Classic Roast Turkey
A wine-and-butter soaked cheesecloth keeps the turkey breast moist and flavorful during cooking, and adds lots of flavor to pan juices to make delicious gravy.
Updated November 2016 with more detailed instructions and adjusted cooking times for un-stuffed and un-brined turkeys.
1 fresh turkey, any size, patted dry (brined or un-brined are both fine; here is our recipe for Brining a Turkey)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted; plus 1/8 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, or dry French vermouth; plus more if needed
3 carrots, chopped into large chunks
2 celery stalks, chopped into large chunks
3 yellow onions, chopped into large chunks
3-4 bay leaves
1 bunch parsley
Salt and pepper
For an un-stuffed bird: 2-3 lemons and 3-4 garlic cloves
Optional: more sprigs of parsley and other herbs such as sage, for garnish
1. Rest the turkey on a large platter at room temperature while you set everything else up, for up to 2 hours. (Bringing the bird as close as possible to room temperature will help cut down on roasting time. Keep an eye on the clock to be sure you don't allow it to sit out for any longer than 2 hours, though, since dangerous bacteria can begin to grow if left out longer.)
2. Stir together melted butter and wine in a medium bowl. Fold a very large piece of cheesecloth into quarters so that when folded, it is large enough to cover breast and halfway down sides of turkey. Immerse cheesecloth in butter mixture; let soak while you prep the turkey, preferably at least 20 minutes.
3. Check to be sure the oven rack is in the lowest position. Preheat oven to 425°.
4. Set up a roasting pan with a rack for the turkey (but don't put the turkey in it yet). Put the chopped vegetables in the pan under the rack and scatter the bay leaves and 3/4 of the parsley over the vegetables. Mince the rest of the parsley and set aside to garnish the finished turkey.
4. Rub the turkey all over, still on the platter, with the softened butter, then sprinkle salt and pepper over the skin. If you are not stuffing the turkey, sprinkle salt and pepper inside the cavity. If you have not brined the bird, be generous with the seasonings; less so if you are working with a brined bird.
5. If you are stuffing the turkey, fill both cavities loosely with stuffing like this: start by filling the neck cavity, and securing the skin with turkey lacers. Then, fill the main body cavity with stuffing. Note - do not pack the stuffing in tightly, because this will make it difficult for the turkey to roast all the way through.
6. If you are not stuffing the turkey, cut the lemons into quarters and lay them along the bottom of the cavity. Smash the garlic cloves, remove the papery skins, and scatter them on top of the lemons. Lay 8-10 sprigs of the parsley (borrowed from the roasting pan) on top of the lemons and garlic.
7. Fold wing tips back and under the turkey. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Place the turkey, breast side up, on the rack.
8. Remove cheesecloth from butter mixture, squeezing gently into bowl. Reserve butter mixture for brushing turkey during roasting. Lay cheesecloth over turkey, making sure the breast is completely covered (it can cover parts of the legs, etc. too).
9. Place turkey in oven. Roast for 30 minutes, then take the turkey out and brush cheesecloth and exposed turkey with butter mixture. Return turkey to the oven, reduce temperature to 350° and roast for another 30 minutes, then brush again. Continue roasting, brushing every 30 minutes with the butter mixture, until you run out of mixture or for about the first 2 hours of cooking time.
10. During roasting, keep an eye on the roasting pan and do not allow it to completely dry out. Add a little more wine, water or broth as needed to keep it moist (so that you can use these delicious drippings to make gravy later on). Also, be sure to rotate the turkey for even cooking each time you take it out to brush it.
11. When you use up the final bit of mixture, put the turkey back in for another 30 minutes. When you take it out again, moisten the cheesecloth to be sure it isn't stuck to the skin (it could tear the skin if it is), carefully remove it and squeeze the excess liquid over the bird. Baste turkey with pan juices again and return it to the oven.
12. Continue roasting, rotating pan and basting occasionally, until skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165°. If your turkey is un-stuffed, check doneness by tipping the turkey slightly to allow the juices to run out of the cavity. When they run clear, use a thermometer to confirm doneness. If your turkey is stuffed, insert the thermometer into the stuffing instead; roast until the temperature in the stuffing is 165°. Total roasting time will be about 18-22 minutes per pound for a stuffed bird, and 15-18 minutes per pound for a bird that is not stuffed. Begin checking doneness at the early part of that time span. If the breast begins to brown too much before the end of cooking (unlikely in this recipe), cover the breast loosely with foil for the remaining cooking time.
13. When done, remove turkey from roasting rack and set it on a platter or carving board, being careful not to tear skin. Place a portion of paper towel underneath the turkey on the serving platter or carving board; this will help absorb any extra juices that run from the bird, and will help keep it stable while you carve it. Allow the turkey to rest, very loosely tented with foil, for at least a half-hour to allow the meat to achieve an even temperature and the juices to be reincorporated into the meat. Reserve the pan juices for making gravy.
14. If you stuffed the turkey, remove the stuffing and spoon it into a serving dish before you bring the turkey to the table. (We learned the hard way, doing this at the table looks a little strange).
15. Garnish the turkey with the minced parsley and the additional sprigs of herbs if using. Serve and enjoy!