The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Ever

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Awhile back, I wrote plugging the Best Chicken Ever, a dry-brined bird based on a recipe developed by Judy Rodgers of San Francisco's Zuni Café.  

Rubbed with salt and pepper and stuffed under the skin with fresh herbs, then left to "brine" in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours and roasted at high temperature, it comes out of the oven incredibly flavorful, with tender, juicy meat and skin as brittle as glass. It really is the Best Chicken Ever, and it's stupid-easy to do. 

With Thanksgiving on the way, the question is: Does the same method work on turkey? 

In a word (or two): Damned straight, though you will have to make a few adjustments. I've cooked my T-Day birds using this method for three years now and would never do it any other way.

Here's the deal: 

First, you get a turkey. An organic, free-range heritage bird is best (also breathtakingly expensive), but the beauty of the "modified Judy technique" is that it works its magic on even homely supermarket fowl. Along with the turkey, you'll need one tablespoon of salt and one-half teaspoon of ground black pepper (or perhaps a few grinds more) for every five pounds of bird. You also need several sprigs of fresh herbs, in my order of preference: thyme, sage, rosemary. That's it. 

Beginning at least 48 hours before Thanksgiving (that's Tuesday for the calendar-impaired), unzip the bird, pat it dry, and remove the giblets. (We're talking a 12- to 15-pound bird here.) Very carefully use your fingers and hands to separate the skin from the meat of as much of the bird as you can without tearing the skin. (This allows you to stuff herb sprigs under the skin and helps melt off its subcutaneous fat, resulting in the potato chip-crisp skin that everyone adores.)

Now you take several sprigs of your favorite herb and stuff them between the skin and meat of the breast, thigh and leg. If you have any herbs left over, toss them in the cavity. Mix the salt and pepper together and spread them over the entire bird, using more salt where the meat is thickest. 

After that, it's easy. Stuff the turkey inside a plastic bag and let it brine in the fridge until an hour or so before you're ready to cook. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and place the turkey, breast side down, in a roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes, then flip the turkey breast side up and roast for another 15 minutes. Now turn the oven down to 325 degrees and roast for another two hours or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the bird reads 165 degrees.

During the roasting, don't baste the turkey, open the oven, or fuck around with it in any way. Let the brine and heat do all the work for you. When the turkey is done, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes, then carve, serve, and modestly bask in the compliments for the Best Thanksgiving Turkey Ever. 

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB


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