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Roasted Chicken & Cider Gravy + Cider-Sage Brined Turkey – I ate the WHOLE thing…

Roasted Chicken & Cider Gravy + Cider-Sage Brined Turkey

cider roasted chicken 6

A Thanksgiving without a big turkey just doesn’t do it for me. There’s something so celebratory about a big bird, bronzed and beaming and reflecting the glow of the dining room lights and candles off its golden skin, resting on your table as you all give thanks. I think it’s a natural affinity with our picturesque holiday ideals—it makes us all feel like we’re at Norman Rockwell’s table or something. If I could only convince everyone of having a goose at Christmas I would be set for true holiday triumph.

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I love cooking a turkey, even if there aren’t many of us coming to dinner. You could certainly get a whole turkey breast for a smaller crowd, and when it was just my aunt and me one year that’s what we did, but I love the sight of a full bird. Last year I got a little carried away and ended up getting an 18-pound turkey for 7 people, but I justified by reasoning that it was the first American Thanksgiving for two of the people at dinner so a little opulence was in order.

One of my favorite flavor combinations for turkey—or chicken, as you’ll see—is apple and sage. The two alone are a match made in heaven, but when paired with the deeply nuanced flavor and languor-inducing calm of the turkey, the spry crispness of the apple and grassy autumnal scent of the sage are amplified to an ethereal level. Last year I brined my monster bird in apple cider, fresh sage, crushed garlic and, to guild the lily a little, some smashed juniper berries. I chopped a few apples to go in the bottom of the roasting tray along with my usual onions, carrots and celery to act as an aromatic wrack, along with stuff some extra apples up its backside. Some cider in the bottom of the pan to use for basting the bird, and we had a turkey that was juicy, crisp-skinned, and plump with the sweet and sharp crispness of cider. This year, I think we’re knocking the turkey off the wagon and putting him in a bath of hard cider—we’ll see.

cider roasted chicken 4

But this recipe here is where this cider brined turkey evolved from, and it’s so good. It started out life as a chicken dinner, and if you have a very small crowd, or aren’t turkey lovers, this is the perfect thing to prepare for a cozy Thanksgiving dinner. That said, this would work extremely well with a turkey, too, so don’t be put off by this being a chicken recipe. Also, don’t feel like this should be exclusive to the holidays—I love making roasted chicken, basically from the moment the AC gets turned off until it gets turned back on again, and this is by far one of my favorites. You’ll see just how it easy it is to make a homemade gravy that you’ll never reach for a packet of the stuff again.

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(Don’t stuff the bird with “stuffing”–you have to essentially overcook the chicken or turkey in order to cook the stuffing through. Stick to stuffing it with flavorful aromatics!)

 

Now, for an aside: Thanksgiving can be stressful. Making the dinner for the family, trying to maintain the balance of everything, dancing the choreographed ballet that is the holiday meal when you have two left feet—it can be enough to leave you rocking back and forth in the corner. So here are a few general rules or tips I have to share that help keep you sane when you’re just verging on the brink.

 

  • Plan on 6 hours of thawing per pound of turkey. Save yourself the trouble and panic by not attempting a last minute sink thaw. Just do your self a favor and put the turkey in a roasting pan or something that it can fit in comfortably, breast side up, and leave it in the fridge. Just drain any water that collects in the pan as the days go by (yes, days).
  • To make sure the turkey’s skin gets perfectly crisp leave it in the fridge, uncovered, for a day. Obviously, do this after you brine it—if you’re going that route—and before you smear it with butter and/or oil.
  • Figure 1 ½ pounds of turkey (whole) per adult, and about ½ – ¾ pound per child. I think that quantity feeds everyone comfortably, but if you’re big or light eaters, or want left overs adjust accordingly. I usually go for 2 pounds per adult to be on the safe side and just count 3 kids as one adult if there will be any, though I not only don’t mind leftovers—in fact, I require them—but I also like to have as big of a carcass as I can left over for stock.
  • Plan on around 15 minutes per pound of roasting time for a whole, unstuffed bird (at 350°). Fresh birds tend to take a minute or so less, and if you’re doing it at 325° go for around 17 – 20 minutes per pound. However, because ovens do vary and they’re not things of exact science, much to our disappointment, make sure to check the bird as it cooks. And just to preemptively bear bad news, even brand new ranges do not guarantee perfectly calibrated oven temperatures. As someone who has bought two new ranges in the last few years (due to moves), I can attest that being brand new does not mean that the temperature on the display and the temperature in the oven are the same thing. So, essentially, when you think your 12 pound turkey will be done roasting at 350° after 3 hours, it could actually be over or underdone when you check on it because your oven temp. This leads me to…
  • Get a digital thermometer. It’s the best way to ensure that the turkey is cooked perfectly. If you can, get one of those probe thermometers where a little display sits on the counter, with a long cord that goes into the oven with a probe on the end, pierced into the bird. You can even set the display to sound off an alarm when it reaches a certain internal temperature. Stick the probe into the thickest part of the thigh (towards the bottom, running it parallel with the wing).
  • If you’re anything like me—a menopausal woman on the inside—the first thing you should do in the morning before you set foot in the kitchen is turn the thermostat down. This is essential for standing near a hot oven for several hours. It doesn’t help with the violent mood swings but that’s what the Ginger-Orange Cranberry Sangria is for (make a larger batch and nobody will ever know).
  • I know we’ve all heard it before but it bears repeating: don’t stuff your turkey, at least not with a traditional “stuffing” or “dressing”. You do want to put some aromatics in it so the turkey has some flavor to it, other than its own, but by the time the bird has cooked to a safe temperature the stuffing inside is still very underdone, meaning you have to overcook the turkey so you have perfectly cooked stuffing. Now, think about that—does that make sense? You’re better off cooking the “stuffing” all in a separate dish and then, after the turkey comes out of the oven, take a little of the pan juices from the turkey and spoon over the dressing so some of the flavor seeps in.
  • Make sure the turkey rests after it’s out of the oven—20 minutes on average. And since it will carry-over cook as it rests, pull the turkey out when the thermometer reads 160° so it doesn’t dry out.
  • Keep your oven space in mind. It’s going to only add to the stress if you realize the oven is full and you still have to put the biscuits in.
  • If you can do anything the day before, do it. I’ve got a Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake recipe I’m getting ready to post—it’s not that its able to be made ahead, but it has to be! Also check out my Smashed Red Skin Potatoes recipe, too. Those can be made ahead and reheated in the oven. Make it easier on yourself!

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And, a few suggestions, if I may:

 

  • If you’re family/friends are doing a big holiday feast and everyone is bringing a few dishes, make sure to bring plenty of storage containers and bags for everyone to distribute leftovers (so you don’t all end up stealing every storage container your host owns).
  • Have bread readily available at home. You do not want to stumble into the fridge in the middle of the night for a late-night fridge raid and there not be any bread for a quick-n-dirty turkey, smothered with mayo or mustard. Whether you prefer something artisanal and rustic or plastic white bread (both of which are perfectly and indulgently satisfying, be it midnight or any time of day) make sure you buy beforehand so it’s ready when you are.
  • Don’t let anyone throw away any turkey carcasses. How else are you going to make Turkey Stock? The turkey carcass can be simmered in water with some roughly chopped onion, carrot, celery, garlic and herbs until you have a flavorful, but still somewhat lightly brothy stock, after which you remove all the bones and veg, strain through a sieve or colander lined with cheese clothe, before, while still hot, decanting back into the pot and dropping in some shredded turkey meat, chopped fresh green beans and either dumplings, egg noodles, small pasta (think macaroni or ditalini) or a scant amount of rice for a Turkey Soup. I keep it a bit light and brothy because, while you want something substantial and filling, you don’t need to relive the full Thanksgiving heft in a bowl in the coming days. You could also use it for a riff on the classic biscuits and gravy by making Turkey Biscuits & Gravy (make a roux of butter and flour, pouring in equal amounts of stock and half and half and plopping in shredded turkey just to warm through with a generous bit of black pepper before pouring over piping hot biscuits. Frankly, I think there are few things as comforting as some al dente pasta, simmered in some warm holiday-laced stock; its restorative, comforting, cleansing and affirming all at once.

So, for Thanksgiving, here are two recipes for two different birds (but, again, don’t feel that the chicken recipe is limited to chicken, and the turkey recipe to turkey. You’ll obviously need to adjust the quantity of a few things, and the timing, but other than that the ideas are interchangeable). Both are equally delicious, filling and cozy. If you want a meal to impress you can’t fail with either of these.

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And don’t forget–for more Thanksgiving posts (and so much more) follow me on BLOGLOVIN’!

Roasted Chicken & Cider Gravy
Yum
Print Recipe
If you’re having just a small holiday get-together, be it a pre-holiday celebration with a few friends or members of the family that you won’t be spending “the” day with, this is perfect. Perfectly cooked chicken, crispy skin, and a savory-sweet gravy that is out of this world.
Servings Prep Time
4 15 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour 20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 15 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour 20 minutes
Roasted Chicken & Cider Gravy
Yum
Print Recipe
If you’re having just a small holiday get-together, be it a pre-holiday celebration with a few friends or members of the family that you won’t be spending “the” day with, this is perfect. Perfectly cooked chicken, crispy skin, and a savory-sweet gravy that is out of this world.
Servings Prep Time
4 15 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour 20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 15 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour 20 minutes
Ingredients
For the Cider Gravy
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 425°.
  2. Pat the chicken very dry, inside and out (making sure to remove the giblets from the cavity) and trim off any access fat or flaps of skin hanging off the bird. Smear the whole chicken, breast-side up, again, inside and out, with the butter and sprinkle with the kosher salt.
  3. Cut the apples into large chunks. Tuck half of the sage leaves and garlic cloves up the backside of the chicken, along with as many apple chunks as you can fit—don’t get carried away.
  4. Tie up the legs, pulling them together so they are up against the end of the breasts and creating a kind of 45° angle with the bottom of the chicken.
  5. Chop the onion in similar sized chunks as the apples (skin-on is fine) and tumble these, along with the remaining apple and garlic, onto a roasting tray. Scatter over the remaining sage leaves, and place the chicken over the aromatic roasting tray. Tuck the wings under the chicken and place in the oven. Roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  6. When the chicken has about 10 minutes left begin to heat the cider and stock in a 1-quart saucepan. Once it’s boiling just lower the heat and cover it until the chicken is done.
  7. When the chicken is done (it should read 160° on a digital thermometer when you poke it deep between the breast and thigh) remove it from the oven. Take 2 tablespoons of the juices from the bottom of the roasting tray and mix into 2 tablespoons of flour (though if its not enough fat to fully incorporate into the flour add a little more, drop-by-drop) in a separate bowl before tightly covering the chicken with heavy-duty aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
  8. Return the cider-stock mix back to a full-blown boil and drop in the fat-flour mash. Whisk to combine, season with salt and let it boil for 2 – 3 minutes before reducing to a simmer for an additional 5 – 7 minutes.
  9. While the gravy finishes it’s simmering the chicken will be ready for carving. Remove the legs and thighs, separating each after doing so, and then the wings. You can either slice the breast off the bone or split the breast in two, still on the bone, and cutting each one horizontally, giving you four pieces of breast meat. Arrange the carved chicken parts on a serving platter and either dress it all, lightly, with some of the gravy, serving the rest alongside or stick with tradition and serve all of the gravy in a little boat.
Recipe Notes

-If you wanted, you could sear the giblets and neck of the chicken (with the exception of the liver—it gives the gravy a “funky” flavor) in the pan you’ll do the gravy in once the chicken goes in the oven. Then pour in the cider and stock (you’ll need just a little more than listed), bring to a boil, and simmer while the chicken cooks. Just before the chicken is about to finish roasting, strain the cider-stock mix through a sieve, discarding the cooked organs, and return the liquid to the pot to continue making the gravy.

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Cider & Sage Brined Turkey with Perfect Gravy
Yum
Print Recipe
This turkey is delicious, filling and cozy. If you want a meal to impress you can’t fail with this. And you'll never go back to a gravy packet again after this, either!
Servings Prep Time
10 - 12 1 hour
Cook Time Passive Time
Approx. 4 1/2 - 5 hours 2 days (plus thawing)
Servings Prep Time
10 - 12 1 hour
Cook Time Passive Time
Approx. 4 1/2 - 5 hours 2 days (plus thawing)
Cider & Sage Brined Turkey with Perfect Gravy
Yum
Print Recipe
This turkey is delicious, filling and cozy. If you want a meal to impress you can’t fail with this. And you'll never go back to a gravy packet again after this, either!
Servings Prep Time
10 - 12 1 hour
Cook Time Passive Time
Approx. 4 1/2 - 5 hours 2 days (plus thawing)
Servings Prep Time
10 - 12 1 hour
Cook Time Passive Time
Approx. 4 1/2 - 5 hours 2 days (plus thawing)
Ingredients
For the Gravy
For the Brine:
For the Herb Butter:
Servings:
Instructions
  1. If your turkey is frozen you need to start by thawing it. Place it in a roasting tray, breast-side up and in its plastic wrapping, and place in the fridge. It will take about 4 ½ days to thaw in the fridge this way (6 hours per pound of turkey). Drain off any water that collects in the tray as the turkey defrosts. You can do the cold water method of thawing by filling your sink with cold water and submerging the wrapped turkey in the water. Change the water out every 30 minutes, allowing about 8 – 10 hours of sink time for it to thaw. The USDA FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Services) says that you have to cook the turkey immediately so you really need to do this pretty early in the morning (like, you’re-not-going-to-bed-Wednesday-night early), depending on when you plan on eating I guess, which means you don’t have much room for error in the event that the turkey doesn’t thaw fully. That, and because you may want to free up some freezer space for other uses, I favor the fridge method. I pull the turkey out of the freezer one week, to the day, before we’re having dinner – it gives you 5 days to thaw it, 1 day to brine, and 1 to dry, with perfect timing. You can take your frozen turkey out up to 2 days sooner and fridge-thaw it and it will be perfectly fine resting, thawed, in the fridge for those 2 days before you start brining.
  2. Once the turkey is thawed pull out the giblets from the cavity, remove the liver (either discard or stash in the freezer for a later use, and keep the rest (neck, gizzard, heart, etc.) in the fridge until you start the gravy in a few days. Sometimes the liver, gizzard and heart are in paper or plastic bags and the neck is separate and they can be stuffed in the back cavity, neck cavity, both or in the space between the two. They are there. If you can’t find them (I’ve been there) then get someone else to look, too.
  3. Start on the brine making. Pour about 4 cups of the water into a large 10 to 12-quart pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Once it’s boiling, stir in the salt and sugar and stir just until they are completely dissolved.
  5. Once the salt and sugar are dissolved pour in the remaining water (which now is 20 cups/5 quarts) and half a gallon of apple cider to cool down the brine. Drop in the herbs, spices and other ingredients and stir to combine. Let it sit until it has completely cooled to room temperature.
  6. Carefully place the turkey, breast-end first and facing up, into your brining vessel and pour over all the brine so it is completely submerged in its salty, fall-scented bath. Let it all brine for 24 – 36 hours.
  7. When the turkey is done brining (done is a full 24 hours, minimum, before you’re going to start cooking the bird, but don’t brine it for over 36 hours) get on with the final preparatory things.
  8. Pull the turkey out of the brine and dry off very well with paper towel until it is as bone-dry as you can get it (don’t neglect the cavity, either – this must be very dry as well).
  9. Line the bottom of your roasting tray with some paper towel and, once properly dried, transfer the turkey to the roasting tray. Stuff a little paper towel in the cavity before moving to the fridge where it will sit, uncovered, for those final 24 hours before it hits the hot oven. This will help to dry out the skin so when it goes into the oven it gets a deeply browned and crisped. If you skip this step, not matter how hot of an oven you put it in, if the skin is flabbily wet, as it is, it will never crisp, though it may brown, so do yourself a favor.
  10. You can also do yourself a favor and make the herb butter now, too, so not only can the flavors come together and mellow but you yourself can be mellow when tomorrow roles around. One less thing to have to think about. Throw everything, except the butter, into a small food processor and pulse until everything is pretty finely minced. Drop in the butter and whirl it until everything is well combined. Turn it out into a small storage tub, cover it and set it aside, on the counter to stay soft. You could also make this a few days earlier and stash it in the fridge, taking it out to sit on the counter for several hours (though I’d take it out the night before) before you’re going to roast the turkey so it can fully soften.
  11. 2 – 3 hours before the turkey goes in the oven take it out of the fridge to come to room temperature. This is also a necessity in keeping it crisp on the outside and moist, flavorful and evenly cooked within.
  12. Lift the turkey out of the pan and set aside.
  13. Roughly chop 2 of the onions (skin on, please), carrots, celery and 1 apple and tumble them into the roasting tray with half of your 8 – 10 sprigs of thyme, a few sage leaves and 2 bay leaves, so they are all evenly distributed and mixed.
  14. Rub the turkey down, underneath and over the skin and in the cavity, with the herb butter.
  15. Cut the other onion into quarters, skin on for ease, as well as the other apple.
  16. Stuff the quartered onion and apple, along with the remaining sage and bay leaves and remaining half of your 8 – 10 sprigs of thyme up the cavity of the turkey. If all of the apple and onion wont fit up the bird just set the few chunks aside (there should really only be a few small wedges unable to fit) and throw them in with your stock later to fortify the gravy with a little more flavor or in the bottom of your roasting tray. Move the turkey back onto the tray, resting it on the vegetables.
  17. Preheat the oven 450°.
  18. Pour 2 cups of the stock and ½ cup of the cider over the vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan and pop the tray in the oven once its preheated. Roast for 20 minutes to develop a bronze crust.
  19. Turn the oven down to 350 and roast for 4 – 4 ½ hours more, basting with the pan juices every 30 minutes. If the breasts or legs start to brown a little too much, especially in the last hour or so, cover them loosely with foil.
  20. Start checking at just before 3 hours to see how the its coming along by sticking it with a digital thermometer in the thigh, making sure its not touching the bone. It needs to read 160°.
  21. While the turkey is roasting, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a 4-quart saucepan until hot. Sear the turkey neck from the giblets until it’s deeply caramelized on one side before flipping over and adding the rest of the giblets (EXCEPT the liver, of course). Sear them all for just a minute or two before pouring in the remaining turkey stock. Bring to a full rolling boil before reducing to a simmer on low for at least 1 hour.
  22. When the turkey is done remove it from the oven and pull the turkey out of the roasting tray. Transfer it to another roasting tray or baking sheet or cutting board, so long as it has little waterways carved into it for the juices to collect in. Cover it loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 45 minutes (though it does stay piping hot for probably 15 minutes after that even, so if you’re running a little behind don’t worry too much).
  23. Crank the heat on the stock, remove the giblets and bring back to a full boil.
  24. Put ¾ cups of the flour into a bowl and, using the turkey baster, mix in enough of the pan juices from the turkey into the flour until it is a smooth and somewhat liquid paste. It’s hard to say exactly how much pan juice you’ll need, partially based on the fat-liquid content of the juices and partially due to that I’m using a baster and not some technically accurate form of measure (although my new baster has measurements on the side, which I just noticed). The point is you want it to be a smooth, soft paste that’s pourable but not liquid (think somewhere close to the consistency of soft polenta). Once you’re at this point beat the remaining 2 tablespoons of softened butter into the paste.
  25. Once the stock is at a full, rolling boil, whisk in the paste. Let it continue to boil for a 2 – 3 minutes before reducing to a simmer again until the turkey is ready. If it is not thick enough for you take a few big ladlefuls of the gravy out and whisk with the remaining ¼ cup of flour and repeat the boil, add, whisk, simmer process.
  26. Carve the turkey by cutting off the beasts whole and cutting into ½” – 1” thick pieces and cutting off the legs, wings and thighs. Either leave the carcass behind or bring it to the table for picking at (or hide it and save it for soup-making later!) and decant the gravy into a boat.
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5 comments

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  2. I used to be able to participate in cokonig a giant Thanksgiving spread with my parents, grandmother and sister, and I really miss that. My family moved away and we can’t always get together for holidays. It’s just me and my husband, here. He had a fairly troubled childhood, so I try to create warm family occasions for us. We never had kids, but that doesn’t preclude us from wanting to have special holidays. I want to make a special Thanksgiving meal for us, but we can neither afford nor store nor eat an entire turkey. Furthermore, I’m 48 and cokonig alone, and I don’t have the stamina I once did to stand in the kitchen for hours and hours.I’d like to cook a meal that is reminiscent of the signature Thanksgiving flavors, but scaled down for two people, affordable and with prep time that isn’t an endurance test. Leftovers and freezables are fine – great even. I know this is a tall order, but I bet there are many couples, young and old, in the same boat.

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