Last Year’s Bird, This Year’s Improvements

Thanksgiving's 2010 Bird

I have never been one of those people who feels as if there comes a time when a recipe is perfect and could not benefit from a tweek here or there.  I am of the nature that there is always something I could do or change that would make all the difference in the world to my masterpiece.

The question this year was what could I do to enhance the flavor of my bird?  Unfortunately the vision is not something I can take credit for, if it was — let’s just say I would have my own cooking show on the Food Network.

I know you are now just dying to know what I am doing to make my turkey meat full of juicy flavor.  Before I tell you — let’s start with the repeat steps.  I will without a doubt always brine my turkey.  The results I have had from brining the turkey have been too good to give in to the desire for one less thing to do in preparation for thanksgiving.  So brining it is.


  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 lg turkey brining bag

To make the brining solution, dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 gallons of cold water in a nonreactive container (such as a clean bucket or large stockpot, or a clean, heavy-duty, food grade plastic storage bag). Add the oranges, lemons, thyme, and rosemary. Note: if you have a big turkey and need more brine than this, use 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar for every gallon of water.

Remove the neck, giblets, and liver from the cavity of the turkey and reserve for the gravy. Rinse the turkey inside and out under cold running water.

Soak the turkey in the brine bag and refrigerated, for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

After the brining is complete and the bird is brought to room temperature, I have in the past loosened the skin and stuffed little squares of butter underneath, however this year I am stuffing thin slices of half-cooked pancetta and sage leaves under the skin — then basting the turkey in the pancetta renderings!!!  Wow I am too excited for my 2011 turkey experiment.  I just keep imagining slicing into that turkey and seeing the juicy white meat butting up against pancetta topped with crispy skin.  Sound good? Why not give it a try?

Pancetta-Basted Turkey

Pancetta-Basted Aromatic Stuffed Turkey

  • 6 oz pancetta, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 2 oranges, cut into quarters
  • celery, chopped into 2 inch stalks
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch slices
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 sprigs of sage
  • 4 c chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels both inside and out. Place turkey, breast side up, in a large, heavy roasting pan.

Stuff the turkey with the onion, orange, celery, carrot, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley. Loosely tie the drumsticks together with kitchen string.

In a large skillet, cook 6 oz. thinly sliced pancetta over medium heat until the fat is rendered but the pancetta is not crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Reserve the fat and let the pancetta cool. With your fingers, carefully loosen the turkey skin away from the meat, from the breast down over the legs and thighs. Insert the pancetta. Insert about 10 extra-large sage leaves on top of the pancetta. Brush the pancetta fat all over the bird. Season well with coarse salt and pepper.

Roast the turkey, uncovered, breast side down for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven, turn, and baste with turkey drippings/chicken stock. Continue roasting with the breast side up until an instant-read meat thermometer registers 160 degrees F when inserted into the largest section of thigh (avoiding the bone), about 2 3/4 to 3 hours total cooking time. Baste the turkey once every hour with 1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken stock/drippings.

Using tongs or a sturdy spatula and a two-pronged fork, tilt the turkey to pour any juices from the cavity into the pan.  Remove from the oven and place on a platter. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Now that is a turkey plan!  I will be sure to fill you all in on the results.  What else is for Thanksgiving Dinner?  Check out my menu below…

This Thanksgiving Menu

  • Watercress, Apple, Bacon, Gorgonzola Salad
  • Brined Pancetta-Basted Aromatic Stuffed Turkey
  • Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds & Walnuts
  • Apple, Sausage, Herb Stuffing
  • Parmesan-Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Apple Berry Crumb Pie
  • Pumpkin Pie

Stay tuned for the verdict and HAPPY (GOBBLE GOBBLE) TURKEY DAY!

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