Golden Cider-Roasted Turkey

Cider-roasted turkey

How many of you have roasted a turkey before? Would you believe this is the first whole turkey I've ever roasted? I spent a lot of time looking through recipes and finally settled on Golden Cider-Roasted Turkey from Sunday Roasts. (I had such good luck with the roast recipe in this cookbook that I figured the turkey recipe would be incredible too.) How could anyone go wrong with a recipe that incorporates apples, leeks, cider, wine, sage, and thyme to flavor the turkey and its accompanying gravy anyway?

Jeff and I went to Stop & Shop last week and picked out a gorgeous 13.46-pound Butterball turkey, and then we went to Whole Foods this past Saturday morning to get all the accompaniments. On Sunday morning, I got up bright and early, prepped the turkey, and got it in the oven by 9 a.m. We had friends coming for dinner around 3, and I wanted to have the turkey cooked and carved and start making stock with the carcass before they arrived.

Every half-hour I would call Jeff over to the oven to help me baste the turkey. I would hold and turn the pan and make sure it didn't go sliding out of the oven while he basted it with a cider-wine mixture and some herbed butter. I think this diligent basting is what made the turkey come out so moist. I had toyed with the idea of brining it to ensure it would be moist, but brining wasn't even necessary.

In just 3 hours and 15 minutes, the probe thermometer I'd put in the turkey thigh was registering 165 -- actually it had gotten to 165 a while before, and I was starting to think it was stuck on 165, so I stuck the probe in the turkey breast, which registered 167. The recipe said the turkey thigh should be 180, but a quick phone call to Dad confirmed that I could, indeed, take my turkey out at its current temperature.

Cider-roasted turkey

I let the bird rest for 30 minutes, during which time I checked out a how-to-carve video on Butterball's website. I didn't like the way they sliced the breast, and I remembered seeing one of the test cooks at work do it differently, so I checked out YouTube, and sure enough, there was a how-to-carve video from America's Test Kitchen. I had Jeff watch the video with me, and then I gave him the oh-so-fun job of carving the turkey. He did an amazing job.

I reserved the thighs, turkey neck, and carcass for my stock -- that's right, do not throw away that turkey carcass (I have stock and soup recipes coming)! And then we plated the rest of the meat and tented it with foil to keep it moist.

In the meantime, I had poured the drippings in a bowl and placed them in the fridge so the fat would rise and solidify on top -- a trick from Dad that you can use if you don't have a fat separator. It speeds the process along a little. (I made sure to register for a fat separator... and a much nicer roasting pan.)

With the turkey carved and plated, I started my stock simmering, made my gravy and all of my sides (green beans with sage and brown butter, carrots roasted with thyme and shallots, and sautéed apples and leeks), and then when our friends arrived, I threw some popovers in the oven.

They brought mashed potatoes and dessert, and we had a mini Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat!

Cider-roasted turkey

Golden Cider-Roasted Turkey (adapted from Sunday Roasts)
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1 (13- to 14-pound) turkey, patted dry
Kosher salt and pepper
2 cups (160 grams) chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (1 to 3 leeks)
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced
4 sage sprigs, plus extra for garnish
4 thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 1/2 cups apple cider
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
2 to 3 tablespoons flour


Arrange a rack at center position, and preheat oven to 325 degrees. (Make sure you can fit your turkey in the oven. I removed the top rack to make room.)

Remove the turkey neck and giblets from the cavities in the turkey. Discard the giblets and save the neck to roast with turkey.

Place the turkey on a rack set in a roasting pan, and place the neck in the pan next to it. Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper.

Combine apples and leeks in a bowl, and place 1 cup (100 grams) of the mixture in the turkey cavity along with the sage and thyme sprigs.

If you use a Butterball turkey, you need only fold the wings under the turkey, but if you get a different turkey, you'll need to truss your turkey at this point (tie the legs together and secure the wings with twine).

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, dried sage, dried thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper until well blended. Reserve and set aside 2 tablespoons of the herb butter for the gravy.

Take 4 tablespoons of the remaining herb butter and rub it all over the turkey.

Spread the remaining leeks and apples on the bottom of the pan.

Combine the cider and white wine in a bowl or large measuring cup. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cider mixture for the gravy.

Pour 1/3 cup of the remaining cider mixture over the turkey.

Roast the turkey until golden brown and thermometer inserted in thigh registers 180 degrees (or use your judgment), basting every 30 minutes with the cider mixture and 1 tablespoon of the herb butter, for about 3 hours and 10 minutes or longer.

If turkey starts to brown too much, cover it loosely with foil.

When the turkey is done, transfer it to a platter and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. (I used two dish towels to pick up the hot turkey and move it to a platter.)

Cider-roasted turkey

Cider-roasted turkey

Cider-roasted turkey

Set a sieve over a large bowl, and pour the pan drippings through it. Press down on solids to squeeze juices out, and then discard solids. Skim off fat drippings. (As I mentioned above, you can put the drippings in the fridge for a while and the fat will solidify, so you can just scoop it right off the top. And save that fat for sautéing the veggies for turkey soup!)

Pour the drippings and any juices from the platter into a saucepan, add the reserved cider mixture and any cider mixture left over from basting. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring often, until liquids are reduced by a third, about 5 minutes.

Combine reserved herb butter, any remaining herb butter form basting, and 2 tablespoons of flour to make a paste. (Add more flour, if you want a thicker gravy.)

Stir the butter-flour mixture into the pan a little at a time until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 5 to 6 minutes.

Season with salt to taste, and transfer to serving bowl or gravy boat.

Carve and plate the turkey (reserve neck, thighs, and carcass for stock, if desired), garnish with sage and thyme sprigs, and serve, passing gravy on the side.

Cider-roasted turkey

Some notes: The original recipe calls for 3 to 4 leeks, and I only needed 1 to get 160 grams of chopped leeks, so I made sautéed apples and leeks with the extras. I took my turkey out long before the thigh registered 180 degrees. The breast was at 165. I was a little worried that the thighs weren't fully done, but I just reserved them for my stock instead of serving them, so I didn't have to take any chances. And they filled my soup with tons of flavorful turkey meat. (Stock and soup recipes to come.)

This turkey was so moist! I was really happy with the way the recipe came out. The gravy was a tad on the sweet side, but it was so flavorful and complemented the turkey nicely.

Cider-roasted turkey

We're heading to Jeff's parents' for Thanksgiving dinner. I'll be making a dessert that I'll share with you soon.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?

I'm not planning to blog about any of my sides, but here are the sources for the recipes:

Green Beans with Browned Butter, Hazelnuts, and Sage (I left out the hazelnuts) - Cook's Country, November 2011
Roasted Carrots with Shallots and Thyme - Light & Healthy 2012: The Year's Best Recipes Lightened Up
Sautéed Apples and Leeks (modified to leave out the chicken) - Eating Well
Popovers - Baking Illustrated