Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Turkey with Gravy

I think I'm this close to perfecting the roast turkey for the holidays.

I've been a big fan of the lemon-rosemary flavor combo for a long, long time, but never used it with turkey until this past Thanskgiving. I was inspired by the Trib's Good Eats Thanksgiving story, where super thin slices of lemon and whole rosemary sprigs are tucked under the skin. I hadn't yet bundled up the rosemary and that was a great way to use a lot at once. This approach didn't work out so hot as written. The flavor was great, but the lemon slices heated differently than the rest of the bird, scorching the skin above, giving this gross polka-dot effect.

My brother, who was my partner on this dish, has some great rosemary bushes at his place, so I took that idea and improvised. We also added a brining step at his suggestion. I hadn't had great luck with that before, but we had time and I figured it certainly couldn't hurt. He picked out a 17 lb bird for our group of 10 adults and 3 young kids.

The night before, I took the basic brine recipe:
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 gallon water

Bring to a boil for five minutes and then completely cool.

And tweaked it for seasoning and volume to:

1.5 cup kosher salt
1.5 cup sugar
zest and juice of a three (3) lemons
small handful of fresh minced rosemary (a few tablespoons)
small handful of peppercorns
6 quarts of water.

We then brought this to a boil to supersaturate the solution and then let it cool completely outside (This is so you don't essentially poach the bird). We were able to fit the bird in a small (disinfected) Igloo cooler, cover it with the brine, set it out on the 35F porch (I would have added a bag of ice if it had been warmer outside) and covered the whole thing. Easy enough.

The next morning (Christmas Day), I softened two sticks of butter and mashed in another couple of tablespoons of minced rosemary and lemon zest and a few pinches of kosher salt. I rinsed off the bird, patted it dry, and rubbed the butter under and over the skin. I then cut a lemon and an onion in eights and crammed them into the cavity with a few more sprigs of rosemary. A quick truss and we were ready to cook

Due to oven space, we used the grill, by simply putting the roasting pan on the grate. My brother manned the grill while I worked on the sides in the kitchen. He did have a bit of a problem keeping the temperature steady. I found that the only way around that is to practice with your grill to find the right setting, unfortunately. The only problem is basting. Once you open the grill lid, you lose all of the heat and you have to start again. The oven has pretty much the same problem, but it's less extreme in the variances. I think it's Alton Brown who says that you shouldn't baste at all, in favor of the constant temperature. Not that I like him that much (okay, not at all), but it's a vote in my favor. We did run out of gas, so we finished it in the oven for the last 20 minutes.

The end result was really quite nice. The breast skin blackened a bit, which made me realize I'd forgotten to warn my brother to tent the the breast with foil for the first hour (which evens out the colorization). But it was still quite tasty.

The meat was moist enough that it really did not need gravy, but I decided to give it a quick shot, since the pressure was off. I've never been really comfortable with gravy, as it always seems to be a rush job, by definition, and risky. I deglazed the roasting pan with a bit of chicken stock, whisked in some flour, cooked that into a nice roux and then added stock and white wine to get to the right volume and viscousity.. The drippings from the brine and seasoned butter were just salty enough, but not too much.

So, in the end, there was no magic trick. Just carefully working through the basics and working with a consistant flavor mix paid off.

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