Thanksgiving is as enjoyable a holiday as it is stressful, especially if you’re the one doing the cooking. But an easy and delicious turkey recipe can change the way you look at holiday meal prep forever.
The key to an effortless meal is getting most of it done ahead of time.
“In a professional kitchen, we always prep ahead to avoid scrambling [when the orders come in],” says Matt Dean Pettit, celebrity chef and owner of Matty’s Seafood.
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With that concept in mind, he advises brining a turkey anywhere from eight up to 36 hours before cooking. By taking this approach, the meat is essentially infused with flavour before it even hits the roasting pan, and requires very little extra fussing before being put in the oven.
“A brine will give you a softer, less dense and more tender turkey that’s seasoned throughout,” he says. “But you have to plan ahead. If you’re planning on cooking your turkey on Sunday or Monday, defrost the turkey on Friday, and put it in the brine on Saturday or Sunday — depending on how long you want it to sit.”
He says it’s fine to leave it in for an extra day — “the more brining, the better” — but don’t exceed 48 hours. As for stuffing, Pettit prefers to cook his separately in a casserole dish, so that it has a chance to get crispy. But it isn’t just personal preference, he says this also makes for a better bird.
“When you put the stuffing in the turkey, it prevents proper air flow during cooking, which is key to keeping the meat moist.”
And he can’t stress this enough: baste the meat every 15 to 20 minutes to keep it juicy.
Once cooked, let it sit for anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour. This will allow all the juices that were released during the cooking process to get sucked back up into the cavity. And think of that hour as extra time to prepare side dishes.
“Between the brining ahead of time and letting the turkey sit for an hour after cooking, you’ll have anywhere from a full morning to an entire day to do your sides — they shouldn’t be an afterthought.”
Pettit’s must-have side is brussels sprouts, which he likes to pan sear, deglaze with lemon or orange, and finish off with a generous grating of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
“But there’s a golden rule to Thanksgiving,” he says. “You have to leave room for pumpkin pie.”
Chef Matt Dean Pettit’s Boozey Brined Turkey Recipe
2 litres apple cider or beer
3 litres water
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar
1 orange, cut in quarters
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 10- to 12-pound turkey, defrosted if frozen and cleaned
1 orange, halved
1 lemon, halved
2 onions, chopped and divided
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup water
3 tbsp butter, softened
1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp Za’atar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp fresh thyme
¼ cup cider *optional
In large stock pot that can hold the turkey, combine cider or beer, water, salt, orange, brown sugar, onions and garlic. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.
Remove neck, gizzards and liver from turkey body cavity, discard. Rinse inside and outside of turkey. Add turkey to brine. Cover the stock pot to keep turkey submerged. For best brine results cover and refrigerate at least 8 to 12 hours.
Remove turkey from brine, discard brine. Drain turkey and pat dry. Cut reserved oranges and lemon into halves, and place in cavity. Tie drumsticks together using kitchen string to hold in place.
Add remaining sliced onions and thyme to a large roasting pan. Arrange turkey breast side up in pan. Add 1 cup of water to pan.
In a mixing bowl, combine butter, chopped parsley, Za’atar spice and garlic. Mix well, and use half of the mixture to run under the neck and carefully under the skin of the turkey breasts. Use the remaining butter to evenly coat the whole bird.
Roast turkey, uncovered, in a 350F (177C) oven for 3 to 3.5 hours, or until turkey reaches 175F when tested with a thermometer in one of the deepest parts of the turkey (like the inside of the thigh).
Remove turkey from the oven and carefully transfer to the serving platter. Cover fully with kitchen towels to keep warm and let rest for 1 hour. (It is super important to let it rest!)
Carefully strain all the turkey drippings from the pan and pour into a large saucepan.
Over medium heat, add flour and slowly whisk together cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add fresh thyme and if you need to thin it out, add more water or cider. Continue to heat and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until desired thickness. Pour right into serving bowl.
Slice the turkey and enjoy all your hard work. Cheers!
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