By TOM YATES
Even a mild brine plumps a bird with moisture and flavor. Bolstered by the abundance of local apple cider, I got apple happy.
After warming 14 cups Evans Orchard apple cider in a large stock pot over a medium flame, I added 1 1/2 cups Country Rock sorghum, 1 1/2 cups Buffalo Trace bourbon, 6 cups water, 3 tablespoons black peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, 6 whole garlic cloves, 4 sprigs lemon thyme, and 1 cup kosher salt. When the sugar thoroughly dissolved into the mix, I pulled the brine from the heat and added 6 cups of ice to cool the brine to room temperature.
I lined a bucket with a plastic bag and carefully poured the cooled brine into the bag. After rinsing a 12 pound Amish turkey, I plunged it into the brine, placed a plate over the turkey to keep it submerged, tied the plastic bag together, and slid the turkey into the refrigerator to brine for 24 hours.
I needed a shallow pan to allow the legs and thighs of the turkey to be exposed to as much circulating heat as possible, so I used a shallow (2″ deep) hotel pan.
I rinsed the turkey under cold running water, patted it dry, and set it aside. For an added flavor boost, I combined 2 sticks softened unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons chopped thyme, and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley before smearing it over the entire turkey. Using the tips of my fingers to loosen the skin from the flesh, I slathered the remaining herbed butter under the skin of the breasts, thighs, and legs. After stuffing the cavity with sliced apples, onions, rosemary, sage, and thyme, I tied the legs together with kitchen twine.
In lieu of a rack, I placed celery stalks and unpeeled carrots into the hotel pan and positioned the buttered turkey onto the vegetables before scattering 6 whole garlic cloves, 3 quartered Scott County red candy onions, and 4 peeled Casey County Winesap apples to the side. After adding 2 cups chicken stock, 1 cup apple cider, and 1 cup bourbon to the pan, I slid the turkey into a 350 oven.
To baste or not to baste? I’m a baster. As long as the turkey is cooked to the correct temperature (internal temp 165 deepest part of the thigh), why not bathe the skin with the reduced fatty pan drippings? Basting the turkey roughly every 30 minutes, I covered the breast with aluminum foil after 1 hour to prevent over-browning and continued to baste while checking the internal temperature every 45 minutes or so.
I’m a sucker for a glaze. It’s all about balance.
After reducing 2 cups apple cider by half, I added 3/4 cups sorghum, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1/2 cup bourbon, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. I lowered the heat and let the glaze bubble away until it was the consistency of…well…sorghum. So, think of it as an amplified boozy apple cider-infused sweet and tart version of sorghum.
When the turkey reached an internal temperature of 155 degrees (about 2 hours), I started painting every inch of the exposed skin and flesh with the molten sticky glaze. When the turkey hit 165 degrees, I blasted to heat to 450 degrees, gave the bird a final slather, and popped it back into the oven to burnish the skin before pulling the turkey from the oven to rest for 30 minutes.
After reducing the strained pan drippings into a highly seasoned jus, I nestled the brushed mahogany lacquered turkey onto fresh greenery, feathered sage, and fresh bay leaves.
Full on savory, the apple cider and sorghum didn’t blast the turkey into a candied sugar bomb. The bold double punch of brine and glaze combined to promote succulent, moist, and tender meat. While the bourbon added mellow smoky vanilla undertones, the acidic bolt of the apple cider vinegar tempered the fruity cider and soft bittersweet earthiness of the caramelized sorghum. Perfect.
Thanksgiving – Lacquered up.
This article also appears on page 12 of the November 2016 printed edition of the Hamburg Journal. For more Hamburg area news, subscribe to the Hamburg Journal weekly digital newsletter.