Perfect Roast Turkey

11 Oct

There is a certain amount of pressure that comes along with being the host for a big holiday dinner, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. If you are anything like me, you want to serve your guests food that is memorable (but only in a good way) and has them eagerly lining up for seconds. The pressure gets even more intense when you are preparing the main dish, roast turkey, using a very detailed recipe for the first time. Pulling the turkey out of the oven and finally slicing into the meat is a tense moment – did all that effort pay off?  Or was this whole process a waste of time?

Thankfully, the turkey that I spent all day (and some) preparing was worth the effort. The meat was full of flavour, perfectly seasoned, tender and juicy. The skin was golden, with a slight crispness. All that hard work had paid off!! Guests were happy, I was ecstatic. Not bad for someone who a year ago hadn’t even heard of the process of brining a turkey.

It was a work colleague that had initially recommended the Martha Stewart Perfect Roast Turkey recipe to me but the first time that I read it, I gulped. It was intimidating. There were a lot of steps to the process and, as a result, I almost discarded the recipe. However, after re-reading it numerous times over and making a schedule for the day, this was the recipe that I ended up using. Sure, I could fail miserably, or I could end up with an amazing meal that I could proudly serve to my friends. That is the immense power that food has over me – fear goes out the window for the possibility of the perfect dish.

There are a lot of steps for this recipe. I would say that none are particularly difficult, but they are time-consuming. I made some adjustments to the brine as I had read comments from other Martha fans that the end result was too salty. I adjusted the salt from 3 cups to only 2 cups, and the sugar from 5 cups to only 3 cups. Now, in fairness, I didn’t try Martha’s original recipe the way it was intended but with the adjustments made, I felt that the turkey was perfectly salted. If it had been any saltier, it would definitely have been too much.

Here are some quick tips:

  • I allowed my turkey to brine longer than the suggested 24 hours. I let it soak for 2 days and it tasted fantastic!
  • I used a large, strong ziplock bag to brine my turkey in. I then placed the bag into a tray and then put it in the fridge.
  • Make sure the roasting tray that you use is strong enough for your bird. Those flimsy foil trays are not strong enough unless you reinforce it by placing it on a tray to give it more support (this is what I did).
  • For the turkey brushing, which you end up doing every half an hour whilst it is roasting, I used a lot more butter/wine mixture than what was recommended. 1/2 cup of melted butter and 1/2 cup of wine really did not go far at all. Make sure you are prepared for this by having a lot of extra butter on hand.
  • I didn’t stuff the turkey but next time I will definitely attempt that step.

Perfect Roast Turkey – Serves 12 to 14

3 cups coarse salt, plus more for seasoning (I changed this to only 2 cups of salt)
5 cups sugar (I changed this to only 3 cups of sugar)
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 dried bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns, plus freshly ground pepper
1 fresh whole turkey (18 to 20 pounds), rinsed and patted dry, giblets and neck reserved for gravy

Butter mixture for brushing:

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted, plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc


Martha’s Chestnut Stuffing to stuff the turkey with (optional).
Martha’s Gravy to serve with the turkey, or prepare your own (optional).
Crab apples, fresh rosemary sprigs, and fresh sage, for garnish (optional)


Put salt, sugar, onions, leeks, carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and 10 cups water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat; let brine cool completely.

Add turkey, breast first, to the brine. Cover; refrigerate 24 hours. Remove from brine; pat dry with paper towels. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Stir together melted butter and wine in a medium bowl. Fold a very large piece of cheesecloth into quarters so that it is large enough to cover breast and halfway down sides of turkey. Immerse cloth in butter mixture; let soak.

Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack set in a roasting pan. Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper inside turkey. Loosely fill body and neck cavities with stuffing. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Fold neck flap under; secure with toothpicks. Rub turkey all over with softened butter; season with salt and pepper.

Remove cheesecloth from butter mixture, squeezing gently into bowl. Reserve butter mixture for brushing. Lay cheesecloth over turkey.

Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Roast 30 minutes. Brush cheesecloth and exposed turkey with butter mixture. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Roast, brushing every 30 minutes, for 2 1/2 hours. Cover with foil if browning too quickly. If making gravy, add giblets and neck to pan 1 1/2 hours after reducing temperature; roast 30 minutes, and reserve.

Discard cheesecloth; rotate pan. Baste turkey with pan juices. Roast, rotating pan halfway through, until skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees and stuffing reaches 165 degrees, about 1 hour. Transfer to a platter. Set pan with drippings aside for gravy. Let turkey stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes. Garnish, if desired.

Like a proud mother, I gush when I see that final picture! It was so beautiful and the taste was incredible. This recipe has now entered my permanent collection – I can see myself making this recipe for many, many Thanksgivings and Christmas’ to come!


2 Responses to “Perfect Roast Turkey”

  1. noahms456 November 11, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    Your bravery is amazing, and the picture shows it’s a good recipe. I have been a cook for 15 years or so (professionally) and I still get a little uneasy roasting Thanksgiving turkeys. A little bit of performance anxiety, I guess.

    Keep up the good works.

    • greedyguts November 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

      Thanks! I completely understand your performance anxiety – I get it anytime I am cooking for a group of people, but especially when roasting meat.

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