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!
Don’t forget to follow me on BLOGLOVIN’ for even more holiday eats!
|6||1 hour, total|
|Cook Time||Passive Time|
|90 minutes, approx.||16 - 24 hours|
- 1 6-pound turkey breast whole, bone-in and skin-on
- 1 orange sliced
- 2 tablespoons pink peppercorns lightly crushed
- 1 tablespoon coriander seed lightly crushed
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 t-spoon chili flakes
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary
- 2 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 gallon water (or 4 quarts)
- 6 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 6 tablespoons butter softened at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns ground
- 1 t-spoon fresh minced rosemary
- 1 t-spoon kosher salt
- 3 cups turkey stock
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 3 - 4 tablespoons pan drippings from turkey pan
- Add the peppercorns, coriander seed, pepper flakes, and bay leaves to a small sauté pan and toast over low heat for a few moments until lightly fragrant.
- Dump the toasted spices, orange slices, rosemary, garlic, water, salt, and honey into a stockpot large enough to fit everything and the breast to stay submerged—about 8 quarts. Stir everything together until the salt dissolves and the honey melts into the water. Lower in the turkey breast, cover, and let it brine in the fridge for 8 – 12 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brine, and place on a wire wrack set over a baking sheet. Pat it dry and then stash in the fridge, uncovered, for another 8 – 12 hours to dry the skin out for optimal crispness.
- Fold all of the ingredients for the butter together until combined. Preheat the oven to 325°
- Remove the turkey from the fridge and let it come to room temperature on the counter for 2 hours. Slather the underside of the breast, particularly the rib area, with some of the butter. Slather more under the skin, and more still on the skin itself.
- Set the turkey on a wire wrack in a roasting tray and pour the wine or stock in the bottom of the pan. You could chuck some orange scraps and peppercorns you have lying around in there if you want. Probe it with a digital probe thermometer (one where the digital temperature/time gauge sits outside of the oven) and pop it into the oven. Set the thermometer to go off at 135°.
- Roast the bird for about 1 hour (somewhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour 15 minutes)—until the thermometer reads 135°—basting every 20 minutes. Increase the heat to 400° and roast another 15 – 20 minutes, until the skin browns and crisps and the turkey gets up to 155°.
- Remove the turkey from the oven and loosely tent with aluminum foil—where it will carry-over cook to 165°—but not before removing a little of the liquid in the bottom of the pan for gravy making.
- Bring the stock to a rolling boil prior to the turkey coming out of the oven. Once it comes to a boil just clamp on a lid and put it over the lowest heat possible to keep warm, so it comes back to a boil quickly.
- Using a turkey baster, suck up some of the pan drippings and squeeze them through a fine mesh sieve set over a liquid measuring cup until you have about 3 – 4 tablespoons. Whisk these drippings into the flour until totally smooth and thick, but still somewhat pourable—think natural peanut butter.
- Return the stock to a boil and slowly pour the flour mixture into the stock while you whisk the liquid vigorously. Let it boil for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks, before reducing the heat to low and simmering about 5 – 7 minutes, until thickened.