁄2 cup celery scraps (leaves and small stems)
6 garlic cloves, crushed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 fresh bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 gallon ice
Fill a 10-quart stockpot with the water and add the salt, brown sugar, onions, celery scraps, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, coriander, peppercorns, and fennel seeds. Heat over medium heat until the sugar and salt have dissolved—it does not have to come to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Transfer to a 5-gallon bucket and add the ice. This should bring down the temperature to a cool 40° F or below. Remove the giblets from the turkey and reserve for the gravy. Add the turkey to the brine, making sure it is completely submerged. If needed, place a plate on the top of the turkey to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
For the Turkey
1 (18-pound) turkey, brined (see above)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh sage
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425° F.
Melt the butter slowly over very low heat. Rinse the turkey inside and out. Pat it dry with paper towels. If you’ve brined the turkey, drain it and discard the brine. Gently run your fingers between the skin and meat on either side of the breast bone and arrange the sage leaves between the skin and breast. Pour one-fourth of the melted butter over the bird and rub it into the skin with your hands. (Reserve the remaining melted butter for basting.) Tuck the drumsticks under the folds of skin or tie together with butcher’s twine. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan and insert an ovenproof meat thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh. The thermometer should point toward the body and should not touch the bone. Place the turkey in the oven. After 30 minutes, baste the turkey with melted butter and reduce the oven temperature to 350° F. Continue to roast, basting with the melted butter every 30 minutes (this promotes even browning). If you feel the turkey is browning too quickly, cover with a tent of aluminum foil. Roasting times will vary depending on the size of your bird. It typically takes about 3 hours total for an 18-pound bird, but the best and safest way to know when your turkey is cooked is to check the meat thermometer. Once it registers 160° F, remove the turkey from the oven.
Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and allow it to rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Reserve the drippings in the roasting pan for the gravy (recipe: Gravy Two Ways).
Serves 12 to 16; for a 16 to 20 pound turkey.