This was a new attempt at updating an “herb brine” we have tried with our roasted holiday turkey for a few years now and we found that it lends itself to a more flavorful and juicy bird. Essentially, a pesto-like paste is formed and spread all over the bird about 1-3 days ahead and then that paste becomes part of an apple cider bath that sits below during the roasting. In short, we were pleased with the results.
For this we used: 12 lb. turkey and for the marinade: 2 large handfuls of (each) fresh sage, thyme, tarragon, parsley, rosemary and oregano, x6 garlic cloves (peeled), x2 Tbsp lemon juice, x1 Tbsp salt, x1 Tbsp pepper, x1 Tbsp lemon zest, and 1/2 to 1 cup olive oil. For the roasting: you will also need x4-5 lemons (cut in half), x2-3 strong rosemary stalks (or other strong “stick” to stitch up the bird cavities), and 3-6 cups apple cider.
Pulse all of the herbs, oil, lemon (zest and juice), garlic cloves, salt and pepper in a food processor until well combined into a rough pesto.
Place the bird onto a large plate or baking tray and, using your hands, spread the herb pesto all over the skin – breast, legs, wings. Place, uncovered, in to the fridge and let sit for at least 24 hours but up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 450.
Remove the marinaded bird from the fridge and stuff all of the cavities with the halved lemons. Stitch the skin into place covering the cavities with the rosemary stalks (or other bamboo-type sticks). Place it on a rack in a high-sided roasting pan and pour apple cider into the bottom of the pan to about 1/2″ to 3/4″ depth. Scrape off about 2/3rds of the herb pesto from the bird and allow it to fall into the cider underneath.
Place the bird into the preheated oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 and roast for an hour.
After an hour the bird should be browning well. Baste the entire bird with the cider mixture, add more cider if levels are falling too low (under 1/4″), and cover just the breast of the bird with a sheet of tin foil.
Roast for another hour or even 75 minutes, basting every 20 mins or so, returning the foil to the breast each time after basting.
Checking with a meat thermometer it should be 165 degrees. Check the joints by the legs and the wings as they tend to be the last to cook completely.
Remove the bird from the oven and loosely cover with a few more sheets of foil. Let is stand for 20-45 mins. If it is going to be standing for longer than that, cover with more foil to ensure it keeps some of its warmth.
Remove the foil and move the bird on to a carving board, carve and place meat onto a large serving plate.
Remember to save the bones and carcass for making stock!