november 20 2017 | ryan johnson

Thanksgiving's Perfect Bird

For the definitive word on roasting the perfect Thanksgiving turkey, there is no one better to ask than King Estate’s own Charcuterie Chef, Tim Bass. As an expert in the preparation of meats, Tim is unfazed by the prospect of roasting more than 20 turkeys to serve to the Estate’s Thanksgiving dinner guests and is eager to share his knowledge with others. A week before the big day, Tim took a moment to offer his top tips for roasting a succulent turkey with crisp, golden skin.

The secret to roasting perfect turkey can be summed up in one word: brining. Tim has a few other tricks, too, but it all starts with the brine.

With brining, you need to plan ahead. The bird must be thawed, and should be soaked in the brine overnight. If you want to infuse your brine with lemon, sage, rosemary or other herbs, you can make it a day or two ahead by mixing the ingredients, bringing them just to a boil and allowing the liquid to thoroughly cool (outside is fine) while the flavors meld.

The basic brine recipe is 3 gallons of water, 2 cups of salt and 1-3/4 cups of sugar. To figure out how much you need, put your turkey in a stockpot or other container for brining and fill it with water to cover the bird with about two inches of liquid. (Finding a pot large enough may be the hardest part of this recipe! Brining bags, available from kitchen specialty stores, are another option.) Pour out the liquid and measure it. If you need more, increase the recipe proportionately. You’ll need a little more than just the amount in the stockpot because the bird will be injected with the brine as well.

Tim is happy to explain why brining works, but the main thing for the harried Thanksgiving home chef to know is that the technique all but guarantees that the meat will be juicy, not dry. 

If you’re not adding anything to the brine, simply mix the cold water, salt and sugar. Inject the brine into the meaty part of the thighs and breast – six to eight injections are fine. Then immerse the bird in the cold brine and let it sit covered overnight in the refrigerator or outdoors. It can soak for as much as 36 hours; after that it will be too salty.

On Thanksgiving Day, take the bird out, rinse it off and let it sit at room temperature to drip dry for two to three hours before patting it down. When ready to roast, get the oven good and hot at 425 degrees. The biggest mistake most people make, Tim says, is not preheating the oven and putting the turkey in cold rather than room temp. The bird will struggle to crisp if it is cold or the oven isn’t hot enough.

Position the turkey on a rack. This will allow the skin to crisp up on all sides. If you like you can put onions, garlic, carrots or potatoes under the rack to catch the drippings. Tim likes to put onions under the bird to use later in gravy.

Rub the bird with clarified butter (the milk solids need to be removed so they don’t burn) or coconut oil. For even crispier skin, soak a cheesecloth in clarified butter or coconut oil and wrap the turkey in it. Coconut oil is a good choice because, like clarified butter, it won’t burn.

Roast the turkey at 425 degrees for 30 minutes and then turn the heat down to 350 until the turkey is done and a meat thermometer reads 160 in the thigh or breast.

When the bird is a beautiful golden brown and the thermometer reads 160, remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest at least 30 minutes before carving. Don’t put the bird on a solid surface. Keep it on a rack. Otherwise the skin will get soggy and all that effort you put into crisping up the skin will be for naught.

No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without wine. Complement your feast with our 2015 King Estate Pinot Noir or 2016 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris.

We couldn’t resist asking Tim what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers, and we love his recommendation for its simplicity: pot pie. Mix or layer the turkey, dressing and gravy in a casserole dish, put phyllo dough over the top and heat in a 350-degree oven until the crust is golden and the gravy is bubbling.

From the King family and all of us at King Estate, happy Thanksgiving.