For the last few years Thanksgiving has been all about the apple for me; Cider-Sage Brined Turkey, turkey or chicken with Cider Gravy, last year’s hard cider brined bird. I still love the magic that apples and, even better, cider brings to turkey and Thanksgiving as a whole, but this year I’ve changed my tune a bit. Now, I’m all about oranges.
This year I’m brining my turkey in a mix of oranges and pink peppercorns—a fabulously floral and zippy bath for the bird to soak in. The flesh of the oranges bring a sweet citrus that balances the floral oils and slight bitterness of the rind and pith; these floral notes work well with those of the pink peppercorns before you take notice of their peppery spike. Pink peppercorns aren’t actually true peppercorns at all, but rather the dried berries of a totally different plant that shares similar flavors. I love them nevertheless; they have a gently floral and mildly peppery flavor that’s enough for you to take notice, but not so much that it takes over entirely. Some lightly crushed whole coriander seed go in too, bringing out the volatile orange flavors even more, and some rosemary, bay leaves, and chili flakes are added to round the whole thing out.
After the bird is brined, it’s dried off and left in the fridge, uncovered, for 8 – 12 hours to dry the skin out—the best way to get an incredibly crispy skin, even with basting. I rub the whole thing down with a compound butter, made from ground pink peppercorns and freshly minced rosemary, both under and over the skin. What you end up with is a turkey who’s meat is tender, juicy, and luxuriantly perfumed with spices, while the skin is crispy, studded with flecks of pink and green. It has a gentle pepperiness—a bit like a pepper-crusted meat, without the occasional jarring bursts of unrelenting heat—that makes for the perfect anchor for a sumptuous holiday table.
Speaking of a holiday table, you’ve probably noticed that this is just the breast. I love seeing a big, full roasted turkey on the table, skin all bronzed and crisped, but with it being a low key holiday for us this year I decided to forgo the whole bird in favor of a breast. It’s perfect for a smaller gathering, and while I do miss that flavorful dark meat from the thighs and gnawing on a leg while I clear the table, a lot of people typically go for the white meat anyway, and with such a flavorful brine, I’m one of them. Leftovers make the best damn sandwich, too—I’m talking about a straight-from-the-fridge sandwich at midnight. So good.
The flavors from the turkey sneak into the gravy a bit, too, since some of the pan drippings get used in it. Speaking of gravy, I have to say; if you can, use turkey stock over chicken. I’ve used them both, homemade and store-bought, and while chicken is perfectly good, a real turkey stock will change your life. Check out my recipe for Real Turkey Stock & Thanksgiving Gravy for a homemade stock, and foolproof gravy for any turkey (Kitchen Basics makes an excellent turkey stock, but it may take some searching for).
Whether you’re doing a whole bird or just the breast you have to give this one a try—you wont regret it!
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