This recipe incorporates a couple of techniques that will help you avoid that dry, bland bird that we all fear. First, a brine is used. Turkey, especially mass, commercially produced ones, are essentially flavorless (hence the drowning in gravy we are all familiar with.) Brining adds flavor to the meat and helps it hold on to moisture. The second technique employed is roasting the turkey unstuffed. This reduces cooking time, and in doing so, also helps with moisture retention. When roasting a stuffed bird, the last thing to reach the target temperature is the center of the stuffing. Because of the risk of foodborne illness associated with a moist mass inside a poultry cavity, this is the metric by which we are taught to measure the turkey's doneness. The problem is however, by the time the stuffing reaches the recommended 165 degrees, the bird itself is overcooked and dry. The cavity doesn't hold enough stuffing anyway to pair with all of the meat, so bake it separately. If you can't bear the thought of an empty bird, try bouquet of rosemary, thyme, and sage leaves, a couple of lemons, cut in half, a quartered onion, a few cloves of garlic, or any combination of those. This might be a little different than your grandmother's holiday turkey routine, but the extra effort and attention is well worth it. One other thing that is worthy of note is that since all ovens perform differently, don't rely solely on cooking rules involving times. Use a decent quality instant read thermometer, and by all means if your bird came with one of those plastic pop-up devices, I'm sorry. They are imprecise, unreliable, and in my opinion worthless. Leave it in because it plugs the ugly, moisture robbing hole it created, but ignore it for the purposes of determining when your turkey is done.
1 cup salt
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 gallons water
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon allspice
1/2 tablespoon ginger
1 turkey -- 14-16 pounds
Combine brine ingredients in a stockpot or food safe bucket or bin that is large enough to hold the turkey. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Place the turkey in the brine and position so that the entire bird is submerged. Place the container in the refrigerator overnight.
Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and dry it inside and out, with paper towels or a cloth. Place the turkey on a roaster rack breast side up, and place the rack inside the roaster. Brush the skin with some melted butter, olive oil, or coat it with a thin film of vegetable oil spray. Place in a 400 degree oven and roast uncovered for 30 minutes. This helps set the skin to trap some of the steam during cooking. Reduce the heat to 325, cover, and roast until you get a reading of 165 at thigh/wing joint. (Don't worry, 165 is food safe, and besides, the temp will still climb a bit more during resting.) If you are not using a temperature probe that is placed in the turkey before cooking, begin checking the temp at about 2 hours. Uncover the bird for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking to brown the skin if desired. Remove the bird from the oven, tent with foil and allow it to rest for 25 minutes before carving.
Cook sausage, crumble, drain, and reserve. Saute onion, garlic, shallot, and fennel in olive oil until soft and fragrant. Place bread cubes in mixing bowl, add onion mixture and sausage. Fold to combine. Add cilantro. Moisten with broth while gently folding until bread is rehydrated but not soggy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place in a buttered baking pan and bake covered in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until heated through.
Final texture can be controlled at the addition of broth step.
More moist = softer, bread pudding-like.
Less moist = bready, chewy, doesn't bind together in a mass.
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 cup granny smith apple -- peeled and cubed
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon -- ground
1/4 teaspoon ginger -- ground
1/4 teaspoon allspice -- ground
1/8 teaspoon cloves -- ground
Combine ingredients in saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes stirring throughout.