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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.

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.

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 root 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 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 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 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 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.

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

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.

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

Tell us what you think

What 28 Others have said

  • This is my second time making this Turkey recipe and it turned out fantastic even though I ran out of salt for the brining liquid and I kept it too long in the oven. I was told this was the best turkey my Dad had ever eaten. There is no way you will dry out this turkey. This recipe is a keeper!

    Posted by karolinapop3 on 15th October 2019
  • This is a must!! There is no going back once you’ve followed this recipe.

    Posted by Flossimonti on 9th January 2019
  • Five star recipe. One of the best tasting turkey I have made. The only modification I made was to grill it over charcoal with an apple wood foil packet for smoking.

    Posted by js_jessup on 28th December 2018
  • Since no one in my family likes turkey, I use the same brining technique on half a dozen Cornish game hens. They roast up a treat!!

    Posted by ChefIanto on 22nd December 2018
  • I always thought turkey was the most boring meat in the world until I tried this recipe. It is utterly delicious. I always marinate meat in a plastic bag so as to ensure good contact and also so that it can be turned over from time to time during the marinating period.

    Posted by salou on 22nd December 2018
  • Ever since I first tried this method, using brine, I have never gone back to my old way. I have a brined turkey crown in right now as we are having an early Christmas as my son has to work on Christmas Day. Can’t wait to try it. I also find the turkey cooks in about 2/3rds of the recommended time. Delicious.

    Posted by Spanishsenorita on 17th December 2018
  • I replicated this as best I could, with available ingredients. Star Anise, no. Anise seeds yes. Cinnamon stick, no. Cinnamon powder, yes. Mustard seeds, no. Mustard powder, yes. I'm simmering everything right now, which the recipe didn't call for, but I figured it might bring out all the flavors. I will cool before using it to brine the turkey breast. Thank you Nigella! I hope I didn't corrupt your wonderful recipe by improvising!

    Posted by Joyous56 on 24th November 2018
  • The perfect turkey for the Christmas feast! ☃️

    Posted by RobyH on 14th December 2017
  • Tried brining for the 1st time and it works! Even after I left it for 13 hours outside in the garden and not the 24 hrs as per recipe. The turkey weighed just over 7 kg so I roasted it for 3 hours and I needn't worry - cooked to perfection and meat fell off the bones. All my guests raved about it!

    Posted by LowPaw on 26th November 2017
  • Just tried it this time for the first time and it was amazing. I had my family coming over to London from Europe for Christmas and they were very impressed! Thank you Nigella for such a unique recipe - Farja

    Posted by Farja on 27th December 2016
  • I took this recipe all the way to Trinidad, W.I, for Christmas, and it was an absolute success. The compliments were never ending, coming from both turkey and non-turkey lovers alike. Very succulent and tasty. It's a winning recipe. Thank you!

    Posted by on 15th January 2016
  • I can't recommend this recipe for turkey highly enough. This is the first time I have cooked my turkey as instructed and it's truly delicious. I will never do it any other way and it's so simple - thank you!

    Posted by Bella-marella on 26th December 2015
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