I brined a turkey for Thanksgiving, and it was wonderful. You might want to try this for your Christmas dinner. I put together a recipe for this largely based on a recipe by Alton Brown, but I made quite a few changes, especially in the aromatics. It was a joy both to prepare and eat this bird.
Brining is a process in which meat is soaked in a salt solution (called a brine) before cooking. The brine makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, through the process of osmosis. This process causes cells to hold on to the water while the meat, poultry or fish is cooking. That's the short version of it. Scientists could go on forever about this process, but I'm not a scientist. I just know that it works.
1 thawed turkey (approx. 20 lb.)
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 gallon iced water
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. Lawry’s® seasoned pepper (or black pepper)
2 cups water
1 large handful fresh parsley leaves (cut off the stalks)
6 (4” long) pieces celery
4 (4” long) pieces carrot
1 sliced red apple
1/2 sliced onion
4 whole, peeled cloves garlic
2 tsp. rubbed sage
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
Olive oil for basting
The night before: Combine all of the ingredients for the brine, except the ice water in a large (8 qt.) kettle and bring to a boil, stirring well so as to dissolve the salt and sugar. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Then combine the brine and the ice water in a large and clean insulated cooler. Place the turkey, breast side down in cooler, and put lid on. Marinate for about 8 to 10 hours, turning once.
When you are ready to roast the bird, combine the celery, the carrot, the apple, the onion and the garlic in a large, microwave safe bowl. Stir the rubbed sage and dried thyme leaves into the water and add it to the ingredients in the bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine. Wash the bird inside and out with cold water. Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Pat dry with paper towels and put the celery, the carrot, the apple, the onion the garlic, and the fresh parsley leaves in cavity. Tuck back the wings and coat the whole turkey liberally with olive oil.
Roast the turkey on the lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover the breast area only with a double layer of aluminum foil. Insert a meat thermometer between the thigh and breast just beyond the lower part of the thigh bone, making sure that the thermometer does not touch any part of the bone. Reduce oven to 325 degrees F and put the bird back in the oven. The remaining roasting time for a turkey of about 20 pounds should be anywhere from about 4 to 5 hours. Make adjustments for different size birds. Turkey should be done when the meat thermometer reaches 190 degrees F in the deepest part of the thigh muscle. (Some sources give lower temperatures, but I like to be sure.) After removing from oven, cover entire bird loosely with foil and allow 15-20 minutes standing time before carving. Discard the aromatics.