This sweet and tangy butter tucked under the turkey skin, plus roasting in a steamy environment, makes for moist and meltingly tender meat with a rich flavor. I lay awake in bed one night, puzzling how to get the butter under the skin without making a greasy mess, and came up with the trick in this recipe. Using vegetables to flavor the gravy is a technique I learned from a friend in Germany, and star anise is the one ingredient my German mother has always included in her chicken or turkey soups, so naturally, I have to sneak it into my gravy, for a subtle and elusive flavor note. —Kitchen Frau
Test Kitchen Notes
This is a nice, straightforward recipe for anyone not sure they have the fridge space to give up to brining a bird for several days (though feel free to give it a brine beforehand to help the breast stay extra moist). Just mix a compound butter, slice and place under the skin, and roast away. I did find that removing the cover in the last hour helped the turkey brown nicely. Removing the turkey when the thigh hits 165°F and then resting gives you a nicely cooked turkey. And, making a broth with the neck and giblets while the turkey cooks is an easy way to make a very flavorful gravy that goes great with both the bird and sides. —Stephanie Bourgeois
- Makes 1 large turkey and 5 cups gravy
- For the Flavored Basting Butter:
softened salted butter
- For the Turkey and Gravy
16 pound or larger turkey
Star anise pod
whole black peppercorns
Neck and giblets from the turkey
salt, plus more to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cups
sweet rice flour* or regular flour
- With an electric mixer, or with a wooden spoon and a bowl, mix the softened butter with the maple syrup, mustard, and poultry seasoning. Divide the flavored butter into two equal-sized portions and put one into a small covered container to keep at room temperature until roasting the turkey. Place the other half onto a square of plastic food wrap or wax paper and shape into a 3-inch log with a spatula or spoon.
- Wrap the butter and tidy up the shape, flattening the ends. Place it on a flat surface in the freezer, to freeze until solid.
- Several hours before roasting, take the turkey out of the refrigerator to bring to room temperature. Remove the neck and any giblets (often packed in a paper packet) from the cavity of the bird and reserve. Rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Remove the log of basting butter from the freezer and slice it into thin slices. Slide your fingers underneath the skin on the turkey breast and gently work your fingers back and forth to separate the skin from the meat. Then place the butter slices, one at a time, under the skin, spacing them out over the turkey breast. It will look lumpy, but when the butter melts and bastes the turkey meat, the skin will smooth right out again.
- Peel and chop the carrots, onions and celery into large dices. Place two of the bay leaves into the cavity of the turkey, then add the diced vegetables. Truss the turkey by tying the legs with kitchen twine, or by tucking the ends of the legs under the flap of skin at the tail end, if it has one. Tuck the wing tips under the back. If the legs come out from the flap during roasting, tie them together with kitchen twine. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack inside a large roasting pan. Using your fingers, rub a thin layer (about a tablespoon) of the reserved soft glazing butter all over the turkey. Pour 2 cups of the water into the roasting pan around the turkey. If the roaster has a lid, put it on. Otherwise, cover the turkey with heavy duty foil, wrapping it firmly around the lip of the roasting pan to make a good tent for the turkey to steam in.
- Once the turkey is roasting, put the reserved neck and giblets into a saucepan. Cover with the remaining 4 cups of water, and add the bay leaf, star anise pod and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover the saucepan and leave it to simmer slowly the whole time the turkey is roasting. This will be the base for your gravy. The heart and gizzard add good flavor, but if your giblet packet contains the liver I would advise removing it as soon as it has come to a boil, and using it for another purpose (my cats love it), or leaving it out altogether. Leaving the liver in the broth to simmer for a long time will add a bitter taste to your gravy.
- Allow the turkey to roast for about 15 minutes per pound, or a little less, using the times for 'unstuffed' turkeys (the cut-up vegetables are much less dense than bread stuffing and still allow warm air to circulate inside the turkey). During the last hour of baking, periodically baste the bird with the remainder of the soft maple-mustard butter by brushing it all over the skin using a pastry brush. Insert a meat thermometer into the turkey breast, not touching the bone, and start checking the temperature after 3 hours. I find that by cooking the turkey this way, in a covered roaster with water in the bottom, it usually cooks faster than the recommended time because of the moist heat. It browns nicely if the roaster is large enough and has a lid, but if you find the turkey isn't browning enough, remove the lid (or the foil) during the last hour to half hour of the roasting time.
- While the turkey is resting, make the gravy: Pour the juices from the roasting pan through a strainer into a large saucepan. Also strain in the liquid from the simmering neck and giblets. With a large spoon, remove as much fat as you easily can from the top of the broth, leaving a few tablespoons in to add flavor to the gravy. (Reserve this combination of melted basting butter and turkey fat to use some of it instead of butter in the mashed potatoes, then refrigerate the rest to use for frying.) Add the reserved diced vegetables from the turkey to the broth. Bring to a boil, and allow to boil for 5 minutes (to get any extra flavor from the vegetables). Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables to a small serving bowl and keep warm. (Toss with a bit of butter and salt and pepper and serve alongside the turkey.)
- Add the salt to the broth. In a small jar with a lid, make a slurry of the 1/4 cup sweet rice flour by mixing it with about 1/2 cup water and shaking vigorously until there are no lumps.
- Bring the broth back to a boil, and pour the flour slurry in a slow stream while constantly whisking with your other hand. If it is not as thick as you like, make up some more flour and water slurry, and whisk in small amounts at a time until the gravy is thickened to your liking. Taste and season with pepper, plus more salt if needed. It may need up to a teaspoon more salt. (A gravy should be well salted, as its saltiness is diminished when combined with the mashed potatoes.) That is one killer gravy. Makes about 5 cups.
- Keep the gravy warm and return your attention to carving the turkey (or pass the job on to a willing volunteer, that is -- delegate someone).
- Kitchen Frau Tip: An easy way to carve the breast is to remove each breast-half in one piece, gently prying it loose from the breastbone with your fingers, then cut crosswise into slices.
- *Kitchen Frau Note: I find that sweet rice flour makes a foolproof and beautiful silky gravy. Any lumps easily whisk out of it and the texture never gets gummy. You can find sweet rice flour (different than regular rice flour) at health food stores, Asian import stores and sometimes in the gluten-free section of supermarkets. It is often labelled 'mochiko' sweet rice flour or glutinous rice flour in Asian markets. Even though it is ground from glutinous, or sticky, rice, it has no gluten in it and is not sweet -- it just binds gravy much better than regular rice flour and is lighter than wheat flour.