If you are going to go to the (admittedly little) trouble of brining your Thanksgiving turkey, be sure to set the bar higher than simply adding moisture. Granted, this is the primary goal of a brine. Soaking the bird in a salty solution prior to roasting, does help plump the meat and keep it moist during cooking.
But this also is a great opportunity to add plenty of flavor to the turkey. To make the most of that opportunity, we decided to brine our turkey in apple cider, brown sugar, sage and black pepper. The flavor ends up being at once subtly sweet, but also boldly savory. And that is a combination that makes the meat a perfect partner for all the classic Thanksgiving sides.
Cider-brined turkey with sage gravy
Start to finish: 2 1/2 to 3 hours (plus brining)
Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy
For the turkey:
12- to 14-pound turkey
1/2 gallon apple cider
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup minced fresh sage
1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
For the gravy:
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
3 tablespoons instant flour, such as Wondra
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
Salt and ground black pepper
Place a 2 1/2 -gallon zip-close plastic bag upright in a large bowl. Place the turkey in the bowl, then pour in the cider, salt, brown sugar, sage and peppercorns. Seal the bag, squeezing out as much as possible as you do so. Massage the bag to mix the ingredients in the liquid. Refrigerate and let brine for a minimum of 8 hours, turning the turkey now and again.
When ready to roast, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Fit a roasting pan with a rack.
Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, then set it onto the roasting rack. Roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the temperature of the breast reaches 160 degrees and the thighs reach 170 degrees. If the turkey begins to darken too much, over it loosely with foil.
Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, wrap with foil, then set a couple layer of bath towels over it to keep it warm.
Remove the rack from the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan over medium heat on the stovetop (you may need two burners) and bring the juices to a simmer. Add the wine and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour the broth into the pan, whisking continuously. Then add the flour and whisk to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes, while continuing to stir. Season with sage, salt and black pepper.
Per serving: 420 calories; 170 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 185 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 56 g protein; and 480 mg sodium.