Deconstructed Holiday Turkey with Sage Gravy

Deconstructed Holiday Turkey with Sage GravyTo Brine or Not To Brine….
Growing up, my mother did not brine our turkey for Thanksgiving. She did it the old fashioned way: slather on the butter, stick it in the oven, and torture the family for hours with the scent of roasting bird.

Our turkey always tasted good, but then again we ate Thanksgiving dinner which means we didn’t eat until 6:30 or 7:00, so we were all about to chew our arms off. I don’t recall the turkey ever being super dry, but I was a kid. All I cared about was how many mashed potatoes I could stuff in my mouth at one time. And then there’s gravy, the other food group.

Nowadays there is a national dry turkey emergency. There are so many versions of Thanksgiving Turkey Brine that it can be hard to choose—especially when you consider “trying” a brine means you have to cook a small turkey or a turkey breast. Not everyone wants to take time to do that unless you’re psycho, like me.

We go through a lot of turkey in my house. My sons will only eat turkey sandwiches for school lunch. Roasting a turkey or turkey breast can be better overall than buying a pound of the sliced turkey from the meat counter: not only can it be more economical, it just tastes better.

I have roasted turkey both ways; I have brined, and I have gone rogue and just thrown it in the oven. I must say I prefer the brine, especially for sandwiches. And let’s face it, the meal is good, but it’s all about the leftovers. I am particular about which brine I use. Some are too sweet, or too citrusy, or just plain weird. I like a brine that will enhance the flavor it and keep it moist, not change the taste of the turkey too much.

I have two favorite brines. The first one is a mix that we sell here, at the store (which makes life that much easier). It is made by a local company, KL Keller Food Ways, and the 1 lb. pack is enough to brine a 14-18 pound turkey. The blend contains sage, coriander, bay, black pepper and a little bit of chili flakes. But, don’t worry, it’s not spicy. It is very good and is available in the meat department.

My other favorite is a sage brine recipe I found in Bon Appetite for a Deconstructed Holiday Turkey with Sage Gravy. I don’t usually do the whole recipe but I do use the brine. I think it is the most “traditionally turkey” tasting brine if that even makes sense. Try it out on a turkey breast if you don’t want any surprises on the 27th.

Deconstructed Holiday Turkey with Sage Gravy
Adapted from Epicurious and Ted Allen

For the brine
1 (6 1/2 to 7 pound) turkey breast on the bone
3 turkey drumsticks (about 2 1/4 pounds total)
2 turkey thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
1 head garlic, cut in half (do not peel)
2 dried bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large whole sprigs fresh sage
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons allspice berries
1/4 cup fresh celery leaves (from 1 bunch)

For the turkey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Leaves from 2 large sprigs sage, plus several whole sprigs for garnish

For the gravy
2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Brine the turkey
Rinse the turkey parts and place them in a doubled 2 1/2-gallon resealable plastic bags (a large stockpot works well, too). Add the salt, honey, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, sage, peppercorns, allspice, and celery leaves. Add enough cold water to cover the turkey  (about 3 quarts). Press out all of the air, close the bags, and place them in a large bowl or some other large container to protect against leaks. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Roast the turkey
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Arrange the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Remove the turkey parts from the brine, pat dry with paper towels, and place the turkey parts skin-side-up, in 2 medium roasting pans on the oven racks. Be certain to leave space between the turkey parts for air circulation. Pour 1 cup of water into each pan. Drizzle the turkey parts with melted butter and scatter with the sage leaves. Place 1 pan on each oven rack and roast until the turkey is beginning to brown (about 30 minutes).

Lower the heat to 400°F, switch the positions of pans in on the oven racks and rotate each pan 180°. Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast (avoid the bone!) registers 165° (about 1 to 1-1/4 hours). Transfer the turkey parts onto a platter and make a tent with foil.

Make the gravy
Pour the pan juices into a 4-cup glass measuring cup, and allow it to stand until the fat rises to the top (about 2 to 3 minutes). Skim off the fat and reserve it in a separate container.

Set 1 roasting pan across 2 burners, add 2 cups of the chicken broth and bring it to a simmer over moderately high heat, scraping up any browned bits. Add the simmering broth to the pan juices in a measuring cup. Then add the additional chicken broth, if needed, to equal 4 cups of liquid.

In a medium saucepan over moderately low heat, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until smooth (approximately 2 minutes). Gradually whisk in the broth mixture and any collected juices from the platter that is holding the turkey. Next, raise the heat to moderately high and boil the mixture, uncovered, until thickened (about 8 minutes).

Season the gravy with salt and pepper to taste. Carve the turkey pieces and garnish with sage. Serve with a generous helping of gravy.

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