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The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey + Gravy

Thanksgiving is probably my most favorite time of year for cooking. I adore roasting chestnuts and brining my turkey for days. This recipe will become your family tradition as it has become mine thanks to Chef, Mark Sullivan of Spruce in San Francisco. This recipe was gifted to a few aspiring chefs and home cooks a few years back and I couldn’t have Thanksgiving without it! Thanks again Mark, you are the best!!!


Prep Time: 30-45 minutes

Rest Time: 2-3 days


3 onions, sliced

3 fennel bulbs, sliced

30 cloves of fresh garlic, sliced

3 oranges, sliced

3 lemons, sliced seeds discarded

1/2 cup olive oil

1 gallon water, brought to a boil

18 oz. kosher salt

12 oz. honey

3 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted

4 bay leaves

3 sprigs rosemary, bruised

12 sprigs of thyme, bruised

6 juniper berries, bruised

2 gallons of ice water

1 16-18 pound  organic turkey

* see bottom for cooking temperatures and recommended USDA temperatures

Preparing the Brine….

Sweat the onions, fennel and garlic in olive oil for 20 minutes over medium heat in a covered stock pot, careful to not color them.

Cover with the boiling water and whisk in the salt and honey so that they disperse into the water. Add all the other ingredients ( citrus, herbs and spices) then turn off the heat to steep for 30 minutes.

Chill the brine by adding 2 gallons of ice water.

Rinse your turkey under cold water and place in a large vessel or pot. Pour the chilled brine over the bird and refrigerate for two or three days.

Roasting the Bird….

Remove the bird from the brine and place in a vessel covered for one hour.

Heat your oven to convection heat at 400 degrees. If using a still oven add 50 degrees to all the temperatures for this recipe. Note: use a quality thermometer preferably with a timer to gauge internal temperature.

To properly roast a 16 pound bird you can plan on a 5 hour time span from start to finish. One hour to temper the bird by bringing it up to room temperature after removing it from the brine, 2  1/2 – 3 hours to cook the bird and a final hour to rest the bird after roasting. Tempering, roasting, and resting are the key to a perfectly roasted turkey or poultry for that matter.

Stuff your bird with your preferred stuffing (I use a wild rice stuffing that I’ll post next), truss the bird with kitchen string. Season the bird liberally with salt and pepper. Roll out aluminum foil with parchment paper  rolled out on-top of it. Then place the bird breast side down on the paper. Wrap the parchment around the bird and then the aluminum foil around that. It should look like a silver ball of sorts when done. Place the bird again breast side down into your roasting pan rack.

Place the bird in the oven for 30 minutes only… then turn the oven down to 200 degrees for one hour.

After one hour at 200 degrees, remove the turkey from the oven and open the foil and parchment. Flip the bird over and tightly close up the parchment and foil again. Return to the oven at 200 degrees and roast for another hour.

After this next hour, you’ll need to be especially aware of the internal temperature before finishing the bird in the oven. Measure the temperature by piercing deep into the thigh. Look for a final temperature of 142-148 degrees. (148-160 for more doneness)

Remove the bird after the two hours at 200 degrees and remove the parchment and foil allowing the juices to pool in the roasting pan. Crank the oven up to 375 (425 for non convection) and return the bird (breast side up again) to the oven until well browned and cooked to your desired cooking temp of 142-148.  Expect a touch of pink near the joints for these temps but if you prefer a less moist bird you can cook it further. See above.

Note: USDA recommends 180 for poultry, sadly this will result in the dried out birds of our childhoods…

Once the bird has reached temp remove and place the turkey on a wood cutting board or platter to rest for one hour! Don’t forget to tip the bird in the roasting pan, you want to make sure to get all of those juices out for gravy… Resting for an hour will allow all the juices to disperse back into the flesh and give you the perfect crown jewel of the table this holiday, so don’t skip.  If you can keep the bird in a warm area while resting (90-105 degrees) it’s best but if not tent it lightly with foil.

Carving the Bird…

Make a cut along the middle of the breast bone, let your knife slice just the side of the bone releasing the breast from the carcass. remove the entire breast and slice on the bias, plating on the platter. Repeat on the other side. Remove the legs using the tip of your knife to release it from the joint. Remove the wings and any under meat if you like or save those parts for left overs.

Making the Gravy…

Drippings from the roasted turkey

1 1/2 cups dry white wine 

1/4 cup flour

2 1/2 – 3 cups broth or potato water (super easy if you are making mashed potatoes with your turkey)

3-4 shallots, minced

2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped fine

Pour the drippings from your roasting pan into a sauce pot, set aside.

Set the roasting pan directly over medium high heat on your stove.

Add the white wine to the pan, careful it will sizzle and pop. Scrape the pan with a wooden spoon while the wine is sizzling, this will deglaze the pan releasing all the little bits into the liquid.

Add the shallots and thyme, keep scrapping and stirring for 5-6 minutes…

Place the sauce pot on a medium-high heat burner. Once hot add the flour and stir until well combined and the flour is smooth.

Continue to stir briskly while slowly adding the wine and shallots mixture. Add in 1/2 cup increments the  potato water to achieve the desired consistency. Keep in mind you may need to adjust the temperature to keep the gravy gently bubbling.

Let the gravy simmer for about 10 minutes before tasting and seasoning with salt and pepper.

The gravy will thicken when cooled at the table but adjust thickness with flour or water for thicker or thinner gravy.

Serve alongside of your perfectly roasted turkey and don’t blame me (or Chef Sullivan) if your guests are not much for conversation, they will be too busy enjoying your turkey!



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