Real Holiday Food: Sage-Butter Roasted Turkey

by Anne Bennett on November 17, 2009

In recent years brining has become a popular way to prepare a turkey for holiday roasting, the theory being that submerging the bird in a salt-water solution for a long soak made it juicier and gave it more flavor. This method worked only with a natural turkey, because the “butter-basted” (such as Butterball) or kosher turkeys had already been injected with a saline solution.

The brine-shy need not worry: this is not a brining recipe. I’m relieved to say that I’ve found an easier preparation that seems to work just as well. What a relief. Although brining has its merits, every year as Thanksgiving has approached I’ve dreaded the whole submerging-the turkey-in-salted-water routine.  Nonetheless, until now I have sloshed my way through the sloppy, bucket-toting process because it seemed the best way to inject what was usually a fairly tasteless bird with some flavor.

Food science to the rescue! This year both Bon Appetit and Cooks Illustrated have come up with an easier way to produce a flavorful, juicy turkey without the fuss of sinking it in a vat of salt-water. This simpler method calls for rubbing kosher salt all over the turkey and refrigerating it overnight before roasting. Pretty easy, huh? And it works. This turkey was moist, juicy and very flavorful without being too salty.

By the way, another complicated technique, starting the roasting process with the turkey on its breast and then turning it over with paper towels at the midway point, has bitten the dust, at least at my house. As far as I’m concerned, the last thing I need to be doing on the cook’s most daunting day of the year is to flip over a hot turkey. Besides, by then I’ve had a glass of wine and am probably not in my best turkey-turning mode.

Try this recipe. And when you receive the eventual compliments, wipe your brow with a kitchen towel and tell everyone how very difficult it all was. Remember, the day after Thanksgiving is the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Perhaps your family will feel compelled to buy you a special gift for all your hard work!  Or better yet, buy yourself a gift and put it under the tree from Santa. Nothing like getting exactly what you want, in the right  color and the right size!


Sage-Butter Roasted Turkey

3 T. kosher salt* (regular table salt does not work here.)
1 T. dried rubbed sage
1 16-pound turkey (or thereabouts)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
1 cup chicken broth

*I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which I get at Penzey’s

Combine kosher salt and dried sage in a small bowl. Loosen skin over turkey’s breast and legs (try not to tear the skin; Cooks Illustrated suggests using the blunt handle-end of a wooden spoon to loosen the skin). Rub the salt mixture all over the turkey, under the skin and inside the cavity. Wrap turkey in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and set oven rack on lowest position. Pat turkey dry and tuck wing tips under. Tie legs loosely together with kitchen twine. Stir butter and fresh chopped sage together in a small saucepan over low heat until butter melts. Brush all over the turkey and sprinkle with pepper.

Roast turkey for 1 hour. Baste with any pan juices, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting for 45 minutes. Pour chicken broth over and turn pan around. Roast until the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about another 1 1/4 hours. If roasting pan juices evaporate, pour on more chicken broth. Total cooking time will be approximately 3 hours, depending on the size of your bird.  Don’t overcook! Easier said than done, I know, but using the instant-read thermometer will assure when it’s done.

Transfer turkey to a platter and cover with foil. Allow to rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carving. This will give you time to finish other dishes. Don’t worry; the turkey will stay warm that long.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

kaye November 21, 2009 at 3:58 pm

thxththx for adding the ability to print recipes only–i thank you, my mom thanks you, her friend shirley thanks you–ok, all of your groupies must be thrilled (especially those of us who have yet to master that screen-shot thing . . . ) .

Tobi Tufnell May 21, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Thx for information.

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