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Spiced and Superjuicy Roast Turkey

by . Featured in NIGELLA CHRISTMAS
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Introduction

For me the only turkey is a brined one. Not only does it tenderize and add subtle spiciness, but it makes carving the turkey incredibly much easier. You have only to try this method to be utterly convinced. And I mean to say: how hard is it to fill a pan or large plastic bin or bucket with water and spices and lower a turkey into it? At this time of year, it’s fine just to leave it in a cold place. I sit mine by an open window in the kitchen. It means everyone freezes, but who am I going to put first — my turkey or my family? Out in the garden if you’re lucky enough to have one would also be fine, though the pan must be securely covered: if I’ve got a bucket or bin out in the open, I cover it twice with foil and then put my son’s skateboard on top to prevent foxy foraging.

And, though you might find it hard to believe sight unseen, a raw turkey covered in brine — with its oranges, cinnamon sticks, and scattering of spices — looks so beautiful as it steeps that I can never help lifting the lid for quick, blissfully reassuring peeks.

And please read the Additional Information section at the end of the recipe before proceeding.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

For me the only turkey is a brined one. Not only does it tenderize and add subtle spiciness, but it makes carving the turkey incredibly much easier. You have only to try this method to be utterly convinced. And I mean to say: how hard is it to fill a pan or large plastic bin or bucket with water and spices and lower a turkey into it? At this time of year, it’s fine just to leave it in a cold place. I sit mine by an open window in the kitchen. It means everyone freezes, but who am I going to put first — my turkey or my family? Out in the garden if you’re lucky enough to have one would also be fine, though the pan must be securely covered: if I’ve got a bucket or bin out in the open, I cover it twice with foil and then put my son’s skateboard on top to prevent foxy foraging.

And, though you might find it hard to believe sight unseen, a raw turkey covered in brine — with its oranges, cinnamon sticks, and scattering of spices — looks so beautiful as it steeps that I can never help lifting the lid for quick, blissfully reassuring peeks.

And please read the Additional Information section at the end of the recipe before proceeding.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

Spiced and Superjuicy Roast Turkey
Photo by Lis Parsons

Ingredients

Serves: 8-12

Metric Cups

For the Turkey Brining

  • approx. 6 litres water
  • 1 large orange or 2 smaller (quartered)
  • 250 grams Maldon salt (or 125g / ½ cup table salt)
  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 tablespoons allspice berries
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 tablespoons white mustard seeds
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 2 onions (unpeeled and quartered)
  • 1 x 6 centimetres piece of fresh ginger (unpeeled and cut into 6 slices)
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons runny honey
  • stalks from 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 x 5½ kilograms turkey

For the Basting Glaze

  • 75 grams goose fat (or butter)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

For the Turkey Brining

  • approx. 6 litres water
  • 1 large orange or 2 smaller (quartered)
  • 1 cup sea salt flakes (or 125g / ½ cup table salt)
  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 tablespoons allspice berries
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 tablespoons white mustard seeds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 onions (unpeeled and quartered)
  • 2½ inches piece of fresh gingerroot (unpeeled and cut into 6 slices)
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • stalks from 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 12 pounds turkey

For the Basting Glaze

  • ⅓ cup goose fat (or butter)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

Method

  1. Put the water into your largest cooking pot or a clean bucket or plastic bin. Squeeze the juice from the orange quarters into the water before you chuck the husks in, then add all the other ingredients, stirring to combine the salt, sugar, syrup and runny honey.
  2. Remove any string or trussing from the turkey, shake it free, remove the giblets, if not already done, and put them in the fridge (or straightaway set about making the stock for the gravy), then add the bird to the liquid, topping up with more water if it is not completely submerged.
  3. Keep covered in a cold place, even outside overnight or for up to a day or two (and see intro) before you cook it, remembering to take it out of its liquid (and wipe it dry with kitchen paper) 1-2 hours before it has to go into the oven.
  4. Read the Important Note below, and preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/gas mark 6/400ºF.
  5. Melt the goose fat (or butter) and maple syrup together slowly over a low heat. Paint the turkey with the glaze before roasting in the oven, and baste periodically throughout the cooking time.
  6. Roast for 2½ hours. When you think it’s ready, pierce the turkey with the point of a sharp knife where the body meets the leg, and if the juices run clear, it’s cooked; if still pink, cook it for longer until they run clear, or use a meat thermometer.
  7. Then take the turkey out of the oven, and let it sit, tented with foil, for 20–40 minutes or even longer if you like, as I do.
  1. Put the water into your largest cooking pot or a clean bucket or plastic bin. Squeeze the juice from the orange quarters into the water before you chuck the husks in, then add all the other ingredients, stirring to combine the salt, sugar, syrup and honey.
  2. Remove any string or trussing from the turkey, shake it free, remove the giblets, if not already done, and put them in the fridge (or straightaway set about making the stock for the gravy), then add the bird to the liquid, topping up with more water if it is not completely submerged.
  3. Keep covered in a cold place, even outside overnight or for up to a day or two (and see intro) before you cook it, remembering to take it out of its liquid (and wipe it dry with kitchen paper) 1-2 hours before it has to go into the oven.
  4. Read the Important Note below, and preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/gas mark 6/400ºF.
  5. Melt the goose fat (or butter) and maple syrup together slowly over a low heat. Paint the turkey with the glaze before roasting in the oven, and baste periodically throughout the cooking time.
  6. Roast for 2½ hours. When you think it’s ready, pierce the turkey with the point of a sharp knife where the body meets the leg, and if the juices run clear, it’s cooked; if still pink, cook it for longer until they run clear, or use a meat thermometer.
  7. Then take the turkey out of the oven, and let it sit, tented with foil, for 20–40 minutes or even longer if you like, as I do.

Additional Information

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Turkey cooking times tend to seem quite short if you are used to the "standard" formula for calculating cooking times for poultry. However we have all been overcooking turkeys for years and complaining how dry and sawdusty they are. The table below gives my suggested timings for turkey.

The timings in the table are for a free-range turkey — these tend to have more fat than a lean mass-produced bird and the marbling of fat in the free-range turkey tends to conduct the heat faster meaning that it cooks more quickly. It also assumes that the turkey has been allowed to come up to room temperature before cooking (take the turkey out of the fridge 1-2 hours before you want to cook it) and that the turkey has no stuffing and is not trussed. If you are stuffing your turkey, then you must weigh the already-stuffed bird, and cook according to the table below. I prefer not to stuff a brined turkey, as it can make the stuffing too salty — so I cook the stuffing separately.

When the turkey has had its allotted time in the oven check that it is cooked by piercing the turkey with the point of a sharp knife where the meat is thickest, behind the knee joint of the thigh, if the juices that run out are clear then the turkey is cooked. If they are still pink then let the turkey have another 15-20 minutes in the oven and test again.

You can also use an instant-read thermometer to check if the turkey is cooked — this will be at 74ºC/165ºF. When the turkey is ready, remove it from the oven, tent it with foil and let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes, out of a draught. If you are still nervous about turkey timings then we would also suggest that you consider brining your turkey as this will keep the bird moist even after longer cooking times. If you are brining your turkey then do cook your stuffing separately.

We would like to mention that in the US the FDA recommends that turkeys are cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165ºF.

Turkey cooking times — oven fully preheated to 200ºC/180°C Fan/400ºF

Weight of Bird : Cooking Time

2.25kg/5lb : 1 ½ hours 3.5kg/8lb : 1 ¾ hours 4.5kg/10lb : 2 hours 5.5kg/12lb : 2 ½ hours 6.75kg/15lb : 2 ¾ hours 7.5kg/17lb : 3 hours 9kg/20lb : 3 ½ hours 11.5kg/25lb : 4 ½ hours

MAKE AHEAD / STORE:
It is not advisable to make ahead. Leftovers should be covered and refrigerated within 2 hours of making. Eat turkey cold, within 3 days. Gravy should be eaten within 3 days, reheat in a saucepan until piping hot.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Turkey cooking times tend to seem quite short if you are used to the "standard" formula for calculating cooking times for poultry. However we have all been overcooking turkeys for years and complaining how dry and sawdusty they are. The table below gives my suggested timings for turkey.

The timings in the table are for a free-range turkey — these tend to have more fat than a lean mass-produced bird and the marbling of fat in the free-range turkey tends to conduct the heat faster meaning that it cooks more quickly. It also assumes that the turkey has been allowed to come up to room temperature before cooking (take the turkey out of the fridge 1-2 hours before you want to cook it) and that the turkey has no stuffing and is not trussed. If you are stuffing your turkey, then you must weigh the already-stuffed bird, and cook according to the table below. I prefer not to stuff a brined turkey, as it can make the stuffing too salty — so I cook the stuffing separately.

When the turkey has had its allotted time in the oven check that it is cooked by piercing the turkey with the point of a sharp knife where the meat is thickest, behind the knee joint of the thigh, if the juices that run out are clear then the turkey is cooked. If they are still pink then let the turkey have another 15-20 minutes in the oven and test again.

You can also use an instant-read thermometer to check if the turkey is cooked — this will be at 74ºC/165ºF. When the turkey is ready, remove it from the oven, tent it with foil and let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes, out of a draught. If you are still nervous about turkey timings then we would also suggest that you consider brining your turkey as this will keep the bird moist even after longer cooking times. If you are brining your turkey then do cook your stuffing separately.

We would like to mention that in the US the FDA recommends that turkeys are cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165ºF.

Turkey cooking times — oven fully preheated to 200ºC/180°C Fan/400ºF

Weight of Bird : Cooking Time

2.25kg/5lb : 1 ½ hours 3.5kg/8lb : 1 ¾ hours 4.5kg/10lb : 2 hours 5.5kg/12lb : 2 ½ hours 6.75kg/15lb : 2 ¾ hours 7.5kg/17lb : 3 hours 9kg/20lb : 3 ½ hours 11.5kg/25lb : 4 ½ hours

MAKE AHEAD / STORE:
It is not advisable to make ahead. Leftovers should be covered and refrigerated within 2 hours of making. Eat turkey cold, within 3 days. Gravy should be eaten within 3 days, reheat in a saucepan until piping hot.

Tell us what you think

What 41 Others have said

  • I tried Nigella's recipe for brining the turkey for the first time to impress my daughter's boyfriend for the introduction to the family during Christmas 2021. He's English by the way... He was so impressed by the juiciness of the roast turkey! I roasted turkeys for a couple of times before and it had always dried, and never tried again but not this time. Everyone enjoyed it so much and the 3.5kg bird was almost gone by the time we wanted to have it for the third round! Thank you so much Nigella for sharing the moistest recipe that everyone will cook over and over again. He is now going to be my son-in-law in January 2024. Woohoo!

    Posted by Omelle on 22nd December 2023
  • I discovered this almost 10 years ago and do it every year. I actually had a friend who said she hated to admit it was better than her mothers turkey, who she’d felt was the best turkey, ever! My length of time in the brine varies from 4-2 days, frozen or thawed, and it’s perfect each Christmas, thank you nigella!

    Posted by brownbangs on 22nd December 2023
  • I’ve been doing the turkey for years now and every year I think I’ve upped the days I’ve let it soak. Last year I did it for 5 days and it was incredible. So flavourful and rich. The only thing I can not find in my local shops are allspice berries so I order them online but it’s always such a hit.

    Posted by LollyB96 on 18th December 2023
  • A revolutionary way to season & TENDERIZE a turkey. I continue to amaze ppl, year after year.

    Posted by Firewalker on 22nd December 2021
  • I chose this as my method when I took over cooking my family Thanksgiving many years ago. The turkey was so moist and flavorful, that I have never been tempted to even consider doing it another way. It truly is the magic secret to perfect turkey! I would strongly suggest serving the Allspice Gravy alongside. It has similar flavors to the turkey brine and compliments the meat perfectly! Do this once and never look back!

    Posted by joshv41680 on 7th November 2021
  • Nigella's method is THE way to prepare a turkey. One year I had a family member who did not like turkey (but didn't tell me beforehand). Guess what? They had seconds.

    Posted by Ma1te on 20th December 2020
  • I've been brining my turkey for around 5 years now, it's the only way to cook it....so moist and flavourful! Thanks Nigella

    Posted by Esmey on 13th December 2020
  • I used Nigella's method last year and it was a winner so i am going to use it again. It was brilliant very moist and tasty. Great, thanks Nigella

    Posted by Mi5sour1 on 8th December 2020
  • Wow! It was so easy to cook this christmas, no stress and a perfect turkey. If you follow the recipe, you can't go wrong! Perfect juicy turkey! Thnx Nigella!

    Posted by Mmmiek on 25th December 2019
  • I made this for the first time and what a success. Compliments all round on a delicious Christmas centre piece. Not a hint of the dry tasteless fowl of my youth. Thank you Nigella for a wonderful recipe and hope your Christmas is a very happy one.

    Posted by lmb1953 on 23rd December 2019
  • I'm stuck with an injected US turkey. Thus, I'll reduce the salt in the brine to nil, but otherwise proceed as per recipe. I am always confident that any recipe Nigella posts will be wonderful. She makes it nearly impossible to fail!

    Posted by sancarloscharlie on 22nd December 2019
  • So lovely, thank you.

    Posted by 1231967 on 4th December 2019
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