I prefer not to brine turkey. While brining is considered "fool proof" in terms of making sure the breast isn't dry, in my opinion it takes away from the flavor of the meat rather than enhancing it. The 'butterball' turkey you can get at this time of year is brined — a solution of salt, sugar and water (and probably some more stuff) is the brine, and the turkey absorbs about 5% of its weight in the liquid. Much better, in my opinion, to carefully watch the temperature, and not over-roast the bird. Check with a meat thermometer, and be sure to place it in the thickest part of the inner thigh, away from bone. If you're not stuffing the bird, you can also watch the juices that accumulate in the cavity. When they are no longer pink, it's a good indicator of doneness. If you goof and under-cook the bird, you'll find out when you start to carve — and popping the leg-thighs back in the oven for a couple of mintes will rectify any undercooking rather quickly. Finally, if you're really nervous about presenting undercooked bird, you can cut the leg-thighs from the body, and roast them next to the breast, skin side up on the pan. That will speed things along considerably! One more note: The leeks in this recipe take the place of a roasting rack. So you get three rewards: no rack to clean, a delicious side dish, and enhanced flavor for the pan juices you use as a base for your gravy.
- 1 fresh, “minimally processed” turkey, with no additional “baste” ingredients, preferably free range (about 1 lb. turkey per person will give you a great meal plus good leftovers)
- Salt, pepper, paprika
- 2 Tbs. butter
- stuffing of your choice, if you wish to stuff the turkey
- 1 small celery stalk, and a small carrot, coarsely chopped
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 leeks, preferably fairly big around
- 2-4 tablespoons flour for gravy (about 1 tablespoon per cup of gravy)
Remove turkey from the refrigerator 2 hours before roasting. Remove giblets package and neck, and place (except for the liver) in a pan with water to cover by 3 inches. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery. Simmer, adding water if needed to keep the ingredients just submerged, for as long as possible. This will be the base for a classic gravy. Also remove large globs of fat from inside the turkey's cavity, and discard kidneys and other innard bits that may be present. Wash inside and out, and pat dry.
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Trim the leeks, removing their hairy bases but leaving the solid bottom parts. Get rid of any dark green leaves at the top, and then split each leek lengthwise and wash well. Arrange in a commodious roasting pan as an edible (and delicious!) platform for turkey. Stuff turkey loosely if desired, secure leg ends, and place bird on top of leeks. Season with salt, paprika and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, then open the oven and rub 2 Tbs. butter over the top skin, letting it melt and moisten the skin. Return turkey to oven and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meatiest part of the thigh registers 165 °F, basting several times with the pan juices as they accumulate. Roasting time will vary depending on the size of the turkey and how cold it was at the beginning of cooking. Stuffed birds take longer than unstuffed. A 10-13 pound turkey should take 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and a 15-18 lb. turkey can take 3 to 4 hours. Let the cooked turkey sit in a warm place for fifteen minutes or more before serving, for the juices to settle.
For the gravy : Mix flour thoroughly into fat and pan juices until no lumps remain. Add strained broth from the neck and giblets, stirring to combine well. Cook gently for at least 3-5 minutes. Reserve meat from neck, heart and gizzard to chop and add to finished gravy if giblet gravy is desired. Skim the extra fat off the top, taste for salt and pepper, and serve with turkey and stuffing. Serve the leeks, too — they're a real treat.
Notes: Stuff turkey just before roasting, and remove all stuffing from turkey cavity before carving. Do not ever store stuffing inside the cooked turkey. Refrigerate leftovers separately for safety from bacterial growth. What to do with that liver you saved? Throw it in the roasting pan after lots of juices have accumulated there, and give it 10 minutes to get cooked. Dice up and season with salt and pepper, and enjoy!