1 cup kosher salt, plus more as needed
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 (12- to 15-pound) turkey, neck reserved for stock
8 cups homemade turkey stock, homemade chicken stock, or reduced-
at low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 bunch fresh sage
1 bunch fresh thyme
5 small sweet onions, peels reserved, quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, for the herb paste
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2 apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh 5 tablespoons (about 1/3 cup)
unsalted butter or reserved fat from cooking the turkey, for the gravy
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup apple cider
1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
To brine the turkey, combine 2 gallons water, the salt, and the sugar in a large, nonreactive bucket or stockpot if storing in the refrigerator, or in an insulated cooler if not. (Two gallons water will be sufficient for most birds; larger birds may require three.) Submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for up to 14 hours. If using a cooler, add ice or freezer packs to keep the bird very cold. Remove the bird from the liquid and rinse inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and discard the brine.
Combine the turkey neck and stock in a medium saucepan. Set aside one sprig of each herb; strip the leaves from the remaining stems and chop (you should have about 1/4 cup of each). Add the stripped herb stems and the onion skins to the stock. Bring the stock to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer while the turkey cooks. (This little step will help you boost the flavor of the stock, especially if you are using store-bought stock.)
Meanwhile, combine the butter, oil, chopped herb leaves, and garlic in a food processor; pulse to combine. (You can also mix this herb paste in a small bowl as long as everything is finely chopped.) Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the oven to 450°F. Position an oven rack in the lowest part of the oven.
Season the turkey inside and out with pepper (no salt is necessary because of the brining). Place 1 quartered onion, 1 apple, and the reserved sprigs of parsley, sage, and thyme in the cavity. Add the fresh bay leaves.
Working from the cavity end, loosen the skin without tearing by running your fingers between the skin and flesh of the breast. Work the herb paste under the skin, then wipe any remaining herb paste on the outside of the bird. (This step is largely to clean your hands.)
Tie the drumsticks together with kitchen twine and fold the wings under the body to steady the bird and for best presentation. Transfer the turkey to a rack set in a large roasting pan. (I prefer a rack because it lifts the turkey and allows the bottom half of the bird to brown, too. However, you can roast your turkey without one.) Using a ladle and sieve, pour 3 cups of the prepared stock into the roasting pan. Scatter the remaining quartered onions and apple around the roasting pan.
Roast for 45 minutes. Decrease the oven temperature to 350°F. Baste the turkey with pan drippings, adding more strained stock as the pan becomes dry. (You’ll likely need about 4 cups.) Roast, basting every 30 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165°F, 21/2 to 3 hours.
Transfer the turkey to a rimmed cutting board. Tent it loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a medium bowl. Set aside. The apples have likely dissolved or become mush, so simply remove any larger pieces and discard.
Meanwhile, remove the rack from the roasting pan. Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a fat separator and set aside. The fat will rise to the top and the juices and dark drippings will stay at the bottom. (If you do not have a fat separator, pour the juices into a liquid measuring cup and remove the fat with a metal spoon; reserve the fat in a separate measuring cup or bowl.)
Pour the separated drippings into a large liquid measuring cup. Add enough stock to make 4 cups. Set aside.
Place the roasting pan across two burners on the stove over medium heat. Add the reserved turkey fat or 1/3 cup butter and the flour. Whisk to combine. Cook over low heat until foaming. Add the dripping-stock mixture, any turkey juices accumulated on the cutting board, the apple cider, and the vinegar; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the gravy thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. If the gravy is still too thin to hold a trail when you run your finger across the spoon, continue cooking. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
To serve, carve the turkey and arrange on a serving platter. Scatter the onions around the bird. Transfer the gravy to a serving boat and pass it around with the turkey.
Keywords: turkey, gravy, thanksgiving
Excerpted from SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE © 2018 by Virginia Willis. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. For more information visit www.virginiawillis.com .